Startups need more than just investment. They also need experience.
Experience in their markets. Experience growing and leading a team. Experience developing and marketing a product.
But, that is often the one thing that most founders lack. They’re new, they’re just starting out, they’re learning as they go.
That’s why it’s been so interesting to see big-time former CEOs getting into the game as mentors. The Wall Street Journal wrote about this recently:
“In his two decades running Cisco Systems, John Chambers transformed what was a small networking-equipment company into a tech giant. His second act? Investing in and coaching more than a dozen startups with the hope of creating the next Cisco.
After retiring as Cisco’s executive chairman last year (he stepped down as chief executive in 2015), the 68-year-old Silicon Valley pioneer launched a venture-capital fund, JC2 Ventures, with $100 million of his own money. But it’s not just his money at work. To the fledgling companies he backs, perhaps more important is the value he brings as a “chief guru,” as one startup founder dubbed him.
He estimates that he talks or texts, on average, with each CEO in his portfolio three or four times a week. He visits potential customers with Jörg Lamprecht, CEO of Dedrone, a 75-employee drone-security firm. He interviews finalists for any leadership role at Uniphore, an Indian speech-analytics and voice-assistant technology firm with 120 employees.
“It’s not about the investments,” Mr. Chambers says about his portfolio. “I want to first be a strategic partner with the CEO, where I am his or her most trusted adviser, mentor—a coach.”
Mr. Chambers is part of a wave of big-time CEOs and executives who, instead of more conventional retirements of just sitting on a couple of big-company boards, are embarking on second chapters as guiding lights on the startup scene. And more could pursue this route as Wall Street’s performance demands and technological disruption make the top job at megacorporations less hospitable.”
At iSelect, we’ve long championed the idea of “paying it forward.” The idea that, once you exit your company and make your money, it’s important to go back and help others along the way. That’s how you recycle that experience and knowledge back into the system, helping everyone grow.
These CEOs giving back as mentors is the natural extension of this idea.
Before I became an entrepreneur, I spent more than 15 years working in corporate America, helping to build and manage one of the largest technology platforms in the world for Boeing. One would think that this experience would have prepared me well for life in a technology startup, and in many ways it did, but when I sat mulling over my options as a startup CEO, life at Boeing seemed very far away and my problems all seemed quite unique and perplexing.
Fortunately for me, I had a good mentor. He was a been-there-done-that entrepreneur who would take my late night phone calls and talk me through the ever-growing list of issues my team and I had to resolve.
I am not sure we would have had our successful exit without that steady guidance, from him and others who had survived similar challenges before me.
Without a doubt money is critical to success in business, but money without mentorship rarely pays off for anyone. Mentors bring invaluable insights, experience, cadence and a sense of patience that is essential to nurture what’s little more than an idea on the back of a napkin through to a business that spins out profits.
That’s what paying it forward is all about, and it’s an ethic that iSelect has long worked to promote.
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