Snagging investors to fund a flagship project might feel like a huge hurdle, but the next step is even worse: a veritable plateau sitting at the base of a staggering mountain.
Without the proper gear and a few good Sherpas, even entrepreneurs with the funding they need face treacherous uphill climbs that can literally wipe them out,all that money not withstanding.
The launch of Hardware Studio, Kickstarter’s innovative program to assist founders in navigating the steep ascent they face, provides some insurance for backers and innovators. It also boosts its own platform. Yet talented inventors need more than just a new online program.
They need help from others who have been to the top of the mountain and returned to tell the story. They need seasoned mentors from their particular industry. The question is, how do they -- and you -- find them?
Related: Does Your Startup Need a Mentor?
Becoming a tour guide for startups
The journey from crowdfunding to disaster fora wearable watch company I know about should be textbook material for all up-and-comers. Pebble attracted more than $15 million in investments over several years, according to Crunchbase’s estimates. Within seven years, the company was consumed by Fitbit, which took over the company at a loss. Investors who hadn’t reaped anything for their money were reimbursed.
How did such a big idea then proceed to break apart? According to media reports, Pebble deliberately -- and disastrously -- zigged when it should have zagged. Its founders simply didn’t have the right information and experience to make it in a competitive smartwatch space dominated by players like Apple. In other words, the company lacked insights that more seasoned business leaders possess.
Taking advice is tough sometimes, but it’s better than tumbling head-first down that mountain I described. When my own business was acquired, I was asked to spearhead operations. And I was more than ready to do that: I knew the company inside and out. I knew how to make money and be savvy, but the day-to-day formalized operations were admittedly a weakness.
I wanted to be polished, but without others’ input and life experiences to help guide and shape me in areas of business formalities, I couldn’t deliver on all my investors’ expectations.
Fortunately, I worked with professionals who knew my dedication, pride and abilities. They became my informal mentors, ensuring I made wise decisions and didn’t fall prey to stubbornness. After all, even if you have the best idea, product or invention, you’re toast without business savvy. I learned so much from them, including how to approach and give dynamic presentations. As a result, my confidence and savvy improved.
The advantages to mentoring an upstart
Most successful investors didn’t get to the zenith because of silver spoons in their mouths. They toughed it out and earned the penthouse view, not to mention the title of “mentor.”
Not everyone gets to be a guide to others and share their knowledge. Mentor-investors not only promote their own professional growth, they teach -- nothing solidifies your expertise more than teaching others, after all. They also protect the assets of the companies they back. Plus, they strive to have the opportunity to work with people from all backgrounds, which always produces rich possibilities.
If you’re among those who have been there and done that, you’re in an enviable position. How can you help? Consider these three strategies:
1. Dedicate some time. Leaders need to lead by example -- and that means making time to do so. Most entrepreneurs have no idea how to navigate the complexities of business, so having someone at their elbow watching for potential problems that can cause a new business to fail is a huge asset.
Even some of the most successful entrepreneurs give their time to up-and-comers: Steve Jobs famously mentored Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the social media platform's early days, helping him get back on track during a tough moment for the brand.
You don’t have to be at an entrepreneur’s side day and night to be present, but you should offer a lifeline so he or she can contact you when the need arises to talk out ideas. Your unique perspective will be invaluable as this person builds out projects and plans.
2. Share your good and bad experiences. Every successful entrepreneur has a treasure chest of stories. Share yours liberally with startups, especially those you’re investing in. For example, I've built out websites from scratch and experienced setbacks, ranging from being penalized by search engines to receiving strongly worded legal correspondences asking me to remove content from my sites because I lacked permission to use it.
I used these experiences to improve each website I worked on moving forward, and by explaining these struggles to new entrepreneurs, I hope to save someone else from those same headaches. Yes, people have to make their own mistakes, but you shouldn’t sit by silently when asked for input. Why make someone else’s upward path difficult when you can demonstrate shortcuts and tools to smooth the way?
3. Provide emotional support. Being your own boss is awesome, but it can also be frightening and lonely as you realize you no longer have a boss to consult for advice on projects or decisions. You remember what it was like when you first realized the ball would always be in your court, so be open to giving second opinions to startup leaders experiencing a stress boost.
According to a survey conducted by Streetbees and BGF Ventures, 41 percent of entrepreneurs feel stressed out daily. That’s a lot of stress to remove from their shoulders, with honest advice and understanding.
Investors and successful business owners need to grab their knowledge backpacks and march straight up that mountain. Once there, they can partner with mentees and climb even higher. After all, the top always looks better when someone is there with you to share the view.