Keeping it Simple: 4 Startup Mentors Give Advice to Founders

Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

Entrepreneurs enter the startup space with a great idea and an unparalleled determination to see it succeed. While tremendous skill and unrelenting drive can move them closer to that dream, everyone needs advice along the way. We reached out to four mentors at Capital Innovators and asked them the tough question: if you had to give one piece of advice to founders, what would it be?

Believe in Yourself
John Williamson

“Believe in yourself, ensure you are adding value from the perspective of your customer and
you are focused on solving problems that are meaningful to them. Understand success is based upon your ability to overcome failure. Make peace with yourself that your to-do list will never be completed, but you always focus on completing the tasks that immediately move the needle,” says John Williamson, founder of Athrú LLC, a change management and operational excellence-consulting firm., and previous Senior Vice President–Operations for Equifax Workforce Solutions.

John has mentored Capital Innovators portfolio companies Better Weekdays, FocalCast, Fluent, Meter Genius, Ranked Hire, Reach Dynamics, SpinBall and SpaceSculpt.

Stay Hungry, Humble and Smart

“The one piece of advice that I have learned to share with founders is the analogy between successfully starting a business and the old adage about doing a major remodel on your home: It will likely take twice as long (and cost twice as much) as you think it will,” says Art Handman, Former Area Vice President, North America, Energizer Household Products.

Art Handman

“In my observation, those founders who stay hungry, humble and smart have the best
chance to succeed. Here is how I would define that:  those that demonstrate grit (sticking with it through changes and setbacks), network with “EQ” (listen to  employees, customers, advisors, peers, investors, mentors for both their thoughts and emotional reactions), use their “IQ” (use the input and their own judgement to make strategic choices and then stay very very focused on the few things that matter to deliver those strategies).”

In the past year and a half, Art has mentored Cellaride, Lucidity Lights, Inc.PFITR, LLCDabble, RankedHire and Greetabl.

Be Relevant, but Stand Out in the Market Carl Turza

“I have to admit that I’ve struggled with the “single piece of advice” question, since every business is different, and the personalities within each are even more diverse,” says Carl Turza, former VWR VP of Global e-Business and Chief Information Officer for Sigma-Aldrich.

“I guess I always advise my mentees to focus on what would make their company relevant AND differentiated in the market, stay focused on activities that move them directly toward those goals and measure progress each week.”

Carl has mentored Cellaride, Better Weekdays, Global Yodel, FocalCast and Need Fixed

Remember the What, Why and How 

Ken Herold“Focus on the business model as much or more than the idea and delivery. There are three parts to a startup: the ‘what’ (idea), the ‘why’ (need it fills) and the ‘how’ (design and delivery),” says Ken Herold, of the Catalyst Center and former Chief Knowledge Officer at HOK. “Many founders generate a variety of countless ideas, then take a ‘build it and they will come’ view of the world. The misstep happens when the startup goes directly from ‘what’ to ‘how’ without constantly evaluating ‘why’ customers should pay for it. Over the last three years, we have been implementing ‘the lean canvas’ at the beginning of the 12-week accelerators as a method to constantly refine ideas and determine what to build and deliver.”

Over the last three years Ken has averaged over 20 startups a year as a mentor, advisor and fractional CTO.  He guides “lean canvas” sessions with accelerators such as Capital Innovators, Prosper, Stadia, and SixThirty, along with the five incubators in St. Louis County. He has been a lead mentor for Capital Innovators for startups including PixelPress, SpaceSculpt, JobSiteUnite, and VIM along with being an advisor to classes for business modeling, technology vision and delivery. Outside of the accelerators at T-REX he works with startups such as KNOWink and Selequity as well as being an adjunct professor for both the Entrepreneurial MBA and Parks Engineering colleges at SLU.

This blog was created in collaboration with Capital Innovators, a member of the EQ Partner Network.

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JJ writes for EQ as well as KMOV, where he works full time covering the St. Louis Cardinals. Previously he worked for a few years with media start-ups. He covered the Missouri Tigers football and basketball teams for KMOV prior to joining full time. Originally from outside Chicago, JJ graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, and has spent most of his time in the Show Me State since.