I was very fortunate to have had a few great mentors in my entrepreneurial career. I sought them out so I could learn from them. Even with Contatta, though I now have many years of experience, I specifically sought out a new mentor who I knew could teach me new things. He has already proved an amazing teacher!
I was 33 when I co-founded ACT!. I was a good salesman, but had never been an exec, much less a CEO. My first mentor had been a top exec at Sears. He opened Sears Business Systems Centers all over the country. They were one of only two retailers granted the right to sell the newly introduced IBM PC. I got him to be on my Board of Directors at ACT!. He became a tremendous resource to me. Many times along the way he helped me with things I had never faced before.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Once I was very down on myself. I had a top manager who was just not very good. I needed to fire him, and I was mad at myself for letting it go way too long. My mentor listened to me berate myself for several minutes, and then simply said, “I think it is great that everyone else at ACT! knows you are not quick on the trigger.” I sat there amazed at the insight! I know I would never have come up with that on my own! What a relief.
Another mentor was a lawyer and a CPA by training and practice. He had also built a company from the ground up and took it public on the NYSE. What a talent! He taught me many things and was a great ally in several very difficult situations. Over a period of time, he noticed me saying things that always started with “If only we could…” He finally said to me “Pat, there is no magic bullet.” I learned success comes from the seven or eight things that really work and then have people waking up every day thinking about doing those things. He also once saved me when I was contemplating a deal with a guy who I had vague reservations about. My mentor told me to never disregard my intuition. He made a few calls and learned what this guy was really like. I was urged to “run, not walk”. I was saved much anguish. I later read a very bad article about the guy in the WSJ.
Another mentor was a guy who is amazing with words. He was raised by a father who was a stickler about the English language. He helped me to value words. Very precise, concise, powerful words that communicate EXACTLY what I am trying to say about our product and company (both ACT! and SalesLogix). Sometimes he totally drove me crazy challenging every word, every message we used. Was it the best we could do? Could we do it simpler and more powerfully. Often I would have things I needed to communicate to my BOD or investors that I was not sure how to do. I would tell him what I was thinking about saying. Often he would suggest a very different way to say it that proved to be so much better. I learned the value and importance of words.
Be Willing To Learn. Then Seek Out Mentors.
The most important aspect of this was I was willing to learn. Many entrepreneurs I have met think they already have it all figured out. You can’t teach someone something if they think they already know everything. It takes a certain amount of humility to learn from a mentor.
So how do you recruit great mentors? First, network like crazy. Then ask them to help and PAY THEM! You usually don’t have to pay them cash. Use equity. “A workman is worth their hire.” Don’t expect them to work for free. Usually they are worth more than you can ever pay them. I now pay back by mentoring a few new CEOs. I love to do it, but only if they are willing to actually listen.