Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to Relate Your Technology to Business Values

Presenting your startup vision as a founder to a potential investor, or presenting an idea as an employee to an executive, requires that you effectively communicate, or “translate”, the value proposition into terms that the receiver can fully understand and appreciate. If you fail, it’s your loss, not theirs, no matter what the reason.

For example, if your investor has been a senior business leader, like Steve Forbes here, you need to transform your message so that it addresses the issues that senior business leaders have experienced as priorities. For the business leaders I know, these priorities almost always include the following:

  • Business agility. How can my company keep up with the ever increasing rate of change in technology, core business strategies, and culture trends? Implicit in agility is increased productivity on change initiatives. This applies to startups as well as big companies.

  • Data security. In today’s world of distributed data, global reach, and powerful incursion technologies, how do I protect my data and my customers’ data? Executives need more data accessible to their team everywhere, but at what cost?

  • User privacy. Customers are bombarded from all angles today for information to improve their user experience, yet they need to protect highly personal things. How does your proposition address highly targeted advertising without a privacy backlash?

  • Risk reduction. Especially in this world of constant litigation and hackers, how can I as an executive manage the risk to my personal future, as well as the future of my company? How can I control a highly distributed technical operation, which changes every day?

  • Return on investment. How do I measure the return on my development and marketing investments? These business leaders get demands from all organizations for more, more, more, with little ability to quantify payback.

  • Integration. Too many applications out there today are “silos,” built outside the existing organization without an overall architecture, or even a maintenance plan. How do I integrate these to maximize my return?

Your message better hit one or more of these priorities dead on, if you hope to get some traction. Too often what an executive hears is a pitch on some grand new technology that they can’t even understand, or certainly can’t see as directly applicable to their priorities. Remember they have heard similar technology stories for the last twenty years, usually expensive, with poor results

Consider this real example I heard a while back from some MBA students – “Let me introduce our newest tool, which we developed from ‘mashup’ technology, made popular by Facebook and online apps.” This entry line, as well as a long presentation which followed, was missing not only the translation to receiver priorities, but also assumed that the executive had the same background and view of the world as the presenters.

This is called the generation gap. These young technologists didn’t consider that most executives today are a few years older, and would probably translate ‘mashup’ to mean some version of a train wreck. And the mention of Facebook would raise some vague fears of their granddaughter being accosted through the Internet. You won’t close the deal with that pitch.

Obviously, if you are communicating to peers, or any other generational group, the rules change. But the message is the same - if you want to win, then the onus is on you to communicate the value of your argument in terms the other party understands.

Some entrepreneurs, perhaps because of their sense of entitlement, sometimes arrogantly assume the other party should shoulder most of the responsibility for any translation required. If you had one chance to present to Steve Forbes, how would you present your new technology to prevent your own mashup?

Marty Zwilling


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Monday, September 17, 2012

10 Ways to Enhance Your Team Collaboration Skills

It takes a great entrepreneur with a great vision to start a business, but it takes a collaboration of many people to make it a success. That’s where leadership comes in as a key ingredient, to drive the collaborative process to make the whole team better than the sum of the parts.

I remember a book from a while back by Amilya Antonetti, titled “The Recipe: A Fable for Leaders and Teams” which illustrates the key concepts with stories and specific guidance on how to develop your natural leadership style. It all starts with how to be the leader in your own life, but then extends to learning the following skills she outlines for building a great collaborative team:

  1. Build and maintain trust. Trust is a key element we all need to set aside vulnerability, but it is hard to build, and easy to lose. It is not built on words, but through actions and evidence. Only when it works can a team raise and address the necessary issues to win.

  2. Expect conflict to reach consensus. A conflict and a fight are not the same thing. Conflicts are normal and required factual push backs in business, whereas fights are emotional, often personal, disagreements which do not lead forward to consensus.

  3. Embrace change. Change is the only constant in business, so make it your competitive advantage. Initiate change rather than react to it, and give clear instructions to help the team understand why the change is necessary, and how it will make the situation better.

  4. Improve your self awareness. Too often how we see ourselves is different from how we truly are, and how we are perceived by others. If you are unclear on what you want and need from others, you will rarely find it, and can’t lead others to help.

  5. Establish a level of analysis, structure, and control. The challenge is to strike the right balance. With none, things fall into chaos, but too much can have the effect of stifling innovation, flowing forward movement, and even hampering growth.

  6. Make decisions. In general, any decision is better than no decision. Usually a blended approach is the best, between independent decisions, and collaborative decisions factoring in the best team input. Picking great team members is a required first decision.

  7. Foster continuous communication. Communication is the glue that forms the bond between leaders and teams, and holds great teams together. Actions are stronger than words as the true evidence of the message we deliver. Credibility is a required base.

  8. Build championship teams. Winning teams evolve only from the right players, the right attitude, and the right coach. There has to be a cohesiveness and common focus on shared values and a commitment to reaching their shared and personal goals.

  9. Provide recognition and rewards. These drive human behavior, and human behavior drives results. Recognition validates people, their purpose, and their life. Intangible rewards can have an even greater impact than tangible ones, but they must be relevant.

  10. Create learning experiences. We all have a desire to learn and grow, or we and the team become bored and lethargic. The best learning opportunities are experience and sharing with focus on three styles: see and read, hear and repeat, and touch and feel.

In today’s fast-moving digital business age, we face an entirely new environment for innovation and collaboration. The days of the lone genius quietly toiling away, or the autocratic leader are gone.

So use these tips to develop your collaborative leadership skills and learn to build high performance teams. When the team is working well together, it can feel like magic, and the results will match your feelings. Amilya and I have both been there.

Marty Zwilling


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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Don’t Let Passion Destroy Entrepreneur Objectivity

I’m sure we have all seen entrepreneurs with high levels of passion and confidence touting an idea that seems to make very little sense to us. Of course, we never see ourselves in this mode, yet we need to recognize that all humans see reality differently through a built-in set of “cognitive biases,” based on their own unique background of experiences, training, and mental state.

These biases are good, in that they allow us to quickly filter and make decisions in the constant barrage of information we face each day, but bad because they often lead to errors in reasoning and emotional choices. The worst case is called the “passion trap,” where a pattern of beliefs, choices, and behaviors feel good and become self-reinforcing, but lead to disaster.

John Bradberry, in a recent book called “6 Secrets to Startup Success” identifies five key biases that sabotage many passionate entrepreneurs in their startup decision making. I challenge any entrepreneur to honestly tell me that they have never fallen victim to any of these while making startup decisions:

  1. Confirmation bias. This refers to the human tendency to select and interpret available information in a way that confirms pre-existing hopes and beliefs. The antidote is to look for dissenting views that seem to form a pattern of concern. Then what you perceive as isolated exceptions, might indeed appear as a clear majority.

  2. Representativeness (belief in the law of small numbers). Many entrepreneurs tend to settle on conclusions they like, based on only a small number of observations or a few pieces of data. The new founder who hears positive reviews from three out of four friends may assume that 75 percent of the general population will react similarly.

  3. Overconfidence or illusion of control. Overconfidence leads founders to treat their assumptions as facts and see less uncertainty and risk than actually exists. The illusion of control causes startup founders to overrate their abilities and skills in controlling future events and outcomes. Both result is “rose-colored” plans, rather than realistic ones.

  4. Anchoring. This refers to our mind’s tendency to give excessive weight to the first information we receive about a topic or the first idea we think of. It encourages founders to cling to an original idea or, if pressed, to consider only slight deviations from the idea instead of more radical alternatives. The ability to pivot sharply and timely is at risk here.

  5. Escalation of commitment (“sunk cost” fallacy). Startup founders often refuse to abandon a losing strategy in an attempt to preserve whatever value has been created up to that point. They feel that they have put so much money, time, and energy into an idea or plan, that it must be the idea. Investing more into a bad idea doesn’t make it good.

Optimism, for example, is a typical entrepreneurial trait that improves performance, but only up to a point. In fact, moderately optimistic people have been shown to outperform extreme optimists on a wide range of task and assignments. There are a number of similar entrepreneurial characteristics that are recognized as good, but can be amplified to unhealthy levels, resulting in passion traps, or so-called “Icarus qualities.”

Every entrepreneur needs to be on the lookout for early warning signs of biases and passion traps that signal that you are in danger of undercutting your odds of startup success. Obvious ones are founders who are thinking or saying, “This is a sure thing,” or executives losing patience with advisors who point out risks or shortcomings in your plan.

In my experience, a great startup is more about great execution, rather than a great idea. It’s about converting your passion into economic value. To counter-balance the biases in your passion, the best approach is to look beyond your own mind and actively listen to your customers, your advisors and your team. When was the last time you really listened?

Marty Zwilling


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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Non-Profits Require Philanthropists, Not Investors

Angel investors and venture capitalists don’t invest in non-profits. The simple reason is that it’s impossible to make money for investors when the goal of the company is to not make money. Yet I still get this question on a regular basis, so I’ll try to outline the considerations in common-sense terms.

A non-profit organization is generally defined as an organization that does not distribute its surplus funds to owners or shareholders, but instead uses them to help pursue its goals. Examples include charitable organizations, trade unions, and public arts organizations. In the US, a non-profit is technically any company who qualifies as tax exempt through IRS Section 501(c).

Obviously, these companies still need money to get started, or finance growth, just like a for-profit company. What options do they have available to them, since they can’t sell a share of the company (no equity investment)?

  • Individual and institutional donations. For a non-profit, bootstrapping is self-funding from donations and fund-raising. The advantage is no time and effort is spent searching and preparing for the other alternatives, and no repayment terms or collateral are required. There is no discussion of equity, or return on investment.
  • Loans from a bank or other financial institution. Non-profits can apply for a bank loan or line-of-credit, just like any other individual or company. However, like anyone else, they will first need some collateral, or someone to guarantee the loan, and some evidence of a viable business, like receivables and inventory.
  • Personal loans from individuals, employees and board members. Personal loans are certainly an option, but should be avoided if possible. As in any company, they can lead to employee problems, or messy legal issues. A non-profit can also issue bonds to board members and members as a way of borrowing funds from those same people.
  • Government grants. The grant source often gets overlooked, but it should be a major focus these days when relevant due to the Obama administration initiatives on alternative energy and healthcare. The down side here is that real work is required to put in a winning application, and the award may be a long time in coming.
  • Private endowments. This is a funding source for non-profits that is made up of gifts and bequests subject to a requirement that the principal be maintained intact and invested to create a source of income for an organization. Endowments are usually limited to a specific area of interest by a philanthropist, and have many qualifications, so be careful.
  • Bartering services. Bartering occurs when you exchange goods or services without exchanging money. An example would be getting free office space by agreeing to be the property manager for the owner. This could work to get you legal or accounting services, but won’t get you cash to pay employee salaries.

Hopefully you can see from this list that the people and processes involved in financing a non-profit have little in common with angel investors, or the venture capital process. You still start the process with a business plan, but then you look for a philanthropist rather than an investor.

Some non-profit entrepreneurs think they can skip the whole plan, rather than just the sections on valuation, equity offered, and exit strategy. All other sections, starting with a definition of the problem and the solution, opportunity sizing, business model, competition, executive team, and financial projections, are just as critical for non-profits as for-profits.

A non-profit is still a business, maybe even tougher than for-profit to run successfully, so the best angel is a great entrepreneur at the helm for fund-raising, as well as operations. In addition, the best non-profits turn out to be the angel, rather than require one. That’s a higher calling.

Marty Zwilling


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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Investor Rules of Thumb For Investable Entrepreneurs

Investors are people too. They evaluate you like you should assess a possible co-founder or first employee. What are your credentials? What have you done that would convince me that my money is safe in your hands? Only after they see you as fundable, do they want to assess your plan for fundability, not the other way around.

Even with great credentials, it is all too possible for an entrepreneur to come across as a high risk investment. Here are some “rules of thumb” that indicate a marketable and experienced entrepreneur:

  • Highlights team strengths, more than his own. Some entrepreneurs seem to never stop talking about themselves, and all their accomplishments. The best ones talk more about how they have assembled a well-rounded team, and will continue to fill in the gaps.

  • Talks about the implementation plan, not the idea. Most entrepreneurs are great at envisioning their business idea, but the implementation is fuzzy. Experienced entrepreneurs talk about their implementation and rollout plan, with real milestones and quantifiable results.

  • Customer needs and benefits first, then product features. The best entrepreneurs show that their market domain knowledge is as strong as their product technology knowledge. They are able to weave their solution into the market, the opportunity, and customers, in a way that sounds like a natural fit, rather than a product sales pitch.

  • Focus is clear, not all over the map. Success means the entrepreneur must be laser focused on driving the business, passionate about a product, and passionate about a specific set of customers. If the business plan reads like a smorgasbord of offerings, there are probably not enough resources to do any well, and customers will be confused.

  • Rational business model, with prices and volumes. Unless the business is a non-profit, the entrepreneur needs to show how he will make money. The days are gone when investors want only to see a large market share or growth in eyeballs. Are revenues and costs reasonable and projected for five years?

As an entrepreneur, don’t let your ego get in the way, or believe you can take the world on by yourself. If you want to attract investors, you must be willing to listen and work with others, as well as share your ideas or your knowledge. Loner entrepreneurs won’t get their foot in the door with any investor I know.

If you are young or inexperienced, and don’t have business credentials yet, don’t hide this fact. I recommend a proactive approach, to highlight the accomplishments you have, the power of other team members, and show some humility in admitting a search for the rest of the team.

So you might ask, how do first-time entrepreneurs ever get the funding they need to prove that they can perform at the next level? The best answer is to team yourself with someone who has “been there and done that.” After a team success, you’ll find all members are “promoted” to the next level.

Another common approach is to bootstrap your first startup to success, possibly with some help from friends and family. As I said in the beginning, investors are people too, so get out there and make them your respected business friends before you try to sell your idea. Business networking is not the same as cold calling with a hard sell.

Every investor knows a few good entrepreneurs, like Marc Andreessen of Mosaic and Netscape fame, who could get millions of dollars of funding for just about any idea. He needed Jim Clark to help him get a first investment, yet now Marc is a major VC in his own right.

In fact, I don’t know one investor who has funded a “million dollar idea” without regard to the person and the plan behind it. Think about that the next time you pitch your idea, and never mention the people.

Marty Zwilling


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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

For a Startup, Two Heads are Always Better Than One

If you are a first-time entrepreneur, I recommend that you team with a co-founder with experiences, connections, and a skill set that complements, but doesn’t duplicate yours. Even experienced entrepreneurs need a partner to back up each other and improve fundability. The question is how to find that elusive perfect-fit partner.

First, I will admit there is no magic formula here, just like in real life when trying to find a relationship partner. But from my own experience, and input from others, there are useful approaches that will improve your odds of success:

  1. Define the ideal partner. The most important step is deciding exactly what skills and experience you need to best complement yours. Start with your own judgment, but don’t hesitate to ask for advice from a seasoned investor. Ideal partners here should not include your best friend or a family member.

  2. Start the search with business networking. Actively participate in local business groups and events, like The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE) and entrepreneur forums. Join entrepreneur groups online, like Linkedin “On Startups”, Facebook for Business, and use Twitter to find people with like-minded interests.

  3. Join online “dating” sites for business partners. Believe it or not, there are online websites that are dedicated to just this challenge. Examples include PartnerUp, StartupAgents, and Cofoundr. Don’t forget the wealth of business blogs frequented by entrepreneurs and investors, where you make your interests known.

  4. Use local university connections. Call some professors and students at your local university to see if they know any entrepreneurial students, alums, or professors who might be interested in jointly creating a real company.

  5. Look for diversity in outside activities. Major universities, like Stanford and MIT, are flush with smart people from all cultures, many of whom would bring a whole new energy and creativity to your startup. Certain activities seem to attract the right kind of independent thinkers, like rock climbing and ultimate Frisbee.

  6. Talk to people at work. If you have worked with someone at another company for a couple of years, and realized that your work ethic, goals, and personalities are similar, that person may be a good match. Watch out for non-compete clauses, and conflicts of interest with the current employer.

  7. Move to the right geography. If you live in the middle of nowhere, your chances of finding the right co-founder for your new high-tech startup are poor. Maybe it’s time to consider relocating to one of the hubs for startups, like Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle, or Austin. As soon as you find the partner, these are the places to find funding as well.

  8. Get to know potential partners before committing. Take your time. Meet personally with potential candidates in both formal and informal environments to check for a match in chemistry as well as interests. Ask every question you can think of, and don’t let emotions get the best of you. Co-founder is a long-term relationship.

  9. Agree on role assignments early. The last thing you need after all this work is partners stepping on your toes. Make sure you all agree on what you know, what you are good at, and what responsibilities are assigned to each. Get this in writing as a standard pre-nuptial.

  10. Hire a lawyer. Especially when dealing with co-founders that haven’t worked together before, meet with a lawyer with all the partners present and tell him what type of company you are starting, who is contributing what, and other relevant information. Get it written down. Later will be too late.

As most founders come to learn, finding the right business partner or co-founder is among the most difficult, yet most important things that new entrepreneurs need to do. Once they find a great partner, most of the ones I know stay with that partner through multiple startups. Of course, if you’re the next Google, you may only need one.

Marty Zwilling


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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Most Entrepreneurs Fail to Delegate Productively

For a few, delegating comes easily, maybe too easy. For others who are perfectionists, letting go of even the most trivial task is almost impossible. If you are in this second category, you probably don’t like the references behind your back that you are a “control freak” or a “micro-manager.”

Business school professor John Hunt notes that only 30 percent of managers think they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by his or her subordinates. This means only about one manager in ten really knows how to empower others.

The challenge is delegating the right things, and not delegating the wrong things. If you don’t get it right, you are too busy, but working on the wrong things. Almost every entrepreneur needs to improve their skills in this area, so I did some research in the basic principles. Jan Yager, in her book “Work Less, Do More,” has outlined several key steps to effective delegation:

  • Choose what tasks you are willing to delegate. You should be using your time on the most critical tasks for the business, and the tasks that only you can do. Delegate what you can’t do, and what doesn’t interest you. For example, non-computer types should consider delegating their social media, website, and SEO activities.

  • Pick the best person to delegate to. Listen and observe. Learn the traits, values, and characteristics of those who will perform well when you delegate to them. That means give the work to people who deliver, not the people who are the least busy. This requires hiring people with the right skills, not the least expensive or friends and family.
  • Trust those to whom you delegate. It always starts with trust. Along with trust, you also have to give the people to whom you delegate the chance to do a job their way. Of course the work must be done well, but your way or the highway is not the right way.
  • Give clear assignments and instructions. The key is striking the right balance between explaining so much detail that the listener is insulted, and not explaining enough for someone to grasp what is expected. Think back to when you were learning, when you were a neophyte.
  • Set a definite task completion date and a follow-up system. Establish a specific deadline at the beginning, with milestones. In this way you can check up on progress before the final deadline, without fuzzy questions like “How are you doing?”
  • Give public and written credit. This is the simplest step, but one of the hardest for many people to learn. It will inspire loyalty, provide real satisfaction for work done, and become the basis for mentoring and performance reviews.
  • Delegate responsibility and authority, not just the task. Managers who fail to delegate responsibility in addition to specific tasks eventually find themselves reporting to their subordinates and doing some of the work, rather than vice versa.
  • Avoid reverse delegation. Some team members try to give a task back to the manager, if they don’t feel comfortable, or are attempting to dodge responsibility. Don't accept it except in extreme cases. In the long run, every team member needs to learn or leave.

Almost everyone who has grown their startup from a one-person entity to a going concern with many employees has struggled with letting go of any task. On the other hand, executives who come from a large company to a startup tend to delegate too much, resulting in high costs and lack of control.

Finally, every entrepreneur needs to set aside their fear of delegating. If you do it right, as outlined above, every task will likely be done better than you could do it. The only thing you can't delegate is “the buck stops here” role. That can only be done by the person in charge, and it better always be you.

Marty Zwilling


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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Entrepreneurs Can Be The Key To Global Connectivity

Entrepreneurs are always looking for “the next big thing,” when maybe in fact it’s a lot of little things that are only recognized after the fact as components of a big evolution or revolution. In my view, the Internet “connectivity anywhere” has already spawned several of these, but the global change has only begun.

Emily Nagle Green, in her book from a while back “ANYWHERE,” argues effectively that the future of the world and business is ubiquitous connectivity, the total interconnection of people, ideas, and products through a global digital network. Every person will have access to virtually anything in the world from virtually anywhere he or she happens to be at the moment. Key vehicles already include wireless for communication, and RFID for product location.

The implications for startups in this context are huge. On the hardware side we need better technology to provide a common digital network around the world, better broadband to satisfy the demand, and wireless ubiquity for connecting people, devices, and businesses. The needs for new software and services are just as pervasive.

So how do entrepreneurs train to lead the Anywhere Revolution, rather than be dragged along by its wave? Here are some principles I have adapted from Emily’s work:

  1. Be eternally curious. You need to be an eager investigator, avoiding the temptation to write things off before you’ve opened your eyes to all the possibilities they offer. Don’t let yourself be talked out of powerful ideas. Develop a keen sense of customer appetites, as well as current solution strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Be a ubiquitous connector. Some people are naturally “connectors,” using their links with others to create or promote opportunities between them. The Internet dramatically reduces the cost of being a connector. In fact, now we can all be connectors, and should be.

  3. Be an analytic thinker. Already today, your skills in searching for information and then synthesizing that information, looking for patterns, and interpreting it, can be more valuable than the actual information you’ve amassed in your experience as a person and as an employee.

Entrepreneurs should be asking themselves for every consumer and business product, how can we add “anywhere” connectivity to this item? This is called the connectivity diffusion.

  • If you can enhance the user’s experience with sending, or getting, real-time information, you should.
  • If you can add value to the product with connectivity – perhaps contributing to the cost, too, and thus defraying the price of the product for the customer – you should.
  • If you can extend the life of the product in the customer’s hands by providing service or updating it with new features, you should.
  • If you can partner with a firm that can do any of these things to bring your service or message to more “surfaces” in the customer’s life, you should.

Also, put your marketing hat on and realize the wealth of new potential opportunities to create more awareness and consideration of your product or service in the future of ubiquitous connectivity. Whether it’s coupons, or advertisements on the mobile, the connected device with geo-location that’s always in a pocket or purse is literally a whole new world for marketers.

As an entrepreneur, don’t apologize for your self-interest and profit motivation. Be an optimistic adopter of connectivity. Be a connectivity evangelist and embrace the connectivity future that is opening before you. That’s a win-win for everyone anywhere.

Marty Zwilling


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Monday, September 3, 2012

The Unwritten Secrets for Choosing a Startup Mentor

Every first-time entrepreneur, or even an experienced founder stepping into a new business area, needs a mentor. Nothing you have ever done raises so many questions, or has the potential to be so fulfilling, or so risky, as starting a new business for the first time. A mentor is a confidant who has been there and done that, and is willing to guide your steps.

In case you think mentors are only for “wimps,” you should know that most great entrepreneurs are quick to give credit to their mentors. Bill Gates always revered the early guidance he received from Dr. Ed Roberts, creator of the Altair 8800. Later, the great Warren Buffet became his mentor on many corporate matters.

In a reverse fashion, most of the recognized business gurus always found time to be a mentor. For a fortunate, surprisingly large club of CEOs, the late Peter F. Drucker was the single most lucid, eloquent, and encouraging force in their lives. With experts like this willing to help for free, why should you be the one to go it alone?

The best mentor candidates are the most experienced professionals you admire, and from whom you can learn, to accelerate your progress and avoid the deep potholes in the road ahead. Martin Yate, in his recent book “Knock 'em Dead - Secrets and Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World” succinctly outlines the key criteria for choosing mentors:

  • Mentoring is not a group activity. Mentors are not like lovers. You can have more than one at a time. But my advice is to start with one, or certainly no more than one in an area of expertise. It could make sense to have a business mentor, as well as a technology mentor, but a committee of your friends won’t work.

  • The best mentors are older than you. Although age and wisdom don’t always go together, it is better to find a mentor older than you, because they will have skills you don’t and the wisdom of greater experience. You need both.
  • Let the relationship develop naturally, over time. Mentor relationships, like any other human relationship, don’t happen overnight, and need to be nurtured on a person-to-person basis, rather than remotely or anonymously. The best mentors will even introduce you to their support network, which can multiply the value.
  • The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the protégé. The protégé should be able to feel free to speak about issues which may be plaguing him without fear of repercussions from a major board member, investor or boss.

  • The mentor must be committed to being a mentor. Mentoring is an incredibly important responsibility. If the mentor does not want this responsibility, he will view the time spent mentoring as a nuisance. Being committed means being available, listening well, and able to keep confidences.
  • Find someone who will tell it straight. Telling it straight means having direct discussions that are constructive, respectful, and specific. Both sides need the courage to stop if the relationship isn’t working. Life is too short to waste their time or yours. In this context, it’s also important to find someone who matches your values.

Remember that a good mentor doesn’t relieve you of any responsibility in running your business. Be aggressive and take charge of your own decisions. Don’t expect the mentor to do the work for you, or even the research required to get a job done. In other words, don’t abuse the mentor, by asking them to be your boss, or respond to every thought that pops into your head.

In business as in life, the smartest people are the ones who know they don’t know it all. But smart people learn quickly. Not far down the road, you will be ready to mentor entrepreneurs who are where you were only a year or two ago. You then become a contributor to business leadership in the same way your mentor was to you. That’s value squared.

Marty Zwilling


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