What is the difference between a mentor and entrepreneur coach? Startups ask us to clarify this question all the time, so this is our attempt to outline the differences as we see it at ConVerge.
An entrepreneurial coach helps oversee all aspects of your business. Analogous to a medical internist, a coach is knowledgeable about the interdisciplinary activities needed to run a business or startup successfully. A coach helps entrepreneurs understand right/left brain activities by the entrepreneur. They help create strategy, diagnose problems and know where to find resources that are necessary to build a sustainable business.
An entrepreneurial coach ushers you forward towards the right resources with timing that is important in their role. They help orchestrate training and conduct startup activities in the right order so that you don’t waste time or money. Use of a coach can help mitigate risk factors or even failure that is often typical when starting a business from scratch..
A good coach may have resources to help benchmark your business operations against other similar businesses in the same industry. They often become more deeply engaged in your business activities and become part of the team which can include payment for their services.
Conversely, a mentor is more industry specific. Mentors typically bring product or service expertise to an entrepreneur that could not be achieved alone. A good entrepreneur mentor has started or implemented something new or has implemented change. They can often help address a specific barrier, identify a market segment or establish a new sales channel.
A mentor is invaluable to the startup process and many mentors volunteer their services often for free, but not always. At ConVerge we are fortunate to have several volunteer mentors who enjoy giving back, especially when it means helping entrepreneurs and students create a means for self-employment.
Working on a startup is both exciting and a bit scary. Some days can feel lonely and others exciting and to be shared, especially when you find your first customer!
If you are looking for assistance with your startup, we hope you will find that at ConVerge. Good coaches and mentors have walked in your shoes and can play an important part in your business.
Is the Idea Worth Pursing?
That is the inquiry we get most often at ConVerge. It’s even harder when the question is raised a year or two after the founder incurred substantial time and debt, only to realize they started a business of despair.
There are low-cost preparations as part of your homework that you might consider to mitigate risk of a startup to determine if your idea or business venture is worth pursuing. Start by having a deep understanding of your customer needs with lots of listening (and less talking) before jumping into the deep end of the entrepreneurial pool.
Visions for solutions to a problem are great and might make you feel good. But launching a business without fully understanding customer needs first can be detrimental to your success..
This concept is best illustrated in Diana Kander’s publication All In Startup: Launching a New Idea http://www.dianakander.com/. She illustrates this message through the journey of an enthusiastic entrepreneur selling refurbished, high-quality bikes at discounted prices.
Here are four considerations she recommends we entrepreneurs understand, because they are really important and a somewhat reverse approach to innovation:
- Entrepreneurs don’t fail because they couldn’t build the product.They fail because no one wants to buy what was built.
- People don’t buy products or services, they buy solutions to their problems.
- Entrepreneur are detectives, not fortune tellers.
- Successful entrepreneurs are luck makers, not risk takers.
Real entrepreneurs mitigate risk by going to market with facts, not feelings or emotions. Proof-of-concept is invaluable to determine whether your guesses are right or wrong. Test them in the real world. Ask customers questions about whether they want it, what they will pay for it, if they understand it, how it will benefit them and would they recommend it.
Whether a startup or a corporate entrepreneur, resources at ConVerge can help to develop a Proof–of-concept process and give you the answers you need to feel confident. Validate before moving forward in the business or new product idea. We can assist in your investigation stage so that you find the right customers (or tell you there are no customers), satisfy their needs and more confidently understand if a venture or new product idea is worth pursuing.
Contributed by Martha Carney, Executive Director of the Chicago area North Central College, Converge Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.