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Beyond the Pitch

More Involved Mentors Mean More Successful Entrepreneurs

In case you haven’t seen or heard the buzz, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Central Ohio is catching fire.

We owe a big shout out to the phenomenon that we call Backyard Effect—the individuals and corporations in the community who are so pro-entrepreneur that they get directly involved to help startups scale.

One of the vehicles for that involvement is Rev1’s First Connect mentor network. (Read more on the Backyard Effect in action.)

Hanad Duale, CEO of Kare Intellex and James Stoodt, managing principal of Healthcare in Motion and Kare Intellex mentor talk about how they structure their relationship to produce the greatest positive impact.

Enjoy their tips.

Coachability Comes Before Capital.

Investors invest in entrepreneurs who are coachable. The right mentor can help a passionate entrepreneur learn how to be receptive and iterate.

James: I like to start my relationship with an entrepreneur with an open-ended discussion about their business challenges, the entrepreneur’s aspirations, and their strategies for approaching their target market. If the entrepreneur states, in so many words, “I have it all handled,” it usually signals to me that they may be reluctant to openly discuss their challenges or may not recognize the significant hurdles during market entry.

Hanad: Really talking is really powerful. It makes a tremendous impact on the company and the entrepreneur.

James: Hanad has been willing to have open discussions where he acknowledges challenges that he alone can’t handle. A CEO doesn’t have to be a solo hero with all the answers. Instead, a new CEO has to recognize to succeed they need to openly and rapidly facilitate getting input from a wide range of outside resources that bring expertise to their new organization during its growth phase. This acknowledgment of need and openness to input sets the table for a very positive and supportive ‘partner’ relationship.

Be Very Flexible – But Also Grounded and Disciplined.

The mentor may have to take the initiative and apply the discipline until the back and forth benefits of the relationship take root.

Hanad: Initially we began as an ad hoc relationship. As things started to take off, I needed some guidance on strategy from a healthcare domain expert like James. It’s evolved into planning the company’s medium-term as well as long-term vision. We’ll plan before-hand what to cover when we talk based on the challenges I’m facing right now.

James: Entrepreneurship can be filled with many distractions, many that do not result in the completion of immediate early stage objectives. I try to help entrepreneurs stay grounded by working with them to add discipline to their decision-making. This helps them create a product/service that holds up to the significant demands of market validation.

I tend to ask a series of questions about the underlying strategic principles rather than discuss tactical day-to-day issues. This allows us to discuss a range of factors that are typically part of a decision in a dynamic market. My hope is that Hanad can apply these principles to a broad range of future challenges without the need for my input.

Hanad: Be mindful that these successful mentoring relationships are going to take quite a bit of time. Both sides are very busy. Time is currency. James and I discussed our expectations beforehand. As the entrepreneur, be focused in the type of support and guidance you are looking for. Be respectful of your mentor’s time; start out with a specific ask to set the scene.

Don’t Use Mentors to Confirm Own Beliefs – Use Them to Challenge Your Perspective and Improve It.

Hanad: The value proposition that James brings is his industry experience and wealth of operating knowledge. He is patient enough to go through it from my perspective, not just from what the industry thinks.

James: Just because you are moving at 500 miles per hour, doesn’t mean that you don’t follow the good practice techniques that are the bread and butter of analysis. This is a whole culture of lightning speed that has to be balanced with good old-fashioned analytical techniques. Even cavemen in their caves had to organize the hunt.

Hanad: James is my “no man” instead of my “yes man.” That’s what’s missing more often than not in an entrepreneur’s life. Our goal should be to find mentors that will find reasons that we could fail, but also to guide us. James will ask questions and go to those uncomfortable places that people don’t want to go, to push and probe and take you to the truth. I’ve become very conscious in interacting with James, being self-aware enough not to drink my own Kool-Aid

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.

These are big shoes to fill—and it’s really rewarding and lots of fun. Interested? Contact mike@rev1ventures.com.

  • Ray Brooks

    The most meaningful piece was the last. Don’t drink your own kool-Aid. I like the way James is trying to give a broad perspective. This seams like a good relationship.

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