Recently, I was interviewed by the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation about The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, of which they are a sponsor. Following is the transcript of the interview. I have been a Board Member of this tremendous organization for the past 4 years.
CONNECTpreneur recently entered our 9th year. To date, we have hosted 47 events, the last 4 being “virtual” events. Over 20,000 business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world have attended our events. Our website is connectpreneur.org. Please check us out!
THE BIG IDEA
IN CONVERSATION WITH TIEN WONG, CEO, OPUS8, AND
FOUNDER & HOST, CONNECTPRENEUR
Get to know CONNECTpreneur, a unique forum which attracts the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. Organizers of the top tech and investor networking events in the region.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO MAKE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN BUSINESS LEADERS OF ALL STRIPES – CEOS, VCS AND ANGELS – TO EARLY STAGE COMPANIES?
Not just for early stage companies, but all businesses of all sizes, the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” still applies very relevantly. People want to do business with people. Early stage companies, in particular, have many needs: capital, talent, customers, vendors, partners, product development, marketing, etc. and having a large and deep network gives an entrepreneur a huge advantage in the marketplace, for obvious reasons. There is a proven correlation between the size and quality of one’s network, and one’s overall success — in entrepreneurship and most endeavors.
WHAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE THAT MAKES CONNECTPRENEUR A TOP TECH NETWORKING EVENT IN THE REGION?
It’s our ability to attract the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. We pride ourselves on organizing the top tech and investor networking events in Montgomery County and the Washington region as a whole. We think that the reason that over 70% of our surveyed attendees rate CONNECTpreneur as the “number one” tech and networking event in the Mid-Atlantic region is because of the high quality and seniority of our attendees, which is unprecedented. Over 20% of our attendees are accredited angel investors or VCs, over half are CEOs and founders, and we intentionally keep the ratio of service providers as low as possible. This makes for more meaningful connectivity among the participants.
HOW DOES CONNECTPRENEUR SUPPORT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS AND ENTREPRENEURS OF COLOR?
CONNECTpreneur is very intentional about providing a diverse set of presenters and speakers in our programming. Our community of entrepreneurs and investors is highly diverse, and our selection committee is very tuned in to the benefits of gender and cultural diversity. We actively work with and partner with local, regional, and national players who share our values of “double bottom line” ethics which value social impact as well as financial gain. Some of our partners include Maryland Tech Council, TEDCO, Startup Grind, Founder Institute, Halcyon and Conscious Venture Labs to name a few.
WHY IS MONTGOMERY COUNTY A GOOD LOCATION FOR AN INNOVATIVE STARTUP COMPANY? AND, WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SUCCESS?
Montgomery County is a top tier County nationally for startups, and that’s evidenced by numerous awesome success stories. MoCo has a tremendously educated talent base, world class government institutions, top schools, and a large base of angel and high net worth private investors who can provide seed funding. The best advice for success is to understand thoroughly your customer and their needs and pain points very deeply. That way you can get to “product market fit” more quickly, de-risk your opportunity, and be more capital efficient. Too many companies get enamored with their product and design, or culture, or getting media coverage whereas the true essence of any successful business is to provide excellent products and solutions to its customers and sell into their markets like crazy.
WHAT ARE SOME UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EARLY STAGE COMPANY THAT SPARK YOUR INTEREST TO EXTEND AN INVITE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FORUM?
We are looking for presenting companies which have truly disruptive ideas, products and/or solutions which could be sold into huge markets. And of course, the most important criteria are the quality, expertise, and coachability of the founding team. We have had presenters from all kinds of sectors including life sciences, cyber, telecom, blockchain, wireless, mobility, e-commerce, marketplaces, fintech, medical devices, IoT, etc.
Learn more about CONNECTpreneur at our website: connectpreneur.org
This is a Guest blog post from Jeff Cherry, Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. He is a tech CEO and mentor, investor, philanthropist, and community builder.
I recently listened to a thought-provoking episode of the TED Radio Hour on NPR entitled What We Value. Its premise was that this economic and societal crisis in which we find ourselves is accelerating the move towards a new set of values when it comes to the practice of capitalism. Those of us in the social impact and Conscious Capitalism space are heartened to see this discussion gaining momentum, but the question remains: How will capitalism change now that the unhealthy state of business and our major societal institutions have been laid bare?
There are many indications that this shift was in the offing far before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Although late to the game, the statement released by the Business Roundtable in August 2019 signaled a transformative move away from the outdated notion of shareholder primacy and towards a more human and effective form of business. It certainly garnered the attention of the press. And others in the business mainstream who had been either unaware or hostile to the market forces driving this change, are now finding it hard to ignore discussions of stakeholder management and whether business should have a broader role in society.
These ever-expanding discussions about the purpose of business in society are now taking place in the context of what does a return to “normal” look like in the economy. And a growing sentiment that the normal we were experiencing — where greed, inequity, declining living standards, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, regulatory capture, share buy-backs, corporate welfare and environmental depletion were the norm — isn’t in fact normal. Nor a state of being for which we should collectively yearn. As you might imagine, I agree.
The challenge we face now then, is how do we actually execute on this new idea? Many people talk about business for good and changing the purpose of the firm. But in the real world of competitive advantage, pricing models, customer needs, shareholder demands, supplier, employee and community relationships, knowing what to do is hard. We speak to entrepreneurs all the time who are philosophically aligned with a new narrative about business. They can cite anecdotes about others who have been successful, and they lack a cognitive frame that they can use to build an organization that embodies this day-in and day-out.
I’ve written at length about why I believe a focus on stakeholders in business and capitalism needs to replace the old story. In this article, the first of a two-part series, I’ll describe a framework to begin the journey to business as an institute of societal well-being: Or Human Capitalism.
The New Narrative of Business in Society: Human Capitalism What does a new story about the practice of business and capitalism look like in practical terms?
In order to fully bring this new narrative to life, I believe we need to re-define the purpose of business as a societal institution. Then, we need to translate that definition into tools that real entrepreneurs and executives can use every day to guide how they formulate strategy, individual decision making and implementation.
When a new cohort of the Conscious Venture Lab convenes, I ask a question to frame the work we’ll be doing over the ensuing 16-weeks: “What kind of world could we create if investors, executives and entrepreneurs cared as much about people as they care about profit?” It isn’t a question I expect any of the teams to answer outright. It’s a rhetorical challenge to think about how these ideas impact their businesses and the broader society.
Over the last few months, I’ve reframed that question: What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to simply care for each other? This is the essence of Human Capitalism.
This version of the question doesn’t pit people against profit, which I believe is a false construct. Instead, it captures the meaning we’re all experiencing in this moment: can we be a complete society if the overarching purpose of business is only to increase profits and not primarily to improve the human condition? Both of these questions are variations of the age-old investigation of “What is a business for?” Academics, economists, politicians, social scientists and businesspeople have been asking this question for decades, if not longer.
Liesel Pritzker Simmons, co-founder of the impact investing firm Bluehaven Initiative, has said, “A crisis gives us an excuse to have conviction earlier.” What we are experiencing in this moment has emphasized how interconnected we are as a society and as a world. It has emphasized the importance of health as a public imperative. The importance of economic, community and personal resiliency as interdependent societal imperatives to which individuals and all societal institutions, even businesses, need to contribute. This crisis is bringing along those who may not have reached a level of conviction to move to a more human form of capitalism had things stayed … normal.
In this new reality it’s clear that the question about what type of world we want to create can no longer remain abstract or rhetorical. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the truth, that a focus on our interdependent well-being is necessary for society’s survival. Succeed together or fail together the choice is ours, but we can no longer hide behind a narrative that separates individual financial self-interest from our mutual survival.
In the post-COVID world, the new narrative of business in society is a narrative about authentic caring, societal resilience and collective well-being.
Practical Ways to Integrate Human Capitalism Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder of Southwest Airlines, once said, “The business of business is people — yesterday, today and forever….” But what does it actually mean to structure your business around people? What can you do tomorrow to transform the structure of your business, respond to this new reality and become the type of leader that society needs?
Caring is Job 1: Above all there is one thing leaders must do first in order to be successful in this new world: They must actually care! To be clear, leaders who embrace the idea of caring for stakeholders as a core value and primary motivation for running a business will be well-positioned to succeed in this new world. They’ll be more able to execute on the ideas described later in this article and more likely to attract talent, customers and investors in a post-COVID world of business as a vital instrument of society.
At first this seems obvious and perhaps, some would say, no different than the status quo. But the nuance of authentically treating employees, suppliers, customers and communities as individuals deserving of your care for their own sake, as opposed to primarily as fodder for creating returns is critically important. Not only to how your company will be perceived, but authentic caring — or the lack thereof — will have a tremendous impact on your competitive performance. People understand instinctively if you are treating them fairly simply as a form of manipulation for other ends. And, unless you’ve created a true culture of caring in your organization, you’ll be tempted to abandon that care when it comes into conflict with your “real goals.” The best leaders however will understand this simple truth: how we think about creating financial value is now, more than ever, clearly tied to the way we create societal value. Authentically caring is a key component of this new narrative.
With that as our foundation, there are two things that every leader can do to build caring into the operational DNA of their business:
First, adopt a specific set of guiding principals about what it means to care for each other in service of societal well-being. And second,
Institute a practical business operating system that provides a framework for living into those guiding principals.
Here in Part-1, I’ll discuss a set of guiding principles we’ve created at the Conscious Venture Lab to help entrepreneurs execute upon these cultures of caring.
Guiding Principles: The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being In order to seed this new culture of caring into the DNA of your operations, it is crucially important that you articulate and codify a set of guiding principles that the entire company can use to organize your thought processes and create operating norms, policies, procedures and metrics that will keep your culture on track in good times and in challenging times…like during a pandemic.
Companies that will lead us into a more effective model of capitalism and a future of broadly-shared prosperity have structured their business to deliver on what I call The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being, through which we vow to use business to make the world:
More sustainable and
More prosperous for all.
Let’s examine each principle:
Business as a path to a More Just society: Leaders who are best at this will work to create social justice by structuring their organizations to level the playing field and authentically create access to opportunity for all those in their ecosystem who want to contribute.
Conscious Venture Lab and SHIFT Ventures portfolio companies Hungry Harvest and R3 Score have built this promise into their business models, which drives impact and returns.
Hungry Harvest creates a more just world by providing fresh food to communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it and dignified work opportunities to people in need. As a result, they create scores of “Harvest Heroes” who loyally buy wholesome food from the company that otherwise would have gone to waste. In the process they have increase sales by more than 34,000% over the last 4 years.
R3Score creates a more just world by providing a dignified return to civil society for millions of formerly incarcerated Americans and allowing banks a way to engage with people they would otherwise ignore. Thereby expanding the banks’ customer base, putting financial assets to work that would otherwise lay fallow and giving the 1-in-3 Americans with a criminal record the opportunity to build a new life.
Business as a path to a More Joyous life: Leaders who bring more joy into the world will do so by focusing on a combination of the quality of the human interactions in their operations, eliminating misery as a core aspect of their business and/or creating products that bring authentic joy to more lives.
One of my personal favorite companies, Union Square Hospitality Group, uses a culture of caring and enlightened hospitality to bring joy to employees, customers and suppliers alike.
Startup Aqus Water, that was a part of the Vatican Laudato Si Challenge in 2017, has created a product that puts “three years of clean water in the palm of (the) hand(s)” of people in places where lack of clean water has been causing extreme hardship for centuries. With more than 780 MM people in the world lacking access to clean water, bringing joy will undoubtedly bring prosperity to many.
Business as a path to More Equitable communities: When leaders focus on creating a mutual exchange of value between all stakeholders, they move their organizations away from the negative consequences of shareholder primacy and create more equitable communities for everyone. Paradoxically, an equitable approach to business, or removing the shareholder blinders, often creates new paths to greater value for shareholders.
Greyston Bakery in Yonkers New York is a pioneer of open hiring. They create a more equitable world by focusing not on the tyranny of weeding people out in the hiring process but by providing the dignity of work to anyone who wants it.
Here in Baltimore, Jacob Hsu and his company Catalyte have created an entirely new way of identifying undervalued individuals who have the aptitude to become exceptional engineers. Creating new paths to equity and unleashing massive financial potential for communities, his clients and the company.
Business as a path to a More Sustainable world: The winning leaders of the new narrative think and plan for the long-term. They understand that sustainability in every sense is the key to enduring organizational health. They establish a circle of growth for the planet, the people who serve or are served by the organization and the organization itself.
Billion-dollar clothing company Patagonia has rejected the world of “fast fashion” by creating high quality, long-lasting products and offering a repair and reuse program to discourage customers from buying things they don’t need.
Business as a path to a More Prosperous existence for us all: The best leaders view value creation with a polarity, or both/and mindset. They actively look to create real wealth for employees, customers, communities, suppliers and shareholders. They work to manage the polarity of creating value for all stakeholders by asking themselves questions like: “How do we simultaneously achieve the upside of paying our employees as much as possible, and, the upside of creating great returns for shareholders?” This is in contrast to shareholder value leaders who see all stakeholder relationships as tradeoffs that need to be solved for the benefit of shareholders.
Starbucks has fed more than 10 million people through its FoodShare program, redoubled its commitment to eliminate gender pay equity gaps, and committed to becoming “… resource positive — storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste and providing more clean fresh water than we use …” — all while rewarding shareholders handsomely — even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Why Human CAPITALISM? In Part-2 of this series I will discuss how the tenets of Conscious Capitalism and stakeholder management will allow organizations to clear the clutter and build these principles into everyday operations.
For now, a note before we end to my main audience: The Skeptics:
I spend the majority of every waking hour thinking about how to support entrepreneurs who have previously been neglected and who are creating world changing companies despite the immense hurdles they face. I also spend a majority of that time thinking about how to invest on behalf of my limited partners in a way that will create exceptional returns. I am a capitalist who believes capitalism can and should be practiced in a way that unleashes its power to elevate all humanity. That we can create a more humane form of commerce and human cooperation. What I am suggesting is that capitalism, like any man-made system, must evolve as society evolves. To paraphrase my friend and mentor Ed Freeman, professor at the Darden School at The University of Virginia, the alternative to capitalism as we know it today is not socialism, but a better, more human form of capitalism.
For those who would push back on these ideas as leaving shareholders behind and giving away profits I would simply ask you to suspend disbelief for a bit. Take a few minutes to think not about what you might lose, but about what you might gain. What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to care for each other? Look around…I think that time has come.
Jeff Cherry, is CEO and Managing Partner of SHIFT Ventures, and Founder & Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab, an award-winning and internationally recognized early stage accelerator. He is also Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. Jeff is a pioneer in conscious capitalism and double bottom-line investing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Almost 9 years ago, I published this, my first Blog post on WINNING IDEAS. As I work with students, mentees, and other business colleagues of late, I find myself reverting to various “Fundamentals” in our conversations, this one perhaps being the most important of all. Please enjoy and let me know what you think!
What does it take to be Successful? Everyone has an opinion on this for sure.
Success is Winning, and everyone loves Winning.
Having been a student and analyst of the subject of Success for over 40 years, I think I have boiled down the formula of what creates Success:
Each of the great thinkers and each successful person has their own personal take on what it takes to achieve success, but these are the 5 essential elements.
Of course, I left out a couple of other important elements like Serendipity, Luck, Sacrifice, Hard Work, and others, but I believe that these “sub elements” are a part of one of these 5 essential ingredients. For example, if you have a Burning Desire (passion), then you will make the sacrifices and work hard. Goal Setting includes goal review, and is the roadmap to the destination.
Courage is an interesting one and we don’t hear it mentioned often, but to me, Courage is all about taking action, and stepping up and going outside your comfort zone to make things happen. Without Courage, thought cannot easily be transformed into Action.
And what about luck? Well, the more persistent you are, the luckier you get. By never giving up and hanging in there, opportunities will inevitably come your way.
Persistence is my favorite, and I conclude this, my first ever Blog Post with my favorite quote:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” – Winston Churchill
About 18 months ago, I was cold called by a young, ambitious MBA student who wanted some advice and guidance on something very very difficult to do: breaking into the venture capital business. Relative to huge demand, there are very few entry level VC positions available in the Washington, DC region.
Since his initial cold call, I have met him a few times at various events around town. I had not heard from him in several months until today when, in response to an email announcement my company sent out, he responded that he was still seeking my help in landing a VC job.
I emailed him my response:
Here’s how I may help, with some (free) advice:
YOU have to HELP you. The buck stops with you!
You have to create true value for your customers and constituents (boss, coworkers, investors, friends, etc).
You must give 110% every single hour of every single day, and MAKE SURE all of this is recognized.
Network like a machine. You should be out every night going to 2-3 events per, and genuinely HELPING others – Thats how you build YOUR brand!
Work 80 hours per week. There’s no substitute for hard work.
In this market, the ideal job does not come to you. YOU have to attack and make it happen. And the tools you need are contacts, credibility and expertise, all of which you will develop by following the advice above.
Pursue your dream and never give up!! It may take a month, year, or 10 years, but the persistent person ALWAYS wins…eventually!!
All the best, Tien
That’s advice I would give to my kids, the students I work with at Georgetown or Maryland, and anyone looking to land any kind of job, especially a high-demand job.
Bottom line: you have to help yourself, and there are no shortcuts. Buckle up because the road will be long and bumpy,
I had the privilege of having lunch with our Tech 2000 and appnetic summer interns yesterday. I’m pictured above with them and one of my Partners, George Churchwell, Co-Founder and President of Tech 2000. This crop of 7 of the best and brightest students from MIT, Georgetown, Emory, UVA, UNC, and Virginia Tech give me a high degree of confidence in the future leaders and entrepreneurs of America! They are smart, confident, talented, ambitious, and want to make an impact in the world.
We had a terrific discussion about entrepreneurship, innovation, startups, business, and management. They are each excited about learning new skills and garnering some good business experience. They came to the right place and we are very grateful to have them this summer (We selected these 7 out of over 150 applications; special thanks to our awesome Head of Talent, Jackie Churchwell!).
Inevitably the conversation turned to advice, on both business and life. So I divided my thoughts into 2 lists: “Winning Advice” and “What I Wish I Knew at Your Age,” the latter of which is one of my favorite slides when I speak to students at some of our local business schools.
WINNING ADVICE FOR OUR INTERNS
Integrity is #1 – this is about you and your reputation. Do the right thing and keep your promises, be honest and transparent.
Find your Passion – it’s ok if you don’t know it yet. I know 50-year olds who haven’t yet found theirs. Experiment, try new things. You will find your passion or it will come to you.
Always give 100% – work hard, be proactive, bring your “A” game, and be prepared
Learn how to sell – the most underrated yet important skill you will ever have is knowing HOW TO SELL. Understanding your customer’s motivations and buying patterns is critical to business and life. Life is about selling and persuading, and your “customers” include friends, family, bosses, etc.
Have Fun! Life is short. If you’re not having fun, then you’re wasting your time. Move on until you find something you truly enjoy.
“WHAT I WISH I KNEW AT YOUR AGE”
Everything is hard! Everything takes longer and costs more than you expect. If you go into any endeavor knowing this fact, you will have more reasonable expectations and not get so discouraged when you have a few setbacks.
Nothing comes without Hard Work and LUCK – you need Luck, and eventually it will find you. The harder you work, the more prepared you are and the “luckier” you will get.
When building a startup, there’s no such thing as “Work/Life Balance.” It’s “Work/Work Balance.”Once you find your passion, life and work converge and become one. I don’t know any successful entrepreneurs who have not put in huge hours and sacrifice.
Work with great partners, advisors and people.The key word here is great. Great people can achieve multiples of what mediocre people can do.
Don’t waste your time with liars, posers, and cheats. Eventually, they will bring you down. You will be known and judged by the company you keep.
Trust YOUR gut, it’s usually right. You know more about yourself than you realize.
Money is overrated and Contentment is underrated. Enough said.
Please let me know what YOU would add to these 2 lists. Thanks for reading and subscribing!
News flash: Contrary to some reports questioning its relevance in the DC Tech community, MindShare is alive and well! This “exclusive forum” for CEOs of young and emerging tech companies is, in fact, thriving and very active!
MindShare Organizing Board with MindShare Class of 2012 Graduates
MindShare History – In 1995, Harry Glazer and Anne Crossman, with the support of Kathy Penny, were chairing the Northerm Virginia Technology Council’s Emerging Business Committee, which sponsored informal “coffee and bagels” meetings for regional entrepreneurs. They attracted great speakers, and the format was very similar to the format used by MindShare today. At the beginning of each meeting, attendees would introduce themselves and give an “elevator pitch” on themselves and their companies. These intros would be followed by speakers, and then end with further networking.
By 1997, Harry and Anne formalized these meetings into MindShare. The mission, from the start, was to provide a forum for CEOs of emerging technology companies to get to know the leaders of other early-stage companies, to learn from each other, and to interact with experts on subjects that were relevant to their growing businesses. At the end of the first year, the Organizing Board of senior leaders in the community decided that the members of the group would “graduate” and become alumni, and a new “class” of members would be selected for the following year. The organization quickly began to develop serious awareness and cachet as Washington Technology referred to a MindShare invite as “the hottest ticket in town,” and the group had no problem recruiting 40-50 CEOs from the region’s most promising early-stage growth companies. Even as the tech bubble deflated, MindShare continued to grow more prestigious and continued to attract the most promising entrepreneurs in the region.
Fast forward to today – the MindShare alumni network is a thriving “Who’s Who” of tech entrepreneurs and CEOs in the region. Events and reunions are incredibly well attended, and alums stay connected and help each other through the ListServ, which is one of the most valuable and effective databases of its kind in the region. At December’s CIT GAP 50 Entrepreneur Awards, 45 of the 93 finalists (and 11 eventual winners) were MindShare alums including several from recent Classes.
So I guess I am saying that MindShare is one of the anchors of our community. It’s played and will continue to play a critical role in binding together the region’s top tech CEOs, and helping the “next generation” of tech companies succeed. With 665 alums, the vast majority of whom are still active as CEOs, angels, mentors, and Advisors, MindShare is a force for good, and as one of the cogs in the wheel that is the DC regional tech community. I am very grateful to benefit from all the great things that have come out of MindShare.
IF YOU COULD GIVE YOUR KIDS ONLY 3 PIECES OF ADVICE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
This question was posed as an “Icebreaker” to our Forum meeting a few weeks ago.
Think about it. Of all the DOZENS of great ideas you’d like to give your children, what would be the TOP THREE?
Here are mine:
1. THINK for yourself – To live a fulfilling life, you have to think independently. This is how you can create a world of limitless possibility. Question everything! It’s OK to listen to “conventional wisdom” and advice that people give you, but YOU have to ultimately form your own opinions. This is what the best LEADERS do, whether they are leading a company, a family, or their own lives.
2. Always maintain your INTEGRITY – In the end, you have only 2 things: your memories and your name. And your name and reputation live on. By keeping your promises and doing the RIGHT THING, you will sleep soundly at night and have peace of mind.
3. Find your PASSION and give 100% – Life is very short. You don’t have much time, so make the most of it by doing what you LOVE and giving your ALL. It’s not easy to find your passion. Maybe the search will be painful and long, but you will find it at some point. And the feeling of satisfaction knowing you have given 100% brings tremendous contentment.
My Forum Brothers all had awesome Advice as well:
Find Yourself. Be True to Yourself.
GIve and Get Love.
Be Present – Take in the Moment.
Listen Carefully to Advice Along the Way
Modulate Your Emotional Highs and Lows
Embrace Difficulties and Hardship – They are a Catalyst for Growth
Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Find a Life Partner Who Shares Your Values and Life Experience
In Your Profession: Be Good at It, Enjoy It, and Make Sure It Pays Well
What Top 3 pieces of advice would YOU give to YOUR kids?
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” That’s one of my favorite sayings, and a true maxim in life and in business. Having a “know it all” mentality can lead to disastrous decision making. I’ve learned this the hard way, and if I had a dime for every time I have said “you don’t know what you don’t know” to one of my teammates or colleagues, I’d be very rich!
The beautiful hand painted wooden Russian Nesting Dolls from the city of Penza (above and below) illustrate this point very well. The dolls descend in size and fit inside one another. You open the largest one and keep going until you finally come to the impossibly tiny little doll at the end.
Ever had a problem you think you solved until another related issue popped up? Something completely unexpected. Then you thought you solved it again but then another surprise came up? And so on and so on until you finally got the correct answer? Finding the right solution is just like opening up a set of these nesting dolls one by one.
Problems can be solved faster by knowing the simple fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” So here are some simple ideas to keep in mind.
1. Don’t Assume Anything – You’ve heard bosses and mentors say, “If you A-S-S-U-M-E, you make an A-S-S out of U and ME,” right? I have to agree that, while extremely difficult NOT to do, assuming things can be very costly, especially when communicating with others. Of course, you have to assume or guess at some things, but try and get as many facts, background info, etc. ahead of time.
2. Be Prepared – For anything. Expect surprises, and just take the issue as it comes and think things through carefully.
3. Have a “Beginner’s Mind,” or “Shosin” as the Zen Buddhists like to call it. By being open and devoid of preconceptions, you bring a level of humility and desire for learning to the challenge at hand.
4. Get Help – Ask experts or experienced people and advisers who can help you. And do your homework independently, as well.
5. Test and Iterate – If you have the luxury of time, take baby steps and test your ideas. Whether it’s a new product or a new target audience, or whatever, put it out there on a test basis first, then evaluate feedback and results….and then adjust accordingly.
We at Lore Systems have put in place these practices and have benefitted immeasurably in making better decisions in everything we do.
Good luck, and thank you very much for reading. Please feel free to comment and sign up for my Blog!
The mentor/mentee relationship is a unique and personal relationship, which transcends a mere advisor or board relationship. It is one of the most rewarding things people can be involved in outside of their family relationships. Mentorship doesn’t happen by accident. Both the mentor and the mentee have their parts to play in a successful mentor/mentee relationship.
A “mentor” is a person with professional and life experience that can be shared to help others learn and develop. The mentor is willing to share these experiences in a manner that the mentee can react to and understand. While there may be commercial aspects to a mentor’s engagement, at its best the advice and help that is offered is provided freely and without expectation of immediate reward.
A mentee is willing to be engaged and respectful of the mentor’s time and should understand that the best mentors are not motivated by money but by personal satisfaction.
Mentorship is not merely advice. It is a bilateral commitment between two people, based upon mutual trust and a commitment. The commitment of the mentor is to provide advice and help to the mentee with the mentee’s best interests in mind. The commitment of the mentee is to be ready to listen to the advice and take the help and act upon it. The currency of the mentor/mentee relationship is personal satisfaction and shared accomplishment.
Is Mentorship the Same Thing as Providing Advice?
A mentor/mentee relationship often is centered upon the giving of advice; however, a mentor/mentee relationship is more than merely providing advice; it is a bi-lateral relationship where the mentor and the mentee both work with and benefit from the other. There is a very important aspect of shared mission that exists at the core of a mentor/mentee relationship. A mentor doesn’t merely provide war stories or open ended advice. Instead, a mentor provides advice in context with the best interests of the mentee in mind.
Mentorship Must be Free of Conflict
Conflict in itself is neutral – it is merely a lack of congruence between the best interests of the person giving advice, the person getting the advice, and the organization (if any) through which the advice is given. The conflict does not mean that the various parts of the relationship are destined to fail, or that the conflict cannot be resolved in a way that serves the best interests of all. In an ideal situation, any conflict should be identified and discussed. We believe that in any advisor/advisee relationship conflicts should be identified and acknowledged. This does not defeat the possibility of a successful mentorship, and results in an honest relationship where parties will know which best interests will ultimately control.
The mentor/mentee relationship should usually be free of conflict. The best interests of the mentee should be tantamount. Following from this is an expectation that the mentor is not exposed to liability or financial obligation. The best mentor/mentee relationship is based upon advice and support freely given and freely ignored.
What Supports a Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationship?
The currency of a successful mentor/mentee relationship is personal satisfaction. It is not a commercial relationship, and relies upon participants deriving psychic benefits.
How Does the Mentor/Mentee Relationship Begin?
Mentorship can arise out of formal relationships; however they cannot be created formally. Directors, Advisory Board members, and supervisors may offer advice, but they are not mentors. The mentor/mentee relationship arises informally through positive association over a period of time. Its success requires a personal relationship, based upon trust. This allows it to be more useful for the mentee, but also more difficult to obtain. As is the case of any personal relationship, consistency and integrity over an extended period are usually required to establish the deep connection of a mentor/mentee relationship.
Does That Mean Mentor/Mentee Relationships Should Always Be Informal?
The mentor/mentee relationship has to work for both parties. This often means that the best relationships are those that have clarity of expectations, for example, time commitment per month or time period. Both parties should acknowledge that most mentor/mentee relationships have an end point, where they do not work for one or the other. Therefore, the best mentor/mentee relationships often arise out of a formal interaction, for example, assisting in a business plan competition. Or, around a specific time period. In the absence of a formal initial structure, mentors/mentees should include in their interactions a regular check-in discussion, to make sure that both are getting the positive benefits they need for it to be a rewarding relationship. Expectations and motivations need to be understood and acknowledged at all times.
What is the Best Way to Find a Mentor?
Mentorship can’t occur until the mentee is ready for a mentor’s assistance. Mentors are best found through a variety of ways including personal networking, positive interactions in a formal advisory setting, and via an introduction from a trusted referral source. Formal vetting programs, like an advisory program operated by a University or community group are great ways to find mentors. Professional service providers are also a potential good source of mentors, because of their deep relationships with many experienced people who could be suitable mentors.
What Are the Most Important Attributes of a Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationship?
The most successful mentor/mentee relationships have many of these characteristics.
Understanding of each other’s “winning strategy.”In order for mentors and mentees to communicate well they must appreciate how the other deals with challenges, and speak to each other in a way that the other can hear. Mentors/mentees don’t have to have the same winning strategy, but when they don’t match up there is a need for a higher level of sensitivity and care.
Both mentor and mentee have to be coachable. Both parties must be self-aware and able to take criticism and modify their behavior. Without coachability you don’t have a real exchange of information and a shared experience – you have one-directional communication.
Both are respectful of time commitments. It’s not always convenient from a work-life balance perspective to be a mentor or mentee. It’s essential that each party be flexible whenever possible, and tries to limit emergencies to real emergencies.
Both must act on information received. Each party must listen to the other and demonstrate through conduct some sort of acknowledgment. A good mentor does not need to have her advice followed, but if a mentee continually ignores advice and thoughts without discussing why, he runs the risk of creating for the mentor the sense that she is wasting her time. For the mentor, not listening to the mentee and modifying advice or how it’s delivered, creates for the mentee a sense that the mentor isn’t really interested in a bilateral relationship.
There must be honesty and transparency. The best mentor/mentee relationships are valuable because there is a real exchange of viewpoints and feedback. This can’t happen if critical facts are omitted, or words are measured to protect feelings.
Mentors must be willing to provide substantial benefits. Mentees look for mentors to provide support, empathy and contacts. They should also look to their mentors to provide an external monitoring process of the mentee’s progression against the shared goals identified by the mentor/mentee.
Mentees must not embarrass or abuse their mentor’s trust. Mentees should ensure that any introduction or other extension of assistance by the mentor is treated with respect and that there is follow through. There needs to be an appreciation that when a mentor acts to assist a mentee by making introductions or otherwise using his own influence, there is a reputational risk to the mentor if the mentee does not perform.
There must be discretion. Along with honesty, keeping confidences is essential, since personal information and feelings are shared. The more comfortable the participants are in sharing sensitive information, the more valuable and lasting the mentor/mentee relationship.
Each party must be open to having the relationship change over time. As in any other personal relationship, the mentor/mentee relationship evolves. Many relationships are situational, or are relevant for a limited time period. Also, at times one party “outgrows” the other. “Breaking up” with a mentor/mentee can be emotionally difficult. It’s essential to be professional when the relationship is no longer satisfying to one party or the other.
A mentor/mentee relationship is not a family relationship. A mistake that many mentor/mentees make is to analogize their relationship to a family relationship, like a big sister or uncle. But mentors/mentees are not your relatives. They are people who are in a mutually beneficial relationship, based upon positive psychic rewards. You should never take a mentor/mentee for granted.
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Managed by experienced technology entrepreneurs for the benefit of entrepreneurs, FounderCorpshas already assisted a number of community groups and Universities in business formation and mentorship activities, including George Mason University, George Washington University, University of Maryland, Startup XLR8R and others.
There are so many great organizations and resources in our market, so why start FounderCorps? Do we really need another organization in town? The answer is YES! We all felt that there exists a tremendous need to promote greater coordination between experienced entrepreneurs and new business creation. There is so much activity in our region, and we wanted to create a group dedicated to providing the experienced entrepreneurs’ perspective to connect the dots between entrepreneurs and technology company creation. The underlying feeling of all of our members is that there is a uniquely successful version of entrepreneurship here in the DC region, and we want to promote and provide resources to this community for sustained growth.
Right now, our membership comprises over 57 experienced technology entrepreneurs who have started, managed or exited successful technology businesses. FounderCorps promotes technology entrepreneurial development by actively partnering with existing organizations to create a supportive infrastructure for technology entrepreneurship. Our core mission is to promote a broader and deeper technology entrepreneurship community in the Greater Washington Region. FounderCorps creates and delivers mentorship and support programs to emerging entrepreneurs who are creating businesses.
Today, FounderCorps announced the establishment of the FounderCorps Fellows Program. The new grant program supports our core mission of promoting technology entrepreneurship in the Greater Washington Region and selects individual entrepreneurs nominated by our members for long-term mentorship and guidance. The initial activity of the FounderCorps Fellows Program will be to provide prizes and assistance to winners of business plan and creation competitions organized by FounderCorps’ partner organizations. Click here for the link to the press release.
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