A humbling reminder about the role of a mentor

It was exciting for sure – being announced as the top rated mentor in the eastern US for Founder Institute at the Founder Showcase in Mountain View, CA.

On my flight back from San Francisco that night I was struck with the reality (and weight) of what it really means to be a mentor to these upstart ventures and an advisor to growing companies.

Only mentors and advisors understand the joy and pressure of playing this role. On one hand you get to be a “know it all” telling someone else what to do. Who doesn’t love that?!

On the other hand, you’re giving advice and guidance that could have a significant impact on an entrepreneur’s decision/direction – and thereby the success/failure of their venture and potentially millions of dollars of economic impact created (or not realized).

That’s a massive responsibility when you really think about it. And it should never be taken lightly. When we screen and onboard new advisors into our certified partner program, the #1 thing we look for in someone is a heart for service. We look for people who genuinely and authentically want to serve the entrepreneur first – make money second.

I’ll be first to admit that in the past I’ve mentored or advised with an ulterior motive – to make money. It was all about me – and how I could benefit. The results I got as an advisor/mentor were very average. Sure, businesses still grew – but they didn’t have hockey-stick growth. Of course the client was still “satisfied” but they weren’t fanatical.

If you’re an advisor, consultant or coach, I just want to encourage you to focus on impact and results rather than income. That may be hard to do when you’re just getting started – or struggling to pay the bills. But that is the best time to build this culture into your practice. Anyone can become missional when they are rich. That’s easy.

What’s hard (and infinitely more authentic) is to be missional when you’re starving. Trust me when I say, your prospects will turn into customers when they see that. You’ll be better equipped to serve your customers. You’ll grow the broad shoulders on which clients will be able to lean when they need it most.

The role of an advisor/mentor is hard work. It carries mind-bending responsibility. It should not be looked at as an easy path to lifestyle-friendly income. It is an opportunity to impact lives and change the world in the process. It is often hard work with no pay or short-term return. But in the long-term, there is absolutely nothing else like it! I was certainly reminded of that this week.

I’m thankful to the founders participating in Founder Institute for trusting me in serving them – and for the reminder of why the role of a mentor is mission critical work.


The dark side of Innovator DNA

Our data shows that 18% of BOSI Assessment takers show Innovator “I” as their Primary DNA.

It’s wired into these individuals to be mad scientists. Highly creative people who care much more about changing the world than making a ton of money.

They tend to be fairly introverted, overly trusting and make horrible business operators.

Yes. I said it. Horrible business operators.

Here’s why…

What drives Innovator behavior is a desire to change the world with their product/service. No sooner do they have the epiphany of the discovery – than they activate this behavioral preset. Once active, this DNA measures success based on the impact a product/service is having on the marketplace.

Picture a chef with high Innovator DNA watching with baited breath as patrons take their first bite into his latest creation. Picture an inventor listening to a customer in tears describe how the invention has changed their life. Most creatives have this DNA in Primary or Secondary form. When I study founders of most social entrepreneurship ventures and non profits, Innovator is the primary behavioral profile.

What all these individuals have in common is a burning desire for their creation to result in people saying – “That made a huge difference in my life”.

But when that desire drives decisions inside a business – bad things can happen.

Enter the dark side of Innovator DNA.

When changing the world is what it’s all about…

- Revenue and profits take a back seat. Product development and “changing lives” becomes the focus
- Finances are funneled to make product better (or change lives) – not necessarily to build a sustainable or scalable venture
- People are hired (and roles assigned) based on their passion/excitement for the mission – not necessarily their business acumen or capacity
- Sound business strategy takes a back seat to what feels good/right

It’s not uncommon for an Innovator to have a massive vision – but struggle to make that vision a reality.

See, it’s about the mission to change the world – not the mission to build a profitable, scalable and sustainable business. It’s about R&D not distribution. It’s about happy people, not shareholder value.

The dark side of Innovator DNA kicks in when an entrepreneur with this Primary DNA steps into the role of CEO of their company – and holds onto the steering wheel with a kung-fu death grip. They make decisions that foster harmony, impact and innovation – decisions that often conflict with what the business really needs.

So what’s the fix?

- Every Innovator MUST (at least) have a business advisor/mentor with Builder DNA – and DO what they are advised to do. An Innovator who tells a Builder “how it should be” when it comes to running a business is the equivalent of your 4 year old telling you what they should eat for dinner every night.
- The Innovator should step out of the role of CEO and have someone with Builder (or Specialist-Builder) DNA run the organization (especially finance, strategy and team).
- The Innovator should be responsible for product development, brand, messaging and brand evangelism. Every minute spent outside those key roles is counter-productive.

Take it from me, an “I” who has gladly handed off the reins of my company to someone better equipped to run it. Your mission is safer in their hands than your own. Your vision is more likely to become a reality with you out of the CEO role. Your customer is more likely to be reached and impacted than doing it the old-school way.

And after all, isn’t that what you’re in this for? Impact? Changed Lives?

Then do what is best for your organization – and step out of your weakness – into your strength.

You’ll be glad you did!

Will Chambers become relevant again?

I’m here sitting at the airport in Louisville, KY waiting to head back home to Chicago.

Earlier today I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of Chamber execs attending the ACCE (American Chamber of Commerce Executives) Annual Convention. For years, I have been warning chamber execs that they need to reinvent or become obsolete.

During our session this morning, I taught the execs about the BOSI Quadrant – and what I had learned through my research about entrepreneurial behavior – especially as it relates to chambers.

Here was my main point to chambers (which would be the same point I make to any business-to-entrepreneur organization).

“If you continue to treat all business owners as the same – and feed them one-size-fits-all marketing, sales, products and services, you won’t meet their real needs  - and you’ll become obsolete over time”

The fact is, how an entrepreneur is wired has everything to do with their needs, wants and frustrations. When b-2-b ventures (like chambers) understand that core behavior – and learn how to decode each entrepreneur’s behavior during the prospecting phase, several good things happen.

  1. They end up targeting their “ideal” customer better – rather than trying to be all things to all people
  2. They end up messaging themselves to their ideal customer in more effective ways
  3. They are able to deploy sales processes that speak to the buying style of their ideal customer
  4. They build products/services to meet the very specific needs of their ideal customer

Here was another key point I made to the chamber execs…

To be relevant as a service provider today, you have to discover who your real customer is – and build your chamber around them.

After all…

  • Opportunists join chambers with the intent to get a ton of leads fast (and they expect for the chamber to be a never-ending source of warm bodies)
  • Specialists join chambers to network, get referrals and learn about how to better market their business
  • Builders will only see value in a chamber if the chamber can help their employees dramatically boost performance
  • Innovators only see value in a chamber that can help them get their IP to market
The question to the group this morning was – Who is your customer? Which of these four groups can you deliver outstanding value to over and over again. Every chamber should have a different answer depending on their community, culture and own capacity.

I was very encouraged to see so many chamber execs from across the country show a genuine interest in learning more about their customer, the entrepreneur. I was even more encouraged to see many of them step forward to ask for help in further defining who their customer was – and how to message to that customer in more meaningful ways.

As brands get more sophisticated and focused on segmentation and messaging, chambers must follow suit. If not, entrepreneurs will hear chambers talk – but all they’ll hear is – blah, blah, waa, wa, blah, join our chamber, blah, blah, waa wa.

Will chambers become relevant again?

I have hope that the ones that change with these rapidly changing times – and rapidly changing customer needs will.

But it is time for some pruning of the ones that expect us entrepreneurs to keep paying them an annual fee for providing what we perceive as meaningless and “available elsewhere”.



Incubator Case Study

In 2010 a group of former NCAA Football players saw an opportunity.

These athletes realized that in the history of football footwear, cleats had never been designed for specific positions on the field. Despite the different positions and needs of players on the field, everyone still wore the same replacement cleats.

When you think about it, at the snap of the ball a wide receiver running a streak requires a cohesive mesh of speed and agility to beat a cornerback. A defensive tackle fighting for every inch of space requires explosive power and balanced footwork. A tight end that is both a blocker and a receiver needs all of these elements to be the best at his position.

A little research showed that replaceable cleats had not seen any innovation in over 80 years. So Position Tech was born.


The Before: (What the company had when we met them)

  • A proven product with market traction
  • Patented innovation
  • A passionate team of founders willing to out-work anyone
  • Traction! Proven sales at the grass roots and national retailer level
  • A successful friends and family funding round

What they needed:

  • Guidance on how to take their company from a local phenomenon to a nationally recognized brand
  • A scalable business model that wouldn’t break as the company grew
  • Access to growth capital (they figured they needed around $500k)
  • Help figuring out the roles, responsibilities and operating plan for the four founders – especially given their diverse BOSI Profiles
  • Confidence that their company was going to be a big brand someday

What we did:

We invited the PositionTech founders into the BOSI Accelerator. From legal and accounting to business model and investor deck we tore the company down to its most functional parts and infused healthy growth DNA in.

We helped them rebuild their financial model. We helped them design their investor deck. We helped them identify pitfalls in their current investor structure – and why their capital structure needed to be restructured to attract new capital. We also helped them establish exactly how much money they needed to raise – and why. We took them through pitch training and invited potential investors in to hear their pitch.

After the intensive 2-days of intervention, we decided to invite this company into our 18-month incubator program. Andy Parker from our team went to work in the role of advisor and business catalyst- helping install growth systems and processes in the business.

The Results:

  1. The company started receiving offers for investment and is well on its way to raising $1,500,000 in growth capital
  2. The company walked into one of the top sporting goods retailers and with confidence asked for a larger order. The retailer took them from 20 to over 225 stores nationwide
  3. The company’s business model was redesigned for scalable growth
  4. The partners went from running the company by committee to a robust management structure where decisions and execution were scalable
  5. The company is on pace to do 10x the revenue of 2011 and have a handsome exit within a few years

We love working with driven founders who are coachable. The Position Tech founders fit that mold beautifully. We can’t wait to guide them to their big acquisition.

You can check out this rockin company at


Meet the crew

When I’m on the road doing my one-man-show speaking gigs, people always ask me about the team I work with back at the ranch.

Who are they, and what are they like?” They ask.

They’re all rockstars in their area of expertise” I say. “And they’re a ton of fun to be around“.

But here’s a little more about each of them and their role on the team. They all play in the sandbox with me in the BOSI Accelerator.

Steve Thompson is our resident human capital guru. He spent 25 years in senior human resource leadership with medium to large sized corporations. He was recruited to lead a startup that grew to over 540 million in revenues and went through an IPO. From 2000-2010, Steve was Principal at Sterling Partners (a Private Equity firm) that grow from $90 million to over $4 billion in assets during his tenure. His role at Sterling was to do diligence on incoming portfolio companies and build powerhouse management teams that could scale companies to massive revenues. In addition to being my business partner, he runs the human capital practice @ Dreihaus Private Equity. Third parties have told me he is in the top 2% of human capital experts in the country.

Tim Conway spent the first 15 years of his career in Marketing and PR for companies like Sears and McDonalds. He then transitioned into entrepreneurship to launch his own advisory firm. He then taught public speaking and marketing at DePaul University and now teaches entrepreneurship at Roosevelt University. Tim wears two major hats on our team. First, he heads up the development of any content and curriculum we create. He is our education czar. Second, he participates as a strategist when we’re working hands-on with a company to incubate or accelerate growth. His ideas come a mile-a-minute and he’s never shy of rolling up his sleeves and helping companies get important things done – especially in the areas of marketing and public relations.

Andy Parker is a serial entrepreneur like me. He’s built three technology companies from the ground up, raised tens of millions of dollars in funding, built huge sales teams, sold the likes of Microsoft on big-cash licensing deals. Andy plays two major roles on our team. First, he’s a master strategist and problem solver. I’ve sat with him through countless hours of strategy and never found him to not know what to do next. His brain is wired with so much Builder DNA, it’s not even funny. But more importantly, Andy is one of the few people I have ever found who rolls up his sleeves and goes to work in a startup or struggling company to create growth. Unlike most people who want to tell you what to do and then sit back and watch you do it, Andy shows you what needs to be done and then does it with you. That’s a priceless asset on a team like ours. Our portfolio companies are absolutely addicted to him.

Bob Rupczynski Bob is our digital marketing rockstar. But don’t take my word for it, know that top Facebook executives gave him that title. He was the brains behind Albert Culver’s competition crushing digital marketing rollout in the mid-2000′s. When TresSomme’ beat out Pantene in online marketing, that was Bob’s doing. He then joined Wrigley (yes, the brand we all love) and build their digital marketing footprint to one of the most dominant in the world. His Skittles Facebook page success was just featured in Forbes magazine. As busy as Bob is at Wrigley, I don’t call on him much, but when we’re incubating a startup or working with a SMB in our 18-month accelerator, Bob’s genius brain is always brought into the mix.

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz When you meet Jackie, you get the sense that she is always having a amazing day. Celebrated author, speaker and PR guru, Jackie runs her own marketing firm JJR Marketing. With a decade of marketing and public relations experience behind her, clients entrust Jackie with strategic planning, marketing planning and creative brainstorming. We ask her to play in the sandbox with all our portfolio companies when it is time to get big news coverage and leverage powerful media relationships to leapfrog the competition.


Trey Morris Trey is a sales and marketing machine…period. With over 100 million dollars in personal sales production over his career, he knows what he is doing. He comes from the advertising sales world but along the way has owned his own ad agency and full service marketing firm. He is also a restauranteur. He is co-owner of the best BBQ restaurant north of interstate 40 called Q-BBQ. If you’re ever in the Chicago area, we’ll be glad to meet you there for lunch! Trey engages when companies need a killer sales and marketing plan. He’s a no-nonsense, old-school sales and marketing guy. He’s not a digital marketer like Bob. He’s all about windshield time, building relationships and closing deals. So when a company’s business plan calls for people-driven sales and marketing, Trey’s our guy.

Satish Rao Satish is a financial model designing brainiac. I can’t say it any better than that. He is a Kellogg MBA who spent almost a decade with IBM Strategy and Change. He also works as a principal in a firm with world-renown professor and author Robert Wolcott. We bring Satish in when we’re working with a company that needs to raise a boatload of capital. Satish builds the financial model and participates in pitch training and investor deck prep sessions. I seldom trust anyone else to build a financial model for one of our portfolio companies. He’s one of the best I have ever worked with.


So there ya go! The team @ the ranch (and interestingly enough, the longest blog post I have ever created).


2012 is shaping up nicely!

I was at a meeting yesterday with some of my favorite business allies in the Chicago area and I walked away enthused about the news I heard.

Harriet Parker who runs the #1 Small Business Development Center in the state of IL (in # of startups) kicked off the meeting by talking about how busy she has been since the start of the year. She has seen seventy (70) clients since 1/1/12 and is booked solid through march. (That’s a very good sign!) considering there were tumbleweeds rolling through her office 18 months ago. She talked about how a mass of new clients were coming to the table with viable businesses and a strong commitment to get them launched. Some of her past clients were coming back with a renewed focus on growing their business and making investments to get the growth kicked off.

Austin Dempsey (third generation leader of Batavia Enterprises) joined us a few minutes later and while loosening his tie he said “Man! if the first 6 weeks of 2012 are any indication of how the year is going to go, this is going to be one banner year!”. He went on to explain that he has seen a significant (double digit) uptick in businesses taking on new office space and existing clients expanding facilities.

“Business owners seem to be fed up of waiting. They’re pulling the trigger and making their growth initiatives a reality”.

That’s really, really good news.

This has nothing to do with politics. Personally, I don’t think real entrepreneurs let Washington DC control any of their decisions. This has everything to do with the economy and the future of our country.

We hear is said all over the place – “Small business owners and startups are the key to economic recovery”. Unfortunately, 2009-11 was all about small business owners recovering from the 2008 crash while reinventing themselves, restructuring financing and geting healthy again. Reports like the ones I heard from Harriet and Austin combined with what I am experiencing with entrepreneurs we come in contact with suggest we [entrepreneurs] are making our move.

The politicians on both sides of the aisle will try to take credit for the recovery I believe is starting. We as entrepreneurs will know where the recovery really came from. It will come from the same place it always comes – entrepreneurs! We don’t do it for the politics or the press or the accolades. We do it to provide a better quality of life for our families, our employees, our customers and our community…period!

I wonder if others feel the same way about this whole notion of  - “there’s something different about 2012″