I caught the entrepreneurial bug back in 1978, when I founded and built a publishing division for National Public Radio, and launched its first catalog. We were cherry-picking interviews with some of the great minds and talents of the century, editing them for a new audience, and marketing the tapes to university students. That first catalog had a nine percent response, and we were off to the races!
After five years on that project, I launched my own first startup, Soundworks. We published audiotapes of best-selling authors in the human resources development field, and launched a direct mail catalog. We grew quickly – adding major stars such as John Denver, Leo Buscaglia and Richard Bach to our list of authors, and expanding into retail stores. Then I did just the wrong venture capital deal with a bank – one that had never previously invested capital, and one which almost immediately grew skittish. I learned too late that because this funding was over $1 million, we’d have to do an SEC filing, and that the constraints on raising new funds thereafter would stop us in our tracks.
It is so common for an entrepreneur to have tunnel vision. Focused on a vision, and in love with its brain child, entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know – and can’t, because they haven’t experienced a myriad of challenges and opportunities. Sometimes an entrepreneur knows this, and seeks additional resources and a brain trust in its Board members. But often, in early stages, board members are investors, friends and family – and sometimes those are one and the same.
If an entrepreneur has a wise mentor with decades of experience sitting at her shoulder, she can hear objective ideas and suggestions, without taking it personally. She has the advantage of skilled assessment and planning capabilities, team building experience, and thoughtful operational systems and development. She has a team member, even if for a short period, who can help her map a sustainable growth strategy, one that will get the company the resources it needs to reach profitability and never look back.
It took me decades to learn to surround myself with people who know more than I ever will, and have specialties I’ll never develop. I learn from them and I grow. I’m taking such delight in offering what I’ve learned to help other entrepreneurs, and in helping their investors stay informed as to progress and growth.