Ask nearly any successful business owner and they'll tell you that mentorship is critical to success.
I've had a number of different business mentors over the course of my career. I don't expect I'm done collecting them, either. The fact that they sometimes dispense different advice isn't an issue--it's an advantage. The more perspectives you gain, the better informed you'll be.
Sometimes, advice from a mentor is specific to the situation you're facing. Other times, you'll learn just by keeping your ears open when you're with them. You may not need their wisdom now, but when the time comes, you'll be equipped with the knowledge to overcome it.
Over the years, I've picked up a lot of great advice from my mentors that served me well in the moment and continues to serve me now. I want to share what I've learned from those who came before me with you now:
1. Make sure the executives you recruit leave the right way.
David Weiden, General Partner at Khosla Ventures, is on the board of Fundera and is the former VP of companies like Tellme, Netscape, and AOL. I've worked with him for the better part of a decade. One piece of advice he gave me that stuck is what to look for in executive behavior.
We were recruiting for a VP position at Fundera. David asked if the candidate was leaving on good terms with his existing employer. When I told him that the candidate had not yet spoken with his current manager about leaving, David said, "then don't be surprised when this person leaves you without any notice."
His message was that there is a right way to leave a company. Leaders should always put in advance notice with their managers and have a conversation about transitioning the right way, well before they start looking for their next job. This enables their current employer to plan a thoughtful transition and give them time to backfill the roll.
There are reasons why this wouldn't be the case: terrible working relationship, erratic manager, etc. But those reasons are few and far between, and you want to make sure the people you hire treat their current employers well before they walk out the door.
2. In order to build a great business, build a good business.
Frank Rotman is a Fundera Board Member and Partner at QED Investors, as well as a former SVP at Capital One. His portfolio of investments includes emerging next-gen companies such as Credit Karma, Prosper, and SoFi. One of the things he has repeatedly told me is that great businesses are built on top of good businesses.
Many venture-backed entrepreneurs believe they have to go all-out and swing for the fences right out the gate. Founders typically get ahead of their skis and chase growth at all costs. And then there's no money left to grow.
Frank's point is that great businesses don't emerge out of thin air. Before a business is great, it is good. It finds product-market fit, it has positive unit economics, it has distribution channels, it achieves profitability or line of sight to it, and it begins to develop competitive moats. Focus on fundamentals--it will increase the likelihood of success.
3. Time kills all deals.
Emil Michael, Uber's original Chief Business Officer, was an advisor to GroupMe and Fundera. At GroupMe, he helped us negotiate a Series C fundraise and also our acquisition by Skype.
During negotiations and the closing process, Emil relentlessly ensured we were always building momentum. "Time kills all deals," he said. That stuck with me and it's unequivocally true.
Whether you're hiring someone, striking a partnership, fundraising, or going through an M&A event, time is your enemy. The more time that goes by, the more likely it is that a deal falls apart. You want to build momentum early, create forcing functions, step on the gas, and never let your foot off the pedal. As a result, it only took three weeks from the time we signed our term sheet with Skype at GroupMe to close the deal.
4. Let go of your Legos
Molly Graham is a member of Fundera's board and a seasoned operator who has scaled companies like Quip, Facebook, and Google. She coined the term "Give away your Legos," because the only constant when you're building a company is change.
With change, you must constantly reinvent yourself. And in order to grow, you must constantly acquire new skills and challenge yourself in new ways.
Take the things you're good at or responsible for and give them to someone else so you can tackle new opportunities. It's a difficult thing to do--relinquishing responsibilities you fought to earn, and hiring people to essentially do your job. But it's a necessary ingredient for success and growth. It's something I'm constantly challenging myself to do, and something I challenge others at Fundera to do.