Should Startup Entrepreneurs have a Coach?
Business Coaching, is a direct one-on-one interaction between two individuals in a regular and structured conversation. This is done to address and handle business challenges faced by one individual by drawing upon the experience of another individual. Coaching is done in an environment of complete trust where all matters ranging from work to personal challenges may be discussed once the comfort level starts to increase.
Every Startup Entrepreneur needs a coach.
A majority of Startups all over the world are founded by young men and women in their twenties and possibly in their early thirties. While their ideas are excellent and their energy levels are great, most startups start to falter within a couple of years because of poor / inadequate systems, over aggressive scaling up, weak financial planning, insufficient focus on people management, weak governance or poor execution of their revolutionary ideas.
At the same time, thousands of managers are retiring from the corporate world at the “young” age of between 60–65 years after spending almost four decades in specialized or general management positions in major and smaller corporations. At this stage of their lives they clearly have at least another decade of work inside them.
Retirement of senior managers is happening in all parts of the world and is a consequence of the superannuation policies of the employer rather than the competence or the age of the individual. These people know what it is like to run businesses and tackle the challenges of building businesses. They have functional expertise in finance and accounts, budgeting, packaging, branding, sales, human resources, governance, legal matters and general management.
With a little bit of training, most of them can become excellent coaches.
Therefore, logically, there is a huge opportunity to bring together the vision of the Startup Entrepreneur and the experience of the older manager in an unobtrusive and non-threatening manner for the entrepreneur. Older individuals can connect with the entrepreneur as coaches (or in some cases as employees), depending on the need of the individuals.
Not every superannuated individual has the energy or the risk taking capability to start a business enterprise on their own. At the same time, the older managers, in the twilight of their careers, are not yet ready to hang up their gloves. Most of these older individuals would be reasonably financially secure. They are looking to give back their life’s learnings while staying occupied, and earning some money (which could be in the form an equity option as well). Further, they will be much more stable for a startup. They will not resign and walk away in a hurry because they did not like the way they may have been spoken to or because another exciting opportunity has come up.
For the entrepreneur, it is a very lonely job and there are very few people he can trust. Most young entrepreneurs need a sounding board in a non-threatening manner with someone who has no agenda with the individual or the business. Given the significant work pressures Startup Entrepreneurs face, they need someone to discuss their issues and allow them to vent.
They will not say what the startup entrepreneur wants to hear and after a long work innings, hopefully, they would have learned how to manage their personal egos in front of the young team that they wish to be a part of.
A coach should see their success in the success of their younger colleague and not attempt to score brownie points directly with the teams.
In addition to watching the back of the startup entrepreneur and guiding them when the ship invariably hits troubled waters, a coach will also bring in strong subject matter knowledge from the domains they would have spent decades working in.
Most startups face issues in the following areas and an experienced professional can provide invaluable inputs for the startup team.
Some of these areas outlined below.
1. People Strategies — Most entrepreneurs struggle with their people strategies. The people who started off with the entrepreneur may not be the best to take the business to the second and third level. Even the entrepreneur needs to stay ahead of the curve to manage a fast growing business. A coach can evaluate the people and help in identifying new resources at each stage of the growth.
2. Business Planning and Review — Startups are famous for making plans and then not meeting them! A good coach can work closely with the entrepreneur and the top management team to develop an achievable business plan and more importantly, hold quarterly reviews. This will ensure that the entrepreneur and leadership team is held accountable for what they commit in each quarter.
3. Good Governance Practices — All Startups should normally be started with the objective of building a strong and stable business which can mature into an institution. A coach will ensure that the entrepreneur will build good governance and transparent practices in the organisation.
Even something as mundane as ensuring board meetings are held on time and minutes are properly recorded is an area where startups have been known to slip up.
4. Fund Raising — While most startups are looking for funding from Angel Investors and Private Equity Investors, there is a large opportunity for raising funds from banks though debt and working capital financing. A coach with a strong finance senior background will bring in much needed contacts and experience to reach out to the banking system.
5. External Relations — Most businesses, irrespective of the sector they are addressing, need a strong connect with the external world. These connections could be with bureaucrats, politicians, environmental activists or the local councilor. An experienced coach will have the patience to handle these external challenges. This could also include developing a strong public relations contact programme with the print and visual media.
6. Legal Processes — In addition to hiring legal help during formation and fund raising, most businesses are faced with a lot of legal challenges. Once again, an older and more experienced coach will bring wisdom in handling such matters. Which cases to pursue and which ones to drop is a critical decision to save valuable managerial time, resources and of course, money.
7. Playbook / Standard Operating Procedures — In the hurry to get started, very often standard operating procedures get lost in the detail. These need to put in place very early in the game so that mistakes are not repeated. An experienced manager tasked with this will be able to put in place such a manual / playbook that would serve the company well into the long term.
Having mentored several startup entrepreneurs, I have seen the value a coach who has “been there done that” can provide to a startup entrepreneur.
I have often said that the combination of young energetic legs with grey hair would be a win-win combination for all Startups. To draw a parallel from hockey or football, the entrepreneur is the centre forward rushing to shoot goals and win while the older manager is the goal keeper who will protect the companies turf and ensure that self-goals are not scored!
What is important for both the parties is to mutually select the right set of individuals. What is important is to develop mutual trust and confidence between the two individuals to build a win-win combination for the success of the business.
In other words, every Startup Entrepreneur needs a coach.
Experience Never Gets Old!
The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies. A keen political observer, he is an Angel Investor and Executive Coach. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here — Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here — My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.
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