Mentors - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

The Importance of Mentors and Your Chance of Business Success

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StevenCox.com - Successful People Seek Mentors

I’d love to say that my best ideas were formed inside of my head, but truthfully, the biggest breakthrough’s I’ve had are because I was able to take the raw thought material in my head and receive insights from other smart people.

If you’re smart, that’s a good start. But someone not as bright can play at a much higher level by getting the help of others.

For me personally, mentors have played a critical role in my business. Each time I’m faced with a seemingly overwhelming set of circumstances, I lean heavy on the men and women in my life who have been there and done that. Why would I want to try to figure it out myself? No way! I’d rather learn from the experiences of others and not have to go throug the pain.

Mentors play another key role. Many times, they don’t tell you the answers to your problems. Instead, they help you ask the right questions. I’ve been so deep in a situation that I can’t see alternatives other than what I’ve been thinking about. Smart mentors help you take a step back and look at the problem form another viewpoint. And sometimes, that’s all you need for a major breakthrough.

Who are your mentors? It’s good to have them in business as well as your personal life. Mentors are people who add value to you by providing you with another way to view the world.

A great mentor never gives you the answer. They only help you ask the right questions.



The Digital Frontier – A Showcase of San Diego’s Entrepreneurial Innovation (Clip 7 of 8)

By At Work, Life Lessons, Start Up San Diego, Start-Ups No Comments

On Wednesday, 4/18, a few local tech entrepreneurs spoke at the 6Degrees Breakfast Speakers series on digital startups and innovation here in San Diego. In this segment, the panelists talk about finding work-life balance while starting a business.


Question from the crowd: (barely audible) What's the [xx] business model? They're all similar because they're online. What are your additional challenges? What are you doing to raise capital in terms of raising capital for growth…?

Jimmy Hendricks: I guess being, I mean it's interesting if you look at a lot of business models, we're connecting two people. Every business model if you guys look at it, we're all different, and a lot of us are actually very similar in trying to connect two people together as most business models. It's connecting non-profits with donors, connecting customers with businesses, music lessons with students.

But always the biggest challenge is figuring out if your business model is scalable and provides value. I think that's the outcome of it, it's not about what industry it's in, it's like TakeLessons. I know it's gone through some iterations and they've really figured it out based on pricing and a bunch of other factors, but a lot of times it's that concept tweaking every single month the biggest challenge is finding sustainability because if you don't find sustainability, raising money gets you from point A to point B. But if you want point A to like N, you need to find sustainability, which is how do I provide enough value so someone pays for it.

I think Lars got that right, that when you're building your own business that it's grown organically. And we have not got to that point. Some of us have raised more capital. A lot of us haven't gotten to the point where we can one day say, we don't need another dollar, and we will grow as long as we want to do this.

So, that's always a challenge.

Scot Chisholm: Yeah, I would just add to that, finding who your target customers is a big challenge of ours and they're constantly trying to find exactly who that is. There is 1.5 million non-profits in the United States. Originally, we thought that all of them were target customers but it's not necessarily the truth.

It took years really for us to understand that certain type of segment of the non-profit industry really would get most value out of our product in the short term, and provide that ROI that we'd be able to charge for and have a sustainable scale of business. So, that took a long time and we're still tweaking it every single month we're changing our pricing say we're figuring out how can we optimize this for scale.

So, I definitely agree with something that was a continuous challenge for us.

Moderator: Let me ask a question. You guys are. It's very clear and very obvious, you all work very hard and get your companies where they are today, and for a lot of people that company becomes their life. If you don't mind, what is your outlet? What do you do when you're not at work? What is the thing that allows you to escape and lead a somewhat normal life?

Lars Helgeson: You know, it's funny because I was just talking to, I just met a gentleman, Jim, here before this.

Moderator: Well that's trouble you met Jim.

Lars Helgeson: Yeah, right there you're having problems… and he said something really funny, you know when you're an entrepreneur you get to work half days: you get to chose the twelve hours you want to work! And it's kind of true. I don't know, for me personally, I have to get myself away from the office otherwise it will suck you in and possess you for your entire life and you'll never leave your office.

True. Yeah, I think having a work-life balance is really important. It doesn't matter what you're doing, where you are in your business orientation, it's important. Especially, as an entrepreneur when you're having to deal with things that happen 24/7. You have to figure out ways to disconnect, so you'll get the spot too.

You bet. It's a lot of different things. I think it's just time to take care of yourself. I think that's what make it sustainable, because if you don't, you'll burn out.

Moderator: Good point.

Jimmy Hendricks: Yeah, I think a lot of us can probably testify, the first two years you just try to work around the clock, you figure it's going to push the needle, and then… Probably this year is the first year that I started thinking, gosh, working all the time, and what am I doing past 5 pm that's actually driving revenue or driving customers, and started putting things in place case where I'm like I work 8 to 6.

There's nights when you  work, when there's a time when you have to do a proposal or contract, to do something that really needs to be done, but it's amazing when you actually start committing to even some personal time. Let's say working out or going to the gym, run, or just going to dinner with friends.

It's amazing. Your brain will actually switch and you start to get smarter because you're not like blinders. When you get out of your office, you're exposed to new things. Maybe talking to your advisors and stuff like that. You have to put in your time, I think it's important to work a lot in the early stage when you're modeling it, but it's with the right people.

And then once you start kind of figuring things out, it's also important not to work so your brain can rest, because your brain will get tired. I think four years in is when you start getting lazy. Your brain will say, "No. I can't do it anymore." You want to get it so you've got to start feeding your body and being healthy, eating right and all this kind of things that are obvious, but that makes the business better.

Steven Cox: I have a simple motto, and that is 'incredible experiences with incredible people' and so it's kind of built within my every day daily weekly monthly calender that I have my work time and i give it full force on that and when it's play time I might give it full force on that as well. You know, in our office we have a jam room where you can come in and play music all day.

Not that that's what people do in their office. But, you know after six o'clock they do quite a bit. There's a lot of outlets like that, working out those sorts of things and you need to do that. Like I said, it helps to keep refreshed one of the best, you know we closed a big deal with Best Buy where we are physically teaching inside Best Buy stores now, that happened when I was at the gym on a a treadmill and listening to CNBC and this dude started talking about it, from Best Buy, about how they were going to do that.

So just because I'm in the gym, out working out, you can actually work on your business as well. It's a really cool thing to do and I also add that I absolutely love working. I totally admit it, I totally dig the idea of building a world class organization. I know I get excited by doing that, so my work/life balance is probably a little bit different because I just totally love coming to work everyday, I do.

Moderator: There's nothing wrong with that!

Mitch Thrower: I think we've made all the errors when it comes to work life balance probably collectively among the crew, as well as forced work life balance. I actually have an apartment in the same building as the office which sounds great for those of you who commute and it sound horrible for those of you who have done it because of the leaving part, but at the same time you have to f
orce yourself to leave. And also enable an organization and enable a culture, like our creative director, Dawn, who is actually in the audience today is also a yoga instructor, so she'll take the team up on the roof in the mornings we do yoga, which we get to do a lot more often but it's great to have you know a group of folks that help each other.

Make sure that they go out and do something that balances them. Because everyone, you know, we have been in a culture where the rewards are for the people who never sleep, theoretically. They are the push, push, push go and people don't realize that they are probably only optimally working for a certain period of that time.

and if they are applying that to other things and not to your career and your job and what you're working on then it's different. You want to make sure that when people are focused, they're focused on building the business.

Scot Chisholm: Yeah I think I'm gonna have to take some advice from these guys. Still working on the whole work life balance thing myself. I think because we're so plugged in with technology, it's really hard to stay off email and do these other things. I try to make a rule for myself to not work on at least Saturdays make it one day out of the week and then hold it to Sunday night, so at least have some sort of constraint there helps.

It definitely is a lot of work and you put in long nights. We have such a fantastic team and we're so passionate with what we're doing that, and I agree with Steven, I love to be in the office. I think, I just had a son recently, about six months ago, and that was probably the one defining moment that made me you realize, ok, I've really got to put some things in place here so I can actually leave the office but its fine if your passionate about something. You love it, and whether it's golfing or surfing or doing something else, for me, I just love being there.


The Digital Frontier – A Showcase of San Diego’s Entrepreneurial Innovation (Clip 5 of 8)

By At Work, Life Lessons, Start Up San Diego, Start-Ups No Comments

On Wednesday, 4/18, a few local tech entrepreneurs spoke at the 6Degrees Breakfast Speakers series on digital startups and innovation here in San Diego. In this segment, the panelists discuss their varied experiences with their mentors.


Moderator: When you were getting started, were there any mentors or resources that helped you achieve success?

Lars Helgeson: I'm probably an anomaly on this one because for whatever reason, I never actually had a mentor. I did a lot with what they were talking about with iteration, you know, where you try things and some of those, a lot of those, a-ha moments don't work. I guess it's a lot of hard work, at least from my perspective.

I never really had that person that I look up to and say, you know, this is someone that has so many years of experience and everything. I think that in some ways it's good, in some ways it's bad, you know? If you have a mentor, they can kind of guide you and tell you not to make the really stupid mistakes, but sometimes, without a mentor, you kind of figure those things out on your own and sometimes those mistakes end up being good things.

So, you're good and bad.

Moderator: Good point.

Jimmy Hendricks: For me, I've had several, I guess. I've been in and out of business. When I first got a job at active.com I took the job because my boss had been a manager at CitySearch. And so I knew, I'm like, if I'm gonna get on the internet, I gotta have someone to teach me about the Internet. I knew nothing about software.

I knew nothing about that. But then when we moved out here still kind of blind entrepreneurs, and actually a friend of ours Drew introduced me to Steven, he is the first person who challenged me on business modeling where instead of like, we can build it, blind success, you start with what about this and what about this, damn, damn.

What about this? What about your market? Have you thought about the challenges? Eventually, these things started to get my brain thinking out. There are some other advisers and then now we appear where we all like bounce ideas off. Mitch and I try to meet every month or two and Scot as well. Like, we get together and talk about how your business is performing.

How are you modeling it? Everything from pricing to recruiting and get all of that by and Steven's the first person that got me to actually start thinking.

Steven Cox: I'm very very big on learning. And in fact one of our company's values, core values is constant, never ending improvement. That basically means however you are today, it's just kind of a baseline for where you could be tomorrow.

So, I am constantly, probably these guys as well very curious, and always asking a lot of people a lot of information, as much as I can get my hands on. And there's been a couple key people that, specifically, even now, there's one of our investors that I look to a lot. As we continue to grow, business, and no matter what scale you're at, whether your one person moving to five, five moving to fifty, or thirty moving to a hundred like we just went through right, would consistently ask and say listen, so here's what I know, but what I'm more interested in is what questions should I be asking that I'm not even aware yet that I need to understand in order to get to the next level.

So there are people who have done that who will mentor you and will help you. And, you know, it's not about the money. They get joy out of seeing other people succeed. So I'm a big believer in finding those people and learning all you can from them.

Mitch Thrower: So, I'll take you back to when you were a kid. How many folks ever played the game Chutes and Ladders?

If you land on the number 28, you would be sort of catapulted by a ladder almost to the end of the game. Mentors really, you want to find there's two categories. There's mentors and then there's mentor catapults. People who you can get advice from and then people will open doors for you so, you know, Ken Potashner, who's was here in town is a mentor.

He took three companies to a billion and he's on a board of directors and I'll call him and we'll literally huddle around issues. And then mentor catapults are people who you can really, you know… Brian Messec, who was actually with the venture group up in L.A. picked up the phone when we were working with them on a project and make a phone call and the next thing we know we have a client with 17 million customers.

So that's a catapult and I think San Diego's a very rich, a very deep well of mentors. There's a lot of folks here that are very successful, hence they can afford be here and choose where they live, so find and seek the folks that are passionate about what you're passionate about and what your business is passionate about and then spend some time with them 'cause it's hard.

It's hard to pick up the phone because you're managing the team, you're managing financing, clients. It's hard to carve the time out and pick up the phone and call those mentors and share everything, the good, the bad and the ugly within it.

Scot Chisholm: I would definitely agree with most of what was already said. We've a couple advisers. The first group started by us going through the connect program, the springboard program. But each has helped along the way But I, now that everyone has talked about it, I'll take it from a different angle. You also have to know that not every adviser knows your business or you know your business. And you have to take things with a grain of salt.

Also you take people's advice but also come back to your team and yourself and really think it through before you make that decision. Just don't take someone's word and go implement it. That's something that we learned throughout and I think that's been something that's really helped shape our vision and our product moving forward is to take people's advice and then make it your own and really think it through and learn from the customer versus just someone's opinion.