“Mentoring” is easy to offer but not always easy to deliver

September 23rd, 2013 → 11:31 am @

A while ago I engaged with an aspiring entrepreneur to drive a new company.  The business model had been proven to work, and I just needed someone with energy and a sense of ownership to make it happen, in exchange for modest income plus equity.

The entrepreneur had already started a small business in a similar space and said that a key motivation for taking this role was to get mentoring from the Board.  I was happy with that.  It explained why an entrepreneur who had their own thing going might put it aside to work on my business for a couple of years.  I have mentored a lot of entrepreneurs, and was happy to help one who would also be helping me at the same time.

My experience with entrepreneurs is that they are opinionated, self-motivated, and impatient.  The mentoring they seek is usually of two types:  Most often it’s about problem solving.  They call up at any hour to ‘run an idea past me’.  We analyse the situation together, and they quickly decide how they will handle it.  The second, less common, type of mentoring they seek is the ‘meaning of life’ type… often when things are going badly for them.  They’ll usually come round to my house, drink coffee, and ask whether the pain they’re inflicting on themselves and their family is all worth it.  Will they get the business built before their life falls apart? (more…)

Entrepreneur behavior &Mentoring entrepreneurs

Back on the road again

February 4th, 2013 → 10:35 am @

I’m helping a young entrepreneur to get a franchise business going.  The business model relies on franchisees having sales reps knocking on the doors of local businesses.  But before we can recruit franchisees, the entrepreneur has to prove that the sales model works.  That requires her to make the first sales herself.  And that’s where the problems started. (more…)

Entrepreneur behavior &Mentoring entrepreneurs

Developing entrepreneurs’ skills

July 30th, 2012 → 5:58 pm @

Many entrepreneurs I’ve worked with become trapped in patterns of behaviour.  They’ve tried a certain sales style, a way of interacting with staff, or a planning process, and it worked.  So they keep doing things the way they always do them.  Then, because they’re self-confident and opinionated people, they start to see their way as the only way.  They preach the mantra of ‘learning by doing’ but they have lost the ability to learn, because they fail to reflect on their own behaviour (using all their reflection time to think about business problems). I help entrepreneurs to regain their flexibility of thought by encouraging a cycle of action, reflection, then more action.  That’s pretty standard stuff, and it can be very helpful, particularly if they have to account to me or their Board for the outcomes of the reflection.  But now I’m trying something else. (more…)

Entrepreneur behavior &Mentoring entrepreneurs

Speaking the other guy’s language

April 1st, 2011 → 12:57 pm @

We spend a lot of time in business, and in personal relationships, trying to ‘get our message across’.  Relationships fall apart, and deals are lost through communication failure.  I thought this morning about the difficulty of communicating simple messages about how to build a company.

An aspiring entrepreneur was sitting in my office.  I had just advised him to get his team focused around an achievable target, allocate tasks with agreed delivery dates, and manage the delivery of the target (in this case, trial customers for the product).  He was confused; “But you told me once before that entrepreneurs have to be innovative and flexible, and change the plan dynamically as they build the business.  Now you’re telling me we need to decide exactly what to do, and stick to it.  Which is right?” (more…)

Mentoring entrepreneurs

Knowing when to sell, and when to not sell

March 7th, 2011 → 9:45 am @

It’s a clear, slightly chilly day in Washington DC.  The Washington Monument and the Capitol Building are creating iconic views from my hotel window, and I’m thinking about the meeting I’ve just attended.  I accompanied the founder of a Health IT company to confer with some of the USA’s leading thinkers on ‘patient-centric’ health.  The meeting was inspirational as the participants spent the morning clarifying the issues and, incidentally, verifying that my founder had a unique, and needed, solution to many of the problems they face.  But we didn’t try to sell at the meeting.

This founder has already built a couple of start-ups.  Although we’d travelled 14,500 Km to be here, he knew that this was not a time to be selling.  Sure, he showed them what his product could do, but he focused on learning more about the participants’ priorities, contributing to the discussion, and building relationships.  As a mature entrepreneur, he won’t sell until he’s sure his offering will meet real needs, as the buyers perceive them… until then, he talks with potential clients about their concerns.

By the end of the meeting a couple of people who ‘got it’ had emerged as champions for our product.  That was a nice bonus.  But many of the people in the room were decision-makers with millions of constituents , who would not have been swayed by any slick pitch.  They won’t buy anything unless they’re sure a product will meet real needs and provide real value.  And they won’t be made to accept those needs by any ‘concept sell’ from us.  They’ll define their needs by conferring with colleagues, as they did at today’s meeting, and only look for product solutions when they, and their peers, are comfortable that they have the issues well mapped.

For us, it was a privilege to be part of that discussion, and for the founder’s work to be recognised as thought-leading.  We hope to have the inside running when it comes time to sell… but now is not the time.

Mentoring entrepreneurs

The Bad Board Member

February 26th, 2011 → 6:10 am @

Over the last 40 years the U.S. has evolved an entrepreneurial ecosystem with two of the most unlikely partners – venture capital investors and technology entrepreneurs. This alliance has led to an explosion of technology innovation, scalable startups and job creation.

Tied at the hip, VC’s and entrepreneurs take large risks together. VC’s invest in startups with minimal tangible assets and no certainty about the product’s viability, market size or customer adoption. Entrepreneurs face all that, and add one more risk to their list: the bad board member. (more…)

Entrepreneurship &Mentoring entrepreneurs

The Search For the Fountain of Youth – Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Enterprise

February 14th, 2011 → 6:03 am @

It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.
Charles Darwin

Companies have a fairly predictable life cycle. They start with an innovation, search for a repeatable business model, build the infrastructure for a company, then grow by efficiently executing the model.

Over time, innovations outside the company (demographic, cultural, new technologies, etc.) outpace an existing company’s business model. The company loses customers, then revenues and profits decline and it eventually gets acquired or goes out of business.  (Looking at the Dow-Jones component companies over time is a graphic example of this.) (more…)

Mentoring entrepreneurs &Teaching entrepreneurship

Having fun while building companies

January 14th, 2011 → 1:30 pm @

One of my team came to me today and said, “I’m sick of working with people who are not entrepreneurial.”  I laughed.  My team are free to engage with whomever they like, as long as the start-up company fulfils certain criteria (large market opportunity, differentiated offering, ethically sound, etc).  Some team members  prefer to work with entrepreneurial founders, while others are more interested in the technology.

I laughed because I had given up working with non-entrepreneurial founders some time ago. I’d realised that, while I’d had a great time building companies with other entrepreneurs, working with technology-focused founders was just hard work. The entrepreneurs generate an energy which both boosts my own energy and feeds off my inputs.  Sure, they also create chaos as they drive ahead more quickly than they should, but it’s a good, productive chaos full of blind alleys, quick fixes, and rapidly ticked-off milestones.  It’s great being in a world of possibilities and opportunities, where optimism rules.

The technology founders, meanwhile, dither around with well-structured processes, endless meetings, and never-ready-to-launch products.  They see building a business as “problem-solving”, and they suck the life out of me… correction… they USED to suck the life out of me.  Now I choose to work only with the entrepreneurs…  and I’m having fun.  It looks like another member of my team is joining me!

Entrepreneur behavior &Mentoring entrepreneurs

Losing the Plot – stopping feuding founders

November 22nd, 2010 → 3:58 pm @

The makeshift boardroom
Image by andrew k via Flickr

I’m sitting in an airport lounge, musing on the behaviours of entrepreneurs (nothing new there!).

I’ve been meeting with a group of entrepreneurs who have worked together for several years to build a company.

They started as friends with common goals, proven skills, and established businesses behind them.  But, over the last few years something changed in their relationships.  Their goals began to move apart and, instead of discussing their differences, they became suspicious of each other’s motives and commitment to the company.

The Global Financial Crisis made the situation worse.  They became very operationally focused as they fought to keep the business profitable, and each founder focused more and more on his areas of responsibility.  They stopped discussing strategy and goals, and focused only on systems, processes, structure, and current profitability.

What to do when founders clash

Thus we found ourselves sitting round a table, trying to find a way forward.  It became clear very quickly that one founder was committed to a direction which was incompatible with the others’ goals.  And they hadn’t dealt with their differences decisively because they didn’t want to make the relationships worse.  (more…)

Entrepreneur behavior &Entrepreneurship &Mentoring entrepreneurs

‘The’ Secret of Success – freedom to focus on the business

October 18th, 2010 → 10:03 am @

A woman invited me to have a coffee with her the other day.  So I met her at Mojo, the coffee shop below my office.  She wanted advice about starting her business and was extremely keen to hear the ‘secrets of success’. 

As the conversation progressed, I started recognising my own language in the questions she was asking and she eventually pulled out a book to indicate a point she wanted to discuss.  The book was “Becoming an Entrepreneur”, and she’d gotten her hands on a pre-launch copy.

It was a huge shock to me to see my book with the pages folded down and scrawled with notes.  It was daunting to realise that someone was about to use what I’d written as their guidebook, and I immediately began to consider what was the number one ‘secret of success’ that I’d want her to take away. (more…)

Entrepreneurship &Mentoring entrepreneurs