Saturday, September 26, 2015

Should you consider an executive coach?

I admit it; I was a psychology major. This may mean I overvalue soft skills over technical skills in entrepreneurs. However, I don't think that the explosion in executive coaching (10,000 and counting) is a blip but a necessity in today's complex always on world. Executive coaching isn’t new. It's used by corporate executives to up their game just like an elite athlete does. However, executive coaching isn’t commonplace among start-up founders. That's changing rapidly in Silicon Valley where it's become cache to have a coach.  Domain competence isn't sufficient for success as a start-up leader. It takes leadership skills, emotional intelligence, listening skills, etc. Oh, and women tend to have these soft skills much more naturally than their male counterparts!

What I hear when I recommend executive coaching to entrepreneurs seeking advice: "I leverage my investors for that," "my board members provide this," or "I have an advisory board." If you're an investor, it's in your interest to encourage executive coaching for your portfolio companies, especially those who are first time in their senior executive role. Start-up founders who don't come out of the corporate environment learn by doing, but time is not on their side.

If you're an entrepreneur, do you use a personal trainer? How about a financial planner? Then you want to be the best at some important outcome. Someone who's only there to optimize you and your executive needs is a special relationship worth investing in since your company is likely the biggest investment you will make in your life. Stack the deck in your favor; hire someone who will optimize you. A start-up coach is part strategic business adviser, psychologist, headlights for the future, and leadership trainer.

A well-known Silicon Valley coach (Anamaria Nino-Murcia, Startup Coach & Founder, Foothold Coaching) polled clients to ask what value they receive in Coaching. These reasons resonate with me as I've seen these perspectives with my own coaching clients.

#1: Accelerate Your Personal Growth
“Your ability to personally grow faster than you could ever be comfortable with is the single biggest determinant of whether you will survive and succeed.” – Ben Knelman, Founder & CEO of Juntos Finanzas

The founders who succeed over time are the ones who learn the fastest—not just about product-market fit—but also about themselves.

#2: Get Emotional Support
 “It’s lonely at the top, and it’s nice to not only turn to board members, investors, friends or a spouse.” – Julia Hu, Founder-CEO of lark

Founders often confront emotional challenges they don’t or can't share with teammates, investors, advisors or even trusted friends and family. A coach creates a safe space to talk through struggles.

Ben Horowitz of a16z publicly states, “By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology.” And who helped him develop that skill? Bill Campbell, the legendary CEO coach to many of Silicon Valley’s most successful leaders.

#3: Have an Unbiased Sounding Board
 “You need space outside of your team and investors to work through important decisions.” – Colin Mutchler, founder-CEO of louder

 “Everyone else in your life has some personal or professional bias—having a coach is the only unbiased sounding board you can have.” – Romain David, Co-Founder of Meexo (acquired by Live Nation)

Founders make myriad of decisions every day under massive uncertainty. To navigate this ambiguity, entrepreneurs tap their advisory network of friends, mentors and investors. The best advisers offer shortcuts based on their knowledge and experience. A good coach is an active listener, a pattern-spotter, and someone who helps you decide, quickly and thoughtfully, what you want to do. Coaches take on your agenda as their own—without role bias.

 #4: Anticipate Later-Stage Challenges
“In the early days, you’re so busy sprinting to put out fires that you might not take the time to stop and think about the long-term impact of your choices. And yet, even the smallest decisions made early on can significantly change your company’s trajectory. Working with a coach helps me realize which decisions made now might have ramifications a year or two down the road.” – Maria Wich-Vila, early-stage entrepreneur

Next month: how to find and hire the best coach for you and how to get the most out of a coaching relationship.

Here are some great perspectives on start-up executive coaching:
The Startup Shrink Will See You Now
Put Me In, Coach
The CEO Of A Billion-Dollar Startup Uses A Simple System To Nail Work-Life Balance Every Week
CEOs Want But Don’t Receive Executive Coaching

Janis Machala, Managing Partner - Paladin Partners LLC

Friday, September 11, 2015

Angel Profiles: Geoff Harris

What attracted you to exploring angel investing?
I spent 15 years at a big company and I knew I wanted to try something different. I plan to do my own startup at some point and so I figured I’d find out what life was like on the other side of the table as an investor first. In addition I believe strongly that there need to be more angels in Seattle who have benefited from working at one of the successful local companies who choose to give back to the startup ecosystem and make this a healthy place to start a company.

If you’re still angel investing, where do you find most of the companies?
I am a member of two angel groups – Seattle Angel Conference and Alliance of Angels. I find my deal flow split evenly between those two groups and referrals from friends and associates

What are the top three things you look for in companies where you invest?
I look for an opportunity that can be big. Given the multiples that one needs to achieve on the successful companies in your portfolio, I’m not interested in something that can be a nice business if will never be big enough to achieve a successful exit. Then I look at the team. As many angels investors would tell you, the team is (almost) everything. I’ll take a great team over a great idea every time. Finally, I look for any evidence of customer traction. Even if it is early I look for any evidence that this team’s solution is resonating with potential customers.

How did you incorporate angel investing into your overall portfolio?
I take what I think is a relatively typical portfolio approach, treating my angel investments as their own asset class and allocating anywhere from 5-10% of my portfolio to this class at any one time. Interestingly I spend a completely disproportionate amount of my time on this 5-10% of my portfolio. This is of course one of the joys of angel investing – the ability to have direct involvement and impact in your portfolio companies.

What have you learned since you started angel investing?
I’ve learned that I have much, much more to learn. One of the exciting aspects of angel investing is that even after being fairly active in it for 3+ years, every time I engage I learn something new.

What do you wish you would have known before you started angel investing?
I wish I had understood the cold hard math facts a little better. I would likely have had a little more rigor on early stage valuation if I had.

What space are you most interested to invest in next?
I don’t have a particular industry bias but I feel most comfortable investing in the software IT space

What resources should entrepreneurs and angels use to learn more?
There is no lack of great educational forums put on by all the angel groups in town. If one wanted to, one could go to an angel event just about any night of the week. Geekwire maintains a good listing of these events as does If I could recommend one book that all angels and entrepreneurs should read it would be Early Exits by Basil Peters.