This week, I sent feelers out to the entrepreneurial community for the best nuggets of wisdom from everyone’s favorite behind-the-scenes business influencers: mentors. Here’s what I received.
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10 Entrepreneurs Share Their Most Memorable Mentor-Taught Lessons
1. It’s about what happens after you build it.
Nishchal Dua, serial entrepreneur and traveler; creator of The Remote Life, a company that helps people travel the world without leaving their job:
“If you have $10, spend $1 on building the product and $9 on marketing it. This one piece of advice is more valuable than anything else I have ever learned about the human psychology and the art of building companies. And it is so
profound because no one would like or accept it, but anyone who has ever built anything would know the gravity of this one tip.”
2. Do the right thing.
Chase Tinkham, Realtor with World Class Realty and Associates:
“While this isn’t anything profound or superbly ground shaking—it is the most important business and life lesson that I ever learned from my father at a young age. He said, ‘Chase, life and business can be complex, but success comes down to one thing—helping people and doing the right thing.’ OK, admittedly I don’t remember the exact quote, but those four words stuck with me and I never let them shake off.
So often, folks will get caught up in what they want out of a transaction, a sale, or even conversation in life—but if you take a step back and truly focus on an empathetic approach, it lets folks know that you’re absolutely trying to put their best interests before yours, that you’re actually listening to their problems (not just waiting to respond),
and that you truly want to present a solution to whatever challenges they may be facing.”
3. Ask, “And then what?”
Jimmy Tomczak, part-time investor and marketing strategist:
“My mentor is an Atlanta based real estate investor and host of Real Estate Deal Talk radio. The most valuable thing him ever told me helped me focus on goals and legacy.
We’d talk about visioning and what we wanted, but he wouldn’t let me stop with what I wanted now or how I could best serve in just this moment—we kept going, using the “ask” and “then what?” [method].
‘I’ll have this.’
‘And then what?’
And you come up with something again, but he asks it again.
‘And then what?’
And you keep going until you run out of and “then whats.” At that point, you’ll either be getting to your real answers or you’ll be more focused on what matters—the present moment and how you can make the most of it.
Asking “and then what?” can eventually focus us on the inner bigger picture versus what’s out there. There’s success in discovering and exploring both.”
4. Be ready.
Jeanne Patti, People Dynamics Group:
“I had an amazing mentor named Bob for 10 years, and his advice still gets me into action every day.
When we’d meet, I’d want to be celebrating an accomplishment, like gaining the biggest client contract to date. He would respond by asking me how I was getting ready to solve the next problem. Every time I met with him
he’d ask me, ‘Are you ready?’ He had me constantly working on what was next, which gave me the best gift I could have asked for, a habit of taking action!
I was always ready and after 8 years, sold the business for a nice sum. I have another business today and am leap years ahead due to every day getting ready to solve another problem.”
5. It’s never too late, and you’re never too old.
Denise Supplee, co-founder of SparkRental; licensed Realtor; prior owner of a tavern, bagel shop, and small apartment complex; and current real estate investor:
“Without sounding too cliché, my mentor, by far, was my father, Stan Rudnitsky. He passed many, many years ago.
My father rolled with the punches. He started businesses—they failed, and he learned. And then, eventually, he created a thriving business that supported our immediate family, as well as his brother’s family. It is still going
today! He also invested in real estate throughout Pennsylvania and Florida. When computers became the thing, he knew nothing. So, he learned. Stan was a hands-on guy. Not knowing never stood in his way. Regardless of some of
his failures, he was a success. His big motto always was ‘failure is my teacher.’ Because he was not afraid to fail, he soared.
I like to think I have a bit of that as well. I never give up, and I will not permit not knowing to get in my way. I have purchased businesses, started them—and some were lucrative, some not so much. However, never will it be a deterrence for me to continue to try and be innovative. I am going to be 56 this year. I left a company I was with for many years to embark on my own web entrepreneurship. Yep, my father also taught me it is never too late,
and you are never too old.”
6. You’re gonna die (someday).
Clay Bradley, Host of Skilled Gentlemen Podcast:
“Over the past few years I have gotten a lot of advice from a lot of different sources. The best advice that I have received, subsequently giving me the motivation to start my podcast, was from Gary Vaynerchuk. I do not know Gary on a personal level, but I do regard him as a mentor.
He was asked to give 3 words of inspiration when someone is feeling down. Gary responded quickly with, ‘You’re gonna die.’ He meant with that statement that eventually you will die someday, so make the time you have now worth it. I had always wanted a podcast and community of my own, and it was this quick 3-word motivational speech that started Skilled Gentlemen Podcast.”
7. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.
Gene Caballero, Co-Founder of GreenPal:
“My mentor who was a successful entrepreneur told me that he wasn’t the smartest guy but was never outworked.
There are three 8-hour work days in one 24-hour day. Pick which two you want to work, and you will be successful.”
8. Bring food to the (proverbial) picnic.
David Robinson, Director of Communications and Organizing at Manufacturing Renaissance:
“I was just launching my Public and Government affairs company in the early nineties and I happened to be at a political event and ran into a mentor. He was a very successful owner of several luxury auto dealerships. I took the opportunity to ask him what advice he had for me as I was embarking on my own new business. I had pad and pencil at the ready, thinking he might share details about taxes, or marketing, or personnel tips.
Instead, he stopped eating his salad, looked me in the eye and said, “Son, bring food to the picnic.” At that moment I was stunned by the seemingly nonsensical response. Over the years, however, it has been among the most profound and sage bits of advice I have ever received. What he was suggesting is that as a business person, or simply a polite human being, one should always have something of value to offer.
If you went to a dinner party, for example, or indeed, a picnic, it is in good taste to bring a gift or something useful to contribute. If one fails in this simple courtesy, one is often left off the invite list next time. People remember these little things. This axiom holds true in business as well. Experts have called it many things, but it boils down to being able to offer unique value to your clients and customers. When the opportunity arises, I share this story with my own group of mentees.”
9. Future-proof your talent.
Mike Westgate, VP of Marketing at RealMassive:
“Manage and coach your employees with the goal of making yourself obsolete. If you continually invest in skills and career development for your team, the business results will follow. Managing is a bit like parenting—it’s not about you anymore, it’s all about them. Focusing on what is right for your employees and the broader organization will always yield positive outcomes for managers.”
10. Fire bullets, then cannonballs.
Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, the “Uber for Lawn Care”:
“My business mentor gave me a valuable piece of advice when I was building my second company GreenPal.
‘Fire bullets, then cannonballs.’
So often we can de-risk innovative business ideas and inherently risky businesses and ventures by conducting a few experiments to test the waters before we spend six months to two years building a project that no one will want.
‘Fire bullets then cannonballs’ taught me to distill down my idea into the smallest possible experiment and run that experiment to validate if the idea is a good one or not. This has saved me months and maybe even years of bad decisions that I was going to make had I’m not conducted experiments beforehand to steer me down the proper path.”
Bonus: Work to live; don’t live to work.
“My main mentor is Donna Maria from the Indie Business Network. I have learned a multitude of valuable, actionable principles from her, but the main one that has directed my business and made a difference both professionally and personally, is to create the life you love. Don’t let the business drive you (which, as an entrepreneur, it it easy and tempting to do!).
Rather, determine what your personal/family priorities and goals are and what your ideal life would look like. Then, and only then, start planning the path of your business. Keep the model of the life you love at the center and the other pieces, with work and time, will fit nicely into the overall picture of your journey.”
Now it’s your turn to share: What ONE mentor-taught lesson has stuck with you the most?
Leave your comments below!