There’s endless writing about how lonely it is to be an entrepreneur. How hard it is to be at the top. And how stressful it can be to become a founder, leader, entrepreneur.
Like anything in life, choosing to do something without a community of people to support you is a lonely path. And you can probably make the argument that you don’t learn the basics in life without teachers, peers, mentors, and cheerleaders. No Olympic athlete ever won a gold medal without both falling on their ass repeatedly and without good coaching.
So, why would an entrepreneur set out on their journey all alone?
There are a few books I’ve read that exemplify why other people are important in achieving your life goals – and why it’s important to take time to stop-look-listen as well as to share your experiences, hopes, and dreams. (More on those books later…)
In the throes of creating the most incredible, must-have solution to a big problem, sometimes we forget to ask others to join in the journey….we sometimes forget to surround ourselves with people smarter than us, and we forget that it is necessary to both give and take.
Personal Growth as a Bank Account
I like to look at the give and take component of personal growth as a bank account. Sometimes there’s debt and sometimes there’s a surplus. Being mindful of this concept is valuable. I like to keep my debt relatively low and I do this by making sure that I build a strong savings account so that when I really need help, that I don’t go into massive debt getting there.
How does this work? How do you build a big savings account?
Become a Mentor
Becoming a mentor builds equity versus cash in your savings account because every time you Give First as a mentor, there is a return to the person you mentor — as well as to yourself. You can be a mentor to a someone like you but less experienced (an entrepreneur who is more wet behind the ears), or to a person more senior than you (if you have a skill set that they do not have); to someone who is like you (a math major helping another math major); an alumna of a college helping a student in that college, etc. You can help a sibling, a neighbor, a classmate, a coworker. You get the idea. It’s never too early to mentor and to be mentored.
Find a Mentor for Yourself
Finding your own mentor is the corollary to becoming a mentor. There’s no order that these two need to come in – it’s a virtuous cycle. But the more that you allow yourself to openly share, the more that you receive. A mentor is someone whom you trust and respect. They can be explicit in the relationship – scheduled time, specifics asks and answers — or it can be less defined, a relationship that is based on simply wanting to grow by learning from another’s experiences.
Participate in Networking Events
Peers and people who have aligned interests are great ways to grow your network and yourself. I’m a big fan of openly sharing and engaging, of honesty and transparency, and of helping someone over rough patches that I’ve already learned how to navigate.
Networking events are also awesome ways to add another person to your personal network, find that new investor that you’ve been seeking, do some A/B testing on your messaging and, most basically, a change of scenery. It’s too easy to be too busy to make the time to change the scenery and engage with other people – making the effort and following through on the intent is important.
Join an Organization to Get Connected
If you are a part of a network like Techstars, really use the Techstars family. Take advantage of Connect (our private network for Techstars founders), meet with other founders, engage with your MD and others that are interesting to you, find new mentors and reach out to investors. What you reap will be at least proportional to what you sow.
I remember the point in my journey as an entrepreneur when I wanted to become a better CEO – and my intentional journey to do this. I joined Entrepreneur’s Organization (better known as EO) and benefited hugely from my forum. It was there that I expanded my network for life, I joined both my local board and the International Board, learned about a different type of governance, explored the world, and was exposed to cultural differences, went through the Birthing of Giants program, and further blew my mind up. I credit EO with a rapid growth of my understanding of the journey that I was on and my ability to be much more intentional about my path.
Just remember: you are not alone. Dive into the network around you and learn from your it. Get connected. Be a mentor and find a good one. Take control of your learning. Everything is a teachable moment if you let it become one.
Oh, and back to those few books that inspired me …
- Into Thin Air – such a lesson on the dangers of being singularly focused and not always allowing others to lead.
- The Boys in the Boat – an accidental book about team work; as a former rower, it was a huge validation for me but the overall principles and underpinnings are amazing.
- Lean In – I wasn’t a huge fan, at first. And then I decided it was a must read simply because it’s so available for anyone.
- When Genius Failed – failure is something that we all need to do.
- The Cult of Done – so many worthy principles in this basic manifesto.
At Techstars, you are not alone. Once you are part of the network, it’s Techstars for Life. Join us!
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I talk with a lot of people, and often I’m asked how I ended up where I am today. It’s not a straight line story, it’s a long and winding road. Now that I’ve joined Techstars, I’m being asked “why” and “how did you decide?”
One of the benefits of being older and wiser is that the drivers for why you work change. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of different things and have often been asked why. I’ve had to dig deep to answer that question in the most authentic way possible.
My mother always told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do and I’ve pretty much taken her at her word. I’ve fallen on my butt a lot and found out that, no, I really couldn’t. And other times, I’ve surprised myself.
I follow a few tenets in my life and they are the framework behind why I do things:
- If you are not happy with what you are doing, change it. We have one life and it’s critical to me that every day I do things that make me happy and let me learn and stretch and grow.
- Giving back is critical. I like to say this by telling people that once they have summited a mountain, it’s their job to turn around and help the next person up.
- If there’s one sentence that I’d pick from Sandberg’s Lean In it’s, “When you are offered a seat on the rocket ship, don’t ask which seat.” To me this means that if you want to take a ride to the moon, you need to get on the rocket ship.
- Network. Always network.
When I’m making an important decision, I spend time figuring out what the factors are and then I weight and score them so that I can look at my options objectively before I add my subjectivity to them. I break them into both intrinsic and extrinsic factors – I consider that you need balance in both areas to be a whole person. The factors I was considering when I was looking at all my options this past summer were:
- Ability to support my family
- Ability to spend time with my family
- Time to write
- Time to play tennis
- Ability to interact with entrepreneurs in a meaningful way
- Invest in startup companies and entrepreneurial companies
- Mentor and advise entrepreneurs
- Be able to make a difference in a community
- Have a meaningful role where I can be a part of a scaling company that’s making an impact in the world
Techstars was a winner in all of my categories. The only area that was tough is that Techstars is based in Boulder, CO, and I’m based in Easton, CT. The good news is that I like to travel and it’s a part of my DNA as a business person. I’ve spent the last five years of my career working in New York City or Brooklyn which amounts to a five hour daily commute … so I feel like I’m buying back time in a funny way.
I’ve always loved Techstars. I get so much energy from office hours at a Techstars Accelerator and I’ve continued mentoring and advising relationships long after programs have ended.
It’s inspiring to me to see an entrepreneur grow in just a few months of focused energy and to see the success rate of Techstars founders.
And, I’m rooted in entrepreneurship. I, too, am a serial entrepreneur. I started a tech company in the early 90s that I sold in 1999 way back when there were no accelerators, and angel investors were few and far between, and a VC was considered a rare find.
I’ve run tech businesses and retail businesses. I was a female CEO before we were talking about the concept of female CEOs and have been the only woman in the room not only at work, but in the boardroom.
This is who I am and Techstars feels very much like coming home.