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The Power of Great Mentorship: How to Go From 0 to 1

How Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg’s mentors helped them build a billion dollar business.

Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg, Flatiron Health

As sophomores at Wharton, Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg built Invite Media, an adtech platform that Google bought three years later for $81 million¹.

Later, after a brief stint leading Invite’s integration into Google, the two went on to found Flatiron Health, the patient big data company helping researchers find new ways to beat cancer. Roche, the Swiss Pharmaceutical giant, bought Flatiron for $1.9 billion in 2018², just 6 years after Weinberg and Turner’s departure from Google.

These magnificent success stories go beyond just sheer luck and audacity. They highlight the true power of mentorship. Mentors are like bridges over chasms and jackets over puddles. They allow you to benefit from their experience, avoid suffering the same failures, and access unfiltered expertise.

As first time founders in adtech, Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg knew little about the advertising industry. Though the two had founded companies before, neither had led a large team or stood in the shoes of a B2B sales team. Enter, Brian O’Kelley and David Brussin.³ David was a three time founder and CTO, with deep experience leading large tech companies. Brian was a fellow adtech founder and technologist who’d led growth at three companies prior.

With these relationships, Nat and Zach found a way to jump ahead of the learning curve. They avoided the pitfalls of traditional hustling and built a team and product with the helping hands of experienced mentors.

Though mentorship isn’t all sunshine (think too many cooks in the kitchen), you can mitigate confusion by remembering this: One or two committed mentors are worth their weight in gold. The candor of feedback becomes particularly helpful as you build strong relationships.

Early on in Invite Media’s origin story, Brian O’Kelley tore Nat and Zach’s idea apart. What’s important is that qualified feedback like this speeds up the iterative journey to product-market fit. It’s better for an advisor to tell you your idea needs work than for your team to spend time and resources going to market with a product nobody wants.

Good mentorship isn’t a one time thing. It’s by definition a long-term engagement. While you may pick up additional advisors at each stop along the way, you’re likely to find yourself calling on the wisdom of your most trusted circle.

Mentorship is like marriage

Incensed by the lack of connectivity between hospitals, as his 6 year old cousin struggled to get treatment for a rare form of leukemia⁴, Nat stumbled upon his and Zach’s next business idea: Flatiron Health.

Before it became the premier electronic health record system for oncology, and agglomerator of cancer patient data at scale, Flatiron was just an idea. Without medical or scientific research experience, Nat and Zach were armed with only the desire to create impact and determination.

As former founders, they knew how to build a business, but like most successful entrepreneurs, sought insight and validation from trusted advisors. Enter Krishna Yeshwant, Partner at Google Ventures.⁵ Yeshwant helped Nat and Zach meet other founders in biotech, leading to the insight that Flatiron shouldn’t be a genomics company, but a data firm. While Yeshwant ended up leading Flatiron’s $8 million Series A, it’s also clear that he knew when to make the right introductions.

The right mentors can help you speak the language of your industry, as you learn how to wade through unfamiliar territory on your way to finding customers.

As a Harvard M.D and MBA, Yeshwant saw simultaneously through the lenses of medicine and business.⁵ He provided a welcome guiding hand as Nat and Zach navigated the chaos. The right mentors can help you speak the language of your industry, as you learn how to wade through unfamiliar territory on your way to finding customers.

While Nat and Zach’s trail of well-invested mentors doesn’t end here, you’ve probably gotten the picture. The story ends with a multibillion dollar exit and a veritable frontier of interconnected data that is being used to power drug research.

Do you accept the challenge?

We can’t see around every corner. We’re sometimes blind to things that should be crystal clear. But as founders, it’s our job to comprehend, value and instrumentalize others’ perspectives. In short, though you’re still in the driver’s seat, few long journeys are best undertaken alone. After all, what’s the downside?

But don’t take it from us, here’s what Nat himself had to say:

“If you’re starting a company for the first time, or even if you’re a successful entrepreneur entering a brand new space, sometimes simple advisers aren’t enough (and you definitely won’t be enough). Find a partner who will help you build the product and company as a super adviser of sorts… and treat them as part of the team even though it’s your responsibility to execute.” ⁴

  • Some of your most meaningful introductions to customers and investors will come from mentors
  • In all trades, it takes significantly longer to build something alone
  • Good mentorship/advisory saves money and helps make good decisions in a timely fashion, so runway isn’t spend reinventing the wheel
  • Find mentors through your professors, internships, cap table, or through organizations like ours
  • Mentors shorten your path to greatness, you have nothing to lose

If you’re thoroughly convinced that your ship isn’t best sailed alone, apply to join FoundersXcel, a rapidly growing community of founders, advisors and mentors worldwide.

Written by Scott Smith and Carlo Köbe

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