As a peer-to-peer learning organization, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) has an unwavering commitment to helping entrepreneurs at every stage learn and grow to new levels of leadership. EO offers a structured mentorship program that fosters relationships aimed at high-level leadership and personal development. EO's Accelerator program empowers entrepreneurs with the tools, community and accountability necessary to aggressively grow and master their businesses.
Ryan Villanueva is co-founder of Best Delegate, a growing education company with a goal of making Model United Nations a worldwide program to help students lead the world to a better, more peaceful, just and sustainable future. We asked Ryan, the president of EO's Boston chapter, who is a graduate of EO Accelerator and an active participant in EO Mentorship, how the two programs impacted his success. Here's what he shared:
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.
Throughout high school and college, I participated in Model United Nations programs. The skills I gained helped me get into Yale, win $20,000 in scholarships, and launch my career. I worked at Goldman Sachs as a liquidity risk analyst from 2008 to 2010 before I left Wall Street to build a company around a Model UN blog I started from my college dorm room called "bestdelegate.com."
Today, my company is the world's leading resource for Model UN programs, with 700,000+ annual website visitors. We help schools build Model UN programs where students step into the shoes of world leaders, research global issues, develop public speaking and negotiation skills, and learn how to lead. Our team of educators works with schools all over the world--empowering today's students to become leaders who solve global problems.
Why did you join a business accelerator program?
My co-founder and I were at the point where our startup was way too much work for two of us to handle. We knew we needed to hire people, but didn't know how to go about it, how much to pay them, or how to get the entire company headed in the right direction. There were a lot of sleepless nights.
Then, I found the Accelerator program. The first event I attended was a learning day, called "People Day" focused on accountability, core values and the hiring process. I was introduced to frameworks and concepts that were extremely useful for hiring and managing people. As I continued in the program, additional learning days focused around the topics of Strategy, Execution and Cash--exposing me to concepts that helped push my business forward. After two or three years of incorporating these concepts, we grew our business past the $1 million level.
Why, as a successful entrepreneur, did you seek mentorship?
The business accelerator program introduced me to the value of learning from peers and coaching by more experienced entrepreneurs. I wanted that to continue. As an EO member, I enjoy peer-based, experiential learning during our monthly Forum meetings, but I knew it would also be extremely beneficial to participate in a formal mentorship program.
Mentorship is valuable because a big part of successful business ownership comes from experience. It's challenging to learn the nuances of business ownership in a book or from a class--it's not an intellectual exercise. The critical knowledge you need comes from going through the ups and downs of running a business.
As an entrepreneur, I learn best from other peoples' experiences in running their businesses. My mentor has led several huge companies throughout his decades-long career, so I gain valuable business and life experience when we discuss the challenges I'm facing in growing my company.
What are your tips for scaling a business and achieving growth?
- Invest in your own professional development. My most significant investment in professional development was joining EO. I make the most of my membership by participating in as many programs as possible and attending conferences and learning events. I couldn't have anticipated all of the ways I've grown by having access to a global community of entrepreneurs. When I'm seeking knowledge around a business challenge of any sort, someone in the community has the answer. We're a global community of small- and medium-sized enterprises trying to make a difference in the lives of our employees and the world; we help each other whenever we can.
- Invest in your leadership team's professional development. I foster my team's professional development by sharing the concepts and strategies that have helped me and our company grow. I also set a budget for them to attend conferences, take courses and buy books. We set aside time to exchange what we've collectively learned. In my experience, the biggest bottleneck to growing a business is the professional development of the business owners and the leadership team.
- The successes and failures of growing your business offer the most valuable lessons in your professional development. As individuals and as a team, we try to learn from our successes and failures. One of our core values is "Open to Feedback." We take time each quarter to share positive and constructive feedback. Everyone has a key metric that they own, and we use that data to inform our feedback. A business can only grow to the extent its leaders allow it to. Investing in yourself and your team and sharing the ups and downs together will significantly enhance the growth and success of your business.