3 Ways Entrepreneurship Is Not Like a Coaching Tree

3 Ways Entrepreneurship Is Not Like a Coaching Tree

Entrepreneurship Leadership Mentorship

We are entering the college football playoff period and there is a lot of talk about successful coaches and their coaching trees.  A coaching tree is the geneology, if you will, of the influencers of successful coaches.  Because it is relatively easy to track where successful head coaches played their college sports, served as graduate assistant coaches, and held their assitant coaching jobs, we have a pretty good idea which head coaches were their greatest influencers.  So why don’t we have the equivalent of a coaching tree for successful entrepreneurs?

  1. The Entrepreneurial Process is Informal – Unlike the coaching ranks, the growth and progression of entrepreneurs isn’t tracked in a formal system.  Coaching is structured, hierarchical, and is a formal job with an actual title that means something (not Chief Culture Curator). Entrepreneurship is relatively unstructured and, unlike coaching, there is no system that tracks where they are trained, what other companies they may have worked for, which companies they start or how successful they are (unless they reach an IPO).
  2. The Family Influence – Many successful entrepreneurs are influenced most significantly by their families. Studies have shown that around half of entrepreneurs have entrepreneurial parents or family members. Growing up in a family business can have a profound influence on entrepreneurs.  Working in that business when they are young, understanding the entrepreneurial mindset and what it takes to be successful, and learning the language and concepts of business early on are clearly major influencers.  For these successful entrepreneurs their most significant influences did not come from holding a formal position in another company or startup, but rather from being emersed in an entrepreneurial family with entrepreneurial friends.
  3. Entrepreneurship Is Not a Linear Progression – Coaching careers are relatively linear as players become graduate assistants, assistant coaches, and finally head coaches.  Although some coaches go from head coaches at a small college or high school level to assistant coaches as a higher level, the progression is generally predictable.  Entrepreneurs on the other hand, can take a relatively circuitous path to success. Some launch unsuccessful startups when they are young, go work for other companies to get experience and make connections, only to launch their own companies again later.  Some start their companies right out of high school, learn what they need to know on the job and launch, run, and sell multiple companies throughout their life.  Finally, others work in other large corporations, sometimes in the same industry, for 15 years or more before taking the leap to form their own company.  While there are basic skills and experience required for success, their is no set formula for how to acquire them and no guarantee that having them will lead to success as an entrepreneur.  If the journey is your goal, you are more accepting of the risk of failure.

THE TAKEAWAY:  The good thing about entrepreneurial life is that there is no set path to success. The bad thing about the entrepreneurial life is that there is not a set path to success.  Unlike entrepreneurs, one reason successful coaches got into coaching was that they like the structure and having a predefined path to success. While the maverick entrepreneurs will always forge their own path, I believe many entrepreneurs can expedite their path to success if they can tap into a somewhat structured system of skills and knowledge acquisition, work experiences, and true mentors.  Despite the perception of the free wheeling, unbound startup culture, a little strategically placed structure and discipline is a good thing.



5 Keys for Growing Into the Startup Founder Role

5 Keys for Growing Into the Startup Founder Role

Education Entrepreneurship Leadership Preparation

A startup founder needs a vast skill set to be successful.  Many startup founders are in their late twenties to mid-thirties.  By that time they have typically gained some experience from being responsible for projects, selling, communicating with co-workers, bosses, customers or vendors, developing plans and strategies, developing and managing a budget, and maybe even managing others and hiring and firing people.  If you are a young entrepreneur in high school, college or somewhere in between, you likely have not had the opportunity to learn from these experiences.  Reading about the theory of management and how business works doesn’t count.  While some of the principles apply, the execution is far more complex and you can’t always Google the answer.  Turns out – soft skills are really important.  I’m still not sure why we call skills “soft” that are critical to success and sometimes hard to learn.

A great idea, a large market opportunity, and a great story are compelling but ultimately mean nothing without the ability to execute.  Successful execution for a young startup founder requires clawing your way up the learning curve by combining experiential learning, quality mentorship, research  and, as Jim Collins says, “getting the right people on the bus” (“Good to Great”, Jim Collins – a must read for young entrepreneurs).  Like most everything else entrepreneurial, it is like building the plane while you are flying it.  If you use all the resources at your disposal you will, hopefully, finish assembly and learn how to refuel while in-flight (funding) or learn how to land before you need to.

So how does a young startup founder get the experience they need to fulfill their executive role?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Get a job working in a startup – Yea I know, part of the reason you want to be an entrepreneur is so you don’t have to work for anyone else. I hate to break it to you but everyone works for somebody else in some way.  Ultimately, business owners answer to shareholders, customers, or the bank.  Get over it, keep the big picture in mind, and go to school in a startup.
  2. Get a job in any business – Sorry, I used the “j” word again.  Learn about how a business operates and perform some of the functions like project management, selling, customer service, etc . . . and don’t say you don’t have time.  Prioritize and make time.  It’s part of accelerating the learning curve.
  3. Identify trusted mentors – They can help you learn the details of certain aspects of business by shadowing them or having in-depth conversations about best practices.  In addition, they might also give you some guidance that will keep you from making a costly mistake.  I often say that I wish I could have learned some things in a less expensive manner along the way.  I probably would’ve had I listened to the advice I was given.
  4. Research topics – Watch videos, attend webinars and seminars – you know, the same level of energy and extensive research methods used when you wanted to learn how to code, make something or buy an expensive piece of electronics.
  5. Use all your contacts – Use your contacts and the contacts of your mentors to identify the right people to help you move forward. Figure out a way to engage them, get them committed to the cause and “get them on the bus”.  Young entrepreneurs cannot do it alone.  Even if you could, you don’t really want to.  For me, success is even sweeter when experienced with team mates achieving a common goal in challenging circumstances.

The Takeaway – Your technical skill and product knowledge are important but insufficient to turn a good idea into a successful company.  You need the skills and knowledge required for execution and operations.  As with software development, you can’t be good at all the languages so get some help to fill in the gaps.  The founder role, especially the CEO/COO functions, require a vast skill set.  It’s a journey to get there.  Have an intentional development plan, execute the learning processes and you’ll grow into the role.

A Tribute to Veterans

A Tribute to Veterans


“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” — Winston Churchill

It is a blessing and a privilege to know so many veterans and their families.  I grew up in a small town near an army installation where my dad worked for 30 years.  While with NASA, I worked with many military personnel.  Since returning to Arkansas, we have developed many friendships with those who serve in the Air Force and Air National Guard, many of whom have traded service to their country for service to their community and church.  My late brother served in Korea and my uncles in WWII.

Thank you for your service to our country, for your courage and valor in war, your devotion to keeping the rest of us safe from those who would do us harm, and for your vigilance in protecting the founding principles and freedoms that serve as the foundation of this great country.

In this ever changing and increasingly dangerous world, the words of Mark Twain remind us who remains at the tip of spear and who pays the price for freedom on our behalf.

“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.”  — Mark Twain

Thank you for your service.

As for the rest of us, please take some time this week to go out of your way to serve a military veteran, a current service member, or a military family, and find some time to pray for them if you are so inclined.