Founder Q&A: Finding Your Sounding Board
We asked Rob Moore, CEO of Virtual Education Systems and Jerry Weissberg, Virtual Education Systems mentor and former President of Hondros Family of Companies, to share a few tips on how to structure and leverage relationships between mentors and entrepreneurs to produce the most significant positive impact.
Accept You Can’t Know or Do Everything – Be Open to Coaching.
We can’t say it often enough—investors look for coachable entrepreneurs, and they avoid those who are not.
Rob: “When we went to Rev1 initially, we didn’t need money; we needed advice. Sam (COO and co-founder Sam Gebhardt) and I were super confident with my experience as a teacher and in management and Sam’s in modeling and games. Through working with Rev1, we found out what we didn’t know. A big part of that was connecting with our mentor who knew the fundamentals.
Jerry: Rob and Sam are passionate; they are smart and work hard. We have a transparent relationship with a lot of give and take. They are self-aware that they haven’t run a business before. It’s not always like that with entrepreneurs. Some can become defensive when they aren’t having success, and they don’t understand why.
Rob: Passion gets in the way of good decision-making. We are so much in the picture, and it’s sometimes hard to step back and get rid of emotion. That’s where Jerry comes in. The ability to sit down with someone like him and ask questions, any question, is invaluable.
Mentors Can Supply Much-need Structure to Entrepreneurs Who Wear So Many Hats.
The mentor may have to take the initiative and apply the discipline until the back and forth benefits of the relationship take root.
Rob: Sam and I communicate with Jerry on the phone at least three times a week. If it’s a quick question, we send an email and he’ll reply back. We go back and forth with notes on a pitch deck. Anytime I have a big meeting coming, up, we either talk on the phone or meet face to face to build a strategy.
Jerry: At this stage, Rob and Sam have a lot of balls in the air, so I try and ping them every couple of days. I don’t want to be a bottleneck, but I do know from being in their position that you can get bogged down.
Rob: Whether it’s a potential client, vendor, or distributor, we walk through the “what ifs.” It prepares me to go into a meeting with people I haven’t met before and participate with confidence.
Entrepreneurs Need a Sounding Board Even More Than a Friend.
Entrepreneurs need a trusted sounding board—someone who isn’t related and isn’t a friend. A mentor who will be objective and honest, sometimes with mental toughness and other times with an empathetic ear.
Jerry: “Having been a general manager for many years, I can help an entrepreneur see how all the different pieces fit together, and how a great idea is just one part of building a business. How do acquiring customers and selling a product connect? Knowing where to press and how to prioritize; there are all these landmines out there, and no perfect formula.”
Rob: You could not pay to get the advice that we’ve gotten from Jerry. There is nothing more powerful than someone who volunteers like Jerry does. He is doing it because he wants to. It comes from the heart.
Being a mentor to a startup company can be rewarding and lots of fun. Interested in seeing the difference you can make? Contact us.