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.



Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Non-Entrepreneurial Father

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Non-Entrepreneurial Father

Inspiration Mentorship Parenting

My father wasn’t an entrepreneur.  He was raised during the Great Depression, never attended college, worked in a foundry, sold candy, had a thirty-year career as a civil servant at a military installation, served as our small town’s first mayor and continued his mostly unpaid service in that position for sixteen of the next twenty years.  He has an elementary school, a community service award and the snack bar at a water park named after him.  How many people can say they have a bar named after them!  So what could this guy teach me about entrepreneurship?

The answer is “plenty”, although I didn’t know it at the time.  Despite never starting or running his own business, his work ethic, ability to engage and motivate people, willingness to try new things and risk failure (if you think starting a business is tough, try incorporating and running a city), team building, never ending thirst for knowledge, problem solving ability, and focus on the customer (citizens) were all entrepreneurial traits.  Dad was old school.  I don’t recall him ever actually trying to teach me any of these things.  He taught by doing and providing examples.  The rest was up to me.  We have a fancy name for this now – experiential, project based learning.  What my dad would have called “gettin’ stuff done”.

In addition to these traits, my dad was married to my mom for forty-five years and raised us three kids with her.  He never left the house without giving her a kiss and I can’t recall him ever missing an event, mostly sports related, that I was involved in.  He treated people that worked for him with respect.  He didn’t take himself too seriously and was known to dress in a bathing suit or a dress with makeup and wig (womanless beauty pageant) for a school or church charity event.  So let’s add ability to pick a great co-founder, loyalty, work-life balance, respect for others, community service, and a sense of humor to the list of entrepreneurial traits.

My dad helped found a city, but not a startup.  He scaled some fish, but never a company.  He made plenty of deals, but not with investors.  He taught me most everything I needed to know to run a startup and help others do so successfully, without ever doing it himself.  I only hope that I can have a similar impact on Joshua, our young entrepreneur. It is not lost on me that my dad’s legacy lives on in me and hopefully in our kids.  What a blessing it was to have my dad in my life.  He was my role model and mentor and I think of him every day, and especially on Father’s Day.


THE TAKEAWAY:  For all you young entrepreneurs who, like me, had a father in your life that has helped you develop your skills and knowledge, even if indirectly, I urge you to make sure they know what a positive impact they’ve had on you and how thankful you are for them.  For those of you who were blessed with strong mothers who served as both mother and father, do something very special for her on Father’s Day as well.  These moms deserve two holidays!

A Mentor’s Role in Managing Risk

A Mentor’s Role in Managing Risk


Recently, for about 30 seconds, I witnessed something that reminded me of the role of startup mentors.

I was leaving the library in Fayetteville, Arkansas and noticed a mother and her young daughter walking along the natural stone that lines the beautifully landscaped flower beds outside the building. The young girl appeared to be around three or four years old. She was walking along the rock boundaries of the elevated flower beds. Her mother walked along beside her, just below on the ground, with her arms stretched toward her daughter just in case she started to fall. I was struck by the fearlessness of the young girl. She seemed undaunted by the potential risks of walking on a narrow, elevated ledge. Her mother mitigated the risk of injury by walking just below her on the ground, allowing her daughter to experience what it was like to be that far off the ground on a narrow ledge. Because of the trust the daughter had in her mother, she did not fear falling.

This reminded me of entrepreneurs, especially young ones, who don’t know, or choose to ignore, the risk of failure. They charge ahead to save the world, create the next great product or discover something the rest of us don’t know exists, without regard for their own personal or financial well being. They do these things simply because they believe they can and failure is really not even part of the thought process. We could all use a dose of that way of thinking. It’s liberating.

The mother reminded me of what good mentors are supposed to do for entrepreneurs. If an entrepreneur is lucky, he/she will have at least one really good mentor early in their journey. The mom did not panic when she saw her daughter in that situation. A worried reaction may have startled the daughter and caused her to fall. Instead, she let her daughter have the experience, guided and reassured her along the way and made sure that, if she did fall, someone would be there to break her fall and help her up . . . to try again. As a mentor to these young risk takers, I believe that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Stay close, provide our best guidance, let them learn through experience which will include failure, and don’t let them fall so hard that they don’t get up and try again.

As the father of a young entrepreneur, I experience the phenomenon described above with the mom and daughter, in a different way, every day. Joshua’s confidence and fearlessness are simply part of who he is. As his parent and business mentor, I have chosen to embrace his fearlessness, but put boundaries in place to limit his risk of failing so horribly that he’s afraid to try again. He has seen that I am not afraid for him to pursue his ideas and that I have confidence in him. I believe this further bolsters his fearlessness. Like a good mentor, I walk just a step behind, in case he starts to fall off the ledge.

THE TAKEAWAY: Young entrepreneurs – Be fearless and seek out good mentors for support. For, families, friends and mentors of these young startup leaders – Support their trapeze act but be ready with the net.

Mentors vs Advisors – An Important Distrinction for Young Entrepreneurs

Mentors vs Advisors – An Important Distrinction for Young Entrepreneurs


It has been challenging, from the dad perspective, to find the best advisers and mentors for Joshua, our entrepreneurial son.  It is important to distinguish between mentors, those with whom the young entrepreneur will have a recurring relationship, and advisers, those that will provide specific advice or connections on a topic of interest.

I have made it more challenging by establishing certain criteria for the folks I’m willing to connect Joshua with as potential mentors.  They not only have to be subject matter experts but also must be, to the best of my knowledge, honest people of character who will have Joshua’s best interests in mind.  That is a tall order and serves to limit the pool of potential contacts.  Although challenging, this follows our principle of surrounding oneself with talented people who share your values, will hold you accountable and willingly share their knowledge.

One might ask, since I have many years of experience as a business executive and consultant, why does he need mentors other than me?  Two reasons:

  1. Despite my level of experience in life and business, Joshua isn’t so sure that his dad is that smart. Afterall, he has seen me do and say some bonehead things. This is not unusual for any teenager and it will likely be that way until he is in his mid 20’s.  I’ve had to accept that and focus on helping surround him with other mentors.
  2. He has to be able to find his own mentors and advisers in the long run and this is a way to help him get started early and, hopefully, understand how important it is.

Overprotective?  Maybe.  Joshua tends to think so.  However, young entrepreneurs generally tend to think they know more than they do, can handle more than they actually can, and are invincible.  This is especially true of young entrepreneurs.  They have to be this way to some degree to have the courage and drive to do what they do.  I give that courage and drive a standing O.  However, this bold, confident approach, coupled with a lack of life experience, makes them vulnerable to folks who may want to take advantage of them in some way or who are oblivious to the fact that they are dealing with a young, still impressionable person despite the fact that they are doing business in an adult world.  This concern diminishes over time as the young entrepreneur establishes and internalizes his/her own criteria for those with whom they choose to do business.  I’ve already seen this happen with Joshua.  He does a pretty good job of figuring out the type of person with whom he is dealing.

Ultimately, the goal is to guide Joshua in how to observe and read people so that he continues to make good decisions on his own.  He has done a great job of this regarding personal friends.  That has certainly helped me feel a bit more at ease regarding his decision making in this matter.

I do not have such stringent requirements for advisers who provide specific advice or connections on a particular topic.  Since these encounters are typically brief and infrequent, I tend to be a bit less concerned about their depth of character.  Exposure is limited since the contact is more of a transaction than a relationship.

I’ll leave you with this.  Joshua and I were in a technical discussion one day when he said something that prompted this analogy.  Surrounding yourself with good people who help hold you accountable, helps insure that your moral compass works properly, which in turn, helps you make better life and business decisions.  Surrounding yourself with folks with less than honorable intentions can cause your compass to malfunction and get you off your path.  So far, Joshua’s compass seems to be working just fine and he seems to be catching on to the idea of finding and nurturing mentors.

Time will tell.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Mentors are critical to entrepreneurial success.  Finding and cultivating relationships with true mentors takes developing criteria for mentors, searching diligently for the right people, and nurturing those relationships.  Having good mentors will pay dividends beyond measure.