Hot diggity dang, I am a mentor to start-ups
So… I am a mentor. In other words, screwed up plenty of times and in a very small handful of occasions through the ephemeral intersection of hard work, great team, great product, miracle and timing notched up a success or two. There is a plethora (yes… an absolute plethora) of blogs, videos, columns, websites, books, articles, more books, more blogs about the entire universe of entrepreneurship and what it means to be an entrepreneur… unfortunately, I am going to add to that soup. But I promise it will be brief (look… I am a Turkish-Pakistan-American hybrid mutt so the definition of “brief” may be different for me). And whatever you read here, is me.
And maybe (there are no guarantees in what you are trying to do…) in being authentic lies some salvation and redemption for us both. This search for completeness.
Before I really begin, you will note that this is not just a blah blah blah blog; this is me… through some magic, I figured out that I should spend the time and share a bit of myself. Why? Perhaps to find a sense of immortality, or perhaps it is belonging, maybe it was to get over the massive sadness of not having been completely successful in a venture I spent a significant amount of my life on, perhaps it is a way to address invulnerabilities, or perhaps it is differentiation… whatever it is (or was…) it is me. So, handle it gently. Handle it with grace.
I was asked, what would be “the advice I wish founders would take”. I could pack a suitcase full of answers, suggestions and recommendations coupled with aspirin bottles for all the massive headaches you guys subject yourselves to. Come over to chat with me over coffee/tea (Google me if you want to try to figure out a way to find me… or contact the wonderful people at MCED and if you are nice to them, they may give you my contact information) if you want the suitcase, but the short answer is, be humble. If you thought life was unfair and evil, welcome to its tangible manifestation as entrepreneurship. If you believe in your heart, that you have a calling in life to share this product/service/business/idea/concept/magic, then what you are doing is the light. Yes… it is a dichotomy. Dark and light in the same place…. A very rocky ride. A very mind busting ride. So, be humble. If you are or want to be a rockstar asshole, I (or other mentors) have no time for you.
Of course that leads to the other inevitable question, of what is the best advice I ever got. I never got any advice from one person; I surrounded myself (and continue to do so) with mentors and people smarter than me because no one has all the answers and the world is full of questions coming out from every microscopic hole in the ground. You can gorge yourself on many a YouTube video (and blow yourself up, ala Monty Pythonesque) and get “advice”… what I am telling you is don’t get advice… get mentors who will make you a part of their lives and in return ask that you acknowledge with respect and grace what they are doing with and for you.
The thing is that you are going to get the snot (and a whole bunch more) knocked out of you. You will have three million four hundred thousand five hundred and forty seven questions/problems/screw-ups to address in your first hour at work (which incidentally is 24 hrs per day everyday) with only two data points (usually: 1) we have a problem and 2) if we don’t solve this problem we are screwed). So you have to employ whatever superhuman inspirational icon you have (pick a movie, a song, a video… something tangible and one you can see… better yet, remember that mentor you have?) and just focus on the absolutely eternal answer that will (remember, no guarantees…) be: I have to do XYZ (and “XYZ” is whatever you decide) so I can sell my product/service/magic RIGHT NOW (yes… I capitalized…I screamed… yes… this is really important) and not blow-up the future I am trying to construct. You see… you are building the airplane and flying it at the same time. Welcome to the world of miracles.
So, when resources are low, the most important thing to focus your marketing budget (or pick another budget… but marketing is a priority for all the reasons you are aware of… and if you are not, take a MCED course…) is on “what do I need to do to get the word out to the first person who I don’t have a clue where they are to buy my stuff”. You don’t need to have a million dollar budget for this (you do need to have a budget however…however minimal it may be… if you don’t have a budget then it means it does not exist for you) but you need to figure out who you give a two shits about and what earth/sky you are going to render asunder to get to that person. A single person.
So now when you are talking budgets and etc. it becomes a financial exercise. The other “f” word entrepreneurs really care about. What I would gently urge you is to accept the reality that as the leader of your company, when it comes to financial matters:
1. Investor money is sacrosanct. It is not yours to piss away. If you want to piss away your own money, fine. But, investor money is a tacit connection of honor, integrity, prudence, communication and goal orienteering; it is a sacred
2. Cash is king/queen/goddess. Spend very carefully. Keep track. Be present and thoughtful in the decisions you make.
3. And for the sake of the good Lord above, have an engaged, capable and expert Board of Directors (no… your second cousin is not qualified to be on the Board…).
During this massive journey you are on you are going to determine the manifestly tragic “benefit vs. risk” quotient in order to make decisions. Good luck with that. The demands of the quotient and how you will make the decisions will be a function of time and events… there is no one answer. The guidepost available for this (from which all other guideposts originate) decision making hell is to assess: what do I need to do so I can live for tomorrow? The definition of “live” and “need” are yours to make at the given time.
What you are also at any given time (hopefully) as part of this adventure, is a mentee (side bar note: I always find this word rather weird. Don’t know why but perhaps it has to do with the fact that word is really short and the meaning and implications and the worlds required to be this, is so huge. That and maybe if a Google search yield 1,010,000 results in 0.42 seconds for this word, that says something about something). And a good mentee (yup… it just feels “not right”) is for me, someone who is honest, is decent, smart, cares about others and does not see the world as a zero-sum game. And if you are Christopher Nolan movie fanatic, that goes a long way with me.
Like I said above, this entire mythic and Odysseus inspired trip you are on, is a constant conversation. Neither you, nor I exist in a vacuum. Neither do your customers or your product. What you are doing is a human exchange (it may be a financial transaction on some level but it is fundamentally rooted in the fact that someone else believes you have something of value for which they are going to be part with what society has deemed to be the most valuable commodity…money). So, if you want to talk more about what you faced with with me, or your mentors, do so. Think of all this a jazz concert (and if you want to watch a glorious one, here it is) that only exists if there is a conversation. And maybe in that conversation lies some of the questions and answers that can go towards making you…whole.