Categories
E2E: Scale

THE MISSING MILLION $

Note: This blog was originally published by Julian Castelli on Growth Scaling.  

 

Why hitting the most important customer “nerve” is the key to sales velocity.

The other day I was speaking with the growth team at an exciting SaaS company. The Company had the best product of its kind in the market. In fact they had just been declared the best product by a leading industry source – woohoo! Yet, sales velocity was good but not great…

After discussing all sorts of potential reasons, I suggested that maybe they hadn’t yet “nailed the value prop”. This drew all sorts of eye-rolling and sighs by the team. “How could that be possible? We have over a hundred happy customers! Just look at our pipeline and how it is growing! Look at these names!”

While I wasn’t trying to create a controversy, nor downplay any of the Company’s achievements, I knew that there was a difference between the success this Company was having and what it feels like when you are “In the Zone” with a great Value Proposition that is crushing it. Being in the Zone is also referred to as having great Product Market Fit. When you are in theZone, you are like Michael Jordan who just knows he can sink any shot or make any play – just give me the ball!. For a SaaS company you just know that you can close almost any deal or train any good sales rep to beat quota consistently. Confidence in these capabilities is exactly what allows SaaS companies to scale growth predictably and efficiently. This attracts VC money like bees to flowers– just give me the money! – which of course provides those companies with more resources to grow even faster and improve their products to the point where it just doesn’t seem fair. That is why you have to get into the Zone and do everything you can to stay there!

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to experience what it feels like to be In the Zone. Our team got there by selling money. In fact, we called it selling the missing $1million. I recently caught up with Michael de la Torre, our CRO, who led the effort to get there and coined the term Selling the Missing Million to recap what we did differently.

“Our historical approach was to either lead with our demo or talk about what we could do for them. This approach did not get us anywhere because no one wanted to hear about what we did. But once we discovered their biggest pain point and then reframed our entire pitch around having a discussion about that pain point, our sales took off. For our customers, it was about revenue growth. An extra million in revenues would mean much more margin in their pocket and it would mean the difference between barely scraping by and a massive windfall. In other words, another million dollars at the margin meant everything. So we recrafted our pitch to reliably get to that point. We crafted our whole selling motion around engaging them in a conversation about current revenues and current approaches to revenue growth – occupancy, daily rate, and other key revenue components – and then we would use those numbers, their numbers, to frame a strategy where we could help them find their ‘missing million’. We would often transition our conversation by saying ‘based on what you’ve told me, it seems like you are missing a million dollars’. The response almost always cycled quickly from confusion, to interest, to excitement, to action. The ‘missing million’ completely changed the tone and energy of the customer conversation, and we sold many deals without even demoing our software. Once we understood the true nerve, and we crafted a pitch that could reliably hit that nerve, we almost always won the deal.”

Steps to Finding Your Pitch

Are you selling your product features or are you selling to their biggest, and often unarticulated, need? Here are some tips to help you discover your “Missing Million” value prop.

  • Deep Customer Knowledge: It is not enough to define an ideal customer profile and personas. You really need to know what keeps your customer up at night. What are their most important problems that they encounter every day? What challenges do they encounter trying to solve them today? Is it revenue? Is it cost? Is it risk? Is it peace of mind? Is it quality? Is it scaling for growth? Or it could be some combination of all of the above. If you can solve one of these problems you have a chance at reliably hitting that nerve. At LeisureLink, we hired industry SMEs versus traditional sales reps, because they could easily have the simple conversation with the customer that reliably and inevitably uncovered the ‘missing million’!
  • Iterate and Test Like Crazy: You are not likely to get it right the first or second or even the third time! It will take time, and lots of “at bats.” Make sure your team is trying multiple approaches and you are listening for what works. Weekly sales debriefs and learning sessions are critical to uncovering what may work. Remember, many to many conversations are exponentially more efficient than one to one coaching sessions, where great ideas may be missed or not connected to other discoveries to form the critical hypotheses! In other words, design your sales and marketing process to optimize discovery!
  • First Things First: Don’t lock in your website messaging right away and then waste a year or two pitching a message that doesn’t resonate. You need to nail the value prop first, then support it across all of your messaging channels. Keep things relatively light and malleable until you have nailed it for sure. And keep iterating!
  • Avoid the Rocks: Just because the customer wants to talk about something doesn’t mean that is the right path to closing. Recognize and ID the rocks, indulge them shortly if customers bring them up, and then have the courage to “reframe” the conversation to whatever value proposition is closest to selling money in your world.
  • Nail the Re-Frame: Reframing takes courage and skill. It can’t be done clumsily or it will feel awkward. You need to know enough about the customer and her pains/needs that you can lead the conversation towards solving them. Even better if you can get them to realize how to solve their problem using the socratic method! Then they’ll “ask you for the money!

I am a Venture Partner with Next Coast Ventures and COO/CFO at Voxpopme. I spend my time helping technology companies scale the Growth Mountain.

Categories
E2E: News

NCV’s Top 9 of ‘19

1. Closed our Second Fund: NCV II

In November we were incredibly proud to announce the closing of our second fund, which brings $130 million in new capital to NCV. We are thrilled to have assembled a great group of investors – a strong combination of investors from our first fund and new investors who believe in our ambitious goal to become one of the best firms providing early and growth-stage capital in what we call ‘Next Coast markets.’ Like any fundraising effort, it took time, travel and a lot of hard work. But truth be told, this fund was really made possible by the hard work of all the entrepreneurs we have had the privilege to work with since we founded Next Coast Ventures over four years ago. Learn more about NCV II here.

2. Made our First NCV II Investments

In July we were proud to announce that, as our first investment from NCV II, we led the $12.5M Series C in TrustRadius, the leading software review platform. This was a great moment for the Austin ecosystem: Two experienced, local entrepreneurs creating a differentiated product supported by a great Texas syndicate. We’ve been following TrustRadius’ progress since we started NCV in 2015 and are thrilled to have the chance to officially partner with them during this new phase of growth. Learn more about TrustRadius here.

Since July, we’ve made additional NCV II investments in other portfolio companies that are in stealth mode. More to come on these soon!

3. Added Six New Portfolio Companies

We know we are only as good as the founders we back. In 2019, we added six more incredible teams to our portfolio. We were thrilled to announce that we led the $10M Series B in Montana-based Submittable, the leading submission review platform – it was one of the top-10 largest Series B rounds in the state’s history and our first deal in Montana. We were also proud to announce that we participated in the $8M Series A in Enboarder, an experiential employee onboarding platform that was founded in Sydney, Australia – we were especially excited to bring the company to Austin. We also invested in Backtracks, the Austin-based podcast analytics and hosting platform that helps businesses of all shapes and sizes understand their audience and monetize their podcasting content. Our other new portfolio companies of 2019 are TrustRadius and two stealth mode companies mentioned above.

4. Had Two Portfolio Exits: Finery and Brava

Our portfolio companies Finery, the wardrobe operating system, and Brava, the smart countertop oven, were both acquired in 2019. Finery was acquired by online fashion styling service Stitch Fix. We are so proud of Whitney Casey and Brooklyn Decker and the innovation they bring to the world of fashion technology. Brava was acquired by kitchen equipment manufacturer Middleby. The smart countertop oven will continue to cook delicious home-cooked meals alongside Middleby’s existing residential and commercial kitchen appliance portfolio. Congratulations to the Finery and Brava teams!

5. Doubled our Entrepreneurs Council

We are always looking for new and innovative ways to support our portfolio leadership. This year, we doubled the size of our Entrepreneurs Council, which consists of industry-leading entrepreneurs in Next Coast markets who directly advise and mentor our portfolio leadership. We were so thrilled to announce that we added iconic entrepreneurs Cotter Cunningham (founder of RetailMeNot), Brian Sharples (founder of HomeAway) and Julian Castelli (former CEO of LeisureLink and VacationRoost) as the newest members of our Entrepreneurs Council. Learn more about our Entrepreneurs Council here.

6. Grew our Investment Team with Zaz Floreani as Principal

After years of running business and corporate development at various startups in Austin, Zaz joined our deal team this fall and immediately became an integral contributor. She helps execute our strategy in our early stage investments, with a focus on sourcing entrepreneurs and identifying investment prospects in markets outside the coasts. Zaz also supports our portfolio companies by providing advice and introductions around potential hires, investors, customers and strategic partnerships. Learn more about Zaz here.

7. Added Sarah Puil as Entrepreneur-in-Residence

It has always been important to our firm’s culture to have a strong entrepreneur in our office to bring their unique perspective on emerging market trends and work with them to discover their next project. Hence we were so excited to announce that we added experiential marketing and podcasting expert Sarah Puil as our Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Learn more about Sarah here.

8. Brought on Jonathan Kaplan as Chief Operating Officer

We mean it when we say that we are building out a firm for the long term. We were excited to finally announce the addition of Jonathan Kaplan as our COO. He brings an incredible wealth of startup experience to NCV and our portfolio. Jonathan is responsible for all operations of our firm and the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts. He is also integral in the formulation and execution of our investment strategy and supporting NCV’s portfolio companies by providing advice regarding operations, corporate development and compliance. Learn more about Jonathan here.

9. Austin VC Investment Reached Two-Decade High

While we know we can’t credit for Austin’s record-breaking year of VC investment, we couldn’t be more thrilled about the incredible growth we’ve seen in Austin and our other Next Coast markets. As investors focused on rising innovation hubs, we know that we wouldn’t be able to invest in our incredible founders without the support of these booming ecosystems. We’re very proud to be Austin-based investors and are committed to continuing to give back to the entrepreneurial markets we serve – we look forward to seeing what other records Austin’s investment ecosystem breaks in 2020. We have a feeling it will be plenty.

Categories
E2E: News

NCV’s Top 10 of Summer

“New deals, new exits and new team members. Needless to say summer slowdown is not a thing for Next Coast Ventures.”

10. Summer Kickoff Meat-Up

We love any opportunity to bring Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem together, and we are firm believers that it shouldn’t take an industry conference or panel of experts to do it – that’s why we founded our series of ‘Meat-Ups’ in 2018. We have truly enjoyed bringing Austin’s founders, investors and service providers together in our backyard for great BBQ. We can’t think of a better way to kick off summer.

9. Three Entrepreneurs Council additions

We were so thrilled to announce that we added iconic entrepreneurs Cotter Cunningham (founder of RetailMeNot), Brian Sharples (founder of HomeAway), and Julian Castelli (former CEO of LeisureLink and VacationRoost,) as the newest members to our newly-branded Entrepreneurs Council, which advises and mentors our portfolio leadership. Learn more about our Entrepreneurs Council here.

8. New Chief Operating Officer

We were excited to finally announce the addition of Jonathan Kaplan as our COO and couldn't be more excited for what he'll bring to NCV and our portfolio: “I was drawn to the opportunity to join Next Coast Ventures because of its differentiated commitment to supporting entrepreneurs in markets throughout the United States and the quality of the firm’s investments to date." Learn more about Jonathan here.

7. Led the $12.5M Series C in TrustRadius

We were proud to announce that we led the $12.5M Series C in TrustRadius, the leading software review platform. This was a great moment for the Austin ecosystem with two experienced, local entrepreneurs creating an a differentiated product supported by a great Texas syndicate.

6. Led the $10M Series B in Submittable

We were so psyched to announce that we led the $10M Series B in Montana-based Submittable, the leading submission review platform. It was one of the top-10 largest Series B rounds in the state’s history and our first deal in Montana. It was right up our alley: an entrepreneur with deep domain expertise creating a full-stack business model in a Next Coast market that solves a big pain point for numerous industries.

5. Added Enboarder to our portfolio

We were proud to announce that we participated in the $8M Series A in Enboarder, an experiential employee onboarding platform that was founded in Sydney, Australia. We’re especially excited to bring the company to Austin to open its U.S. headquarters and grow its team as they continue to change the HR game for companies big and small.

4. Phlur raised Series A, acquired Texas Beauty Labs

We were thrilled to be follow-on investors in Phlur, the leading sustainable fragrance and beauty brand that acquired fellow Texas-based clean beauty manufacturer Texas Beauty Labs to expand their offerings from fragrance and candles to now include a line of clean beauty and deodorant products. And yes, they smell just as fabulous.

3. Added Backtracks to our portfolio

We were proud to announce that we are investors in Backtracks, the Austin-based podcast analytics and hosting platform that helps businesses of all shapes and sizes understand their audience and monetize their podcasting content.

2. Added an Entrepreneur-in-Residence

It has always been important to our firm’s culture to have a strong entrepreneur in our office to bring their unique perspective on emerging market trends and discover their next project, which is why were so excited to announce that we added Sarah Puil as our Entrepreneur-in-Residence. She’s an experiential marketing and podcasting expert that’s going to explore the changing world of digital assets. Learn more about Sarah here.

1.Had a portfolio exit

Our portfolio company Finery, the wardrobe operating system, was acquired by online fashion styling service Stitch Fix. We are so proud of Whitney Casey and Brooklyn Decker and the fashion technology they have created to empower both consumers and female founders in the tech community. Congratulations to the Finery team!

Categories
E2E: 20/20

NCV’s Top 8 in ’18

We are so incredibly grateful to have so many great milestones in our short history — and 2018 was no different. We founded NCV on the idea that the best entrepreneurs are building companies outside the coasts, and with the support from our great investors who believe in our mission, we have found that to be even truer than we imagined. Through numerous strong additions to our portfolio, expanding our Venture Partner program and ramping up our E2E programming, we couldn’t be prouder of our entrepreneurs’ accomplishments in 2018. In no particular order, here are some of the highlights.

8. Meat-Ups

We love any opportunity to bring Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem together, and we are firm believers that it shouldn’t take an industry conference or panel of experts to do it. That’s why we founded our series of ‘Meat-Ups’ in 2018 — with pig roasts, grilling demos and fresh meat from Austin’s finest ranches courtesy of Rosso & Flynn. Whether it’s kicking off summer or discussing the rapid developments in the world of eCommerce, we have truly enjoyed bringing Austin’s founders, investors and service providers together in our backyard for great BBQ, and even better conversations.

7. SXSW

SXSW has always played a large role in Austin’s innovation ecosystem and has done a tremendous job putting the Texas capitol at the forefront of people’s minds when they think about startups and entrepreneurship. That’s why we were so thrilled to put on our first-ever SXSW panel featuring our portfolio CEOs Julia Cheek of EverlyWell and Eric Korman of Phlur, as well as Localeur CEO Joah Spearman. Our panel focused on one of our major investment themes: digital natives disrupting time-honored industries. The panel’s great turnout and lively Q&A showed us that this shift in consumer behavior isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

6. First Annual Meeting

One of the more never-wracking parts of 2018 was our first-ever Annual Meeting. Our mission is to source and support the best entrepreneurs in Next Coast markets, and none of it would be possible without our incredible investors. We were so pleased to have the opportunity to share our firm’s progress over the past year and give our investors the chance to hear directly from out portfolio CEOs. Their enthusiasm for our founders’ business ideas and development as leaders makes our whole mission possible, so our first-ever — and successful! — Annual Meeting was certainly a highlight of 2018.

5. New Venture Partner Jason Dorsey

At NCV, one of our main goals is to leverage our network and industry expertise to provide our portfolio with the best resources to scale their businesses, and our Venture Partner program is a key part of that. This year, we added an atypical Venture Partner, bringing on Jason Dorsey to advise our portfolio on consumer trends, brand building and customer acquisition. Jason is an expert on digital natives and generational behavior, and he has helped us refine our investment themes and evaluate big trends that impact our investment decisions. Jason is not a garden variety Venture Partner, and we’ve already seen his incredible impact on our firm and our portfolio.

4. New Talent Venture Partner Jeff Browning

As early-stage investors we know that one of the key parts to successfully scaling is having a strong and well-suited executive team at the helm. That’s why we brought on Jeff Browning as a Talent Venture Partner in 2018. Jeff has helped our portfolio companies with all aspects of organizational design, talent acquisition and executive development — as well as helping our founders round out their executive teams. He has 30 years experience in executive talent acquisition and spent 15 years as the Recruiting Partner for Austin Ventures. He’s already been an invaluable resource to our portfolio companies as they rapidly scale their companies.

3. Clarity Money Acquisition

We were absolutely thrilled to have our first exit in our short history from our portfolio in 2018. Clarity Money, a fintech startup that helps consumers manage their personal finances, was acquired by Goldman Sachs. Clarity Money’s sticky traction with digital natives and intuitive UI made it an incredible addition to Goldman Sachs offerings as they seek to reach Millennials and Gen Z with modern banking platforms. Founder Adam Dell created an intuitive product that’s disrupting a massive market, and we were so excited to be a part of his journey.

2. OnRamp Acquisition

We had not one, but two exits in 2018. Our portfolio company OnRamp, an Austin-based data center and cloud computing company, was acquired by Des Moines-based IT company LightEdge. LightEdge now runs one of the largest interconnected data centers outside the coasts in key Next Coast markets. OnRamp didn’t just have a great suite of products, it was also led by two great entrepreneurs: CEO Lucas Braun and President Ryan Robinson. Helping them through the acquisition process and their excitement around thinking big made an exhilarating liquidity moment even greater — and reminded us of why do exactly what we do.

1. 11 New Portfolio Companies

There were so many great milestones in 2018, but to us one of the greatest has been expanding our portfolio with the top founders in Next Coast markets that are building innovative companies disrupting massive markets. Investing in these types of entrepreneurs is exactly why we founded this firm. This year, we added 11 new companies to our portfolio in everything from SaaS to at-home health testing to blockchain platforms. Our collaborative approach has allowed us to source some of the best glass eaters in a wide variety of industries, and we couldn’t be more excited to help them scale and grow as leaders in 2019.

Categories
E2E: Scale

The Dos and Don’ts of Working with the Media if You’re a Startup

At Next Coast, we believe that working with local press can be a great way to increase awareness about your startup. It can help with fundraising, hiring, customer acquisition and overall company and product awareness. For technology reporters covering busy markets like Austin, there’s an overwhelming amount of information for them to sort through, so it’s crucial to know how to approach the press. In our experience helping our portfolio with press relationships, there are some highly practical tips of building relationships with the media. So we went straight to the source and spoke to three of Austin’s top technology reporters to compile a list of the dos and don’ts of working with the media. If you’re a growing startup, here’s what you need to know.

Press Releases:

Pitching Stories:

Your Website:

Building Relationships with the Media:

SXSW:

Topics and Trends of Interest:

About the Reporters:

Mike Cronin covers technology, startups and finance in Central Texas for the Austin Business Journal. His more than two decades in journalism has included working with Bill Moyers and at Minnesota Public Radio, The Arizona Republic and Texas Watchdog. He can be reached at mcronin@bizjournals.com.

Lori Hawkins writes about business for the Austin American-Statesman and 512tech.com. She focuses on entrepreneurs, high-tech startups and the venture capital industry. She can be reached at lhawkins@statesman.com.

Brent Wistrom is the founding writer of Austin Inno, which provides in-depth coverage of the Austin tech and startup ecosystem through its website and its daily newsletter, The Beat. Austin Inno, which launched in 2015, is part of a network of American Inno publications in nine metro areas across the country. Brent works closely with Atlanta Inno, one of the newest Inno markets. He can be reached at bwistrom@americaninno.com.

Categories
E2E: Scale

Mentorship And The Monster Under The Bed

Five lessons on how mentors can help you keep moving forward on your entrepreneurial journey.


When I meet a prospective entrepreneur I have one very simple question that tells me everything I need to know. You might be surprised because it has nothing to do with business plans, strategy, market size or even future aspirations. Of course I want to know about these things, but my real “make or break” question is simple.

“Can you tell me what mentors you have now – and how you lean on these relationships to help solve any key problem you are facing?”

Why this question? Well, it really comes down to dealing with The Monster Under the Bed, which I’ll just call The Monster from now on.

When you’re an entrepreneur, The Monster shows up more often than not – and usually when you are least prepared to deal with the beast. What, exactly, am I talking about here?

I used The Monster image for what can otherwise be called “oh fuck” moments that really make you question if you, as the fearless leader, actually know what the hell you’re doing in your job.

I am not talking about the daily grind that is the entrepreneur’s journey, nor am I referring to the fact that the journey never gets easy – we all know that the ups and downs just keep coming.

Rather, The Monster represents those rock-you-to-your-core moments that can only be fully experienced in the moment. It could be a loss of a major customer, a new unexpected competitor, the departure of a key executive, or an unfortunate series of poor judgment calls that makes you doubt your own capabilities to be running the show.

And, let me be clear: if you are an entrepreneur and you claim that you have never had one of these moments – then you are either delusional or full of shit…or both.

I have had more of these moments than I can count and it is *not* a pretty mental space to occupy. Not only is the issue real, but it’s in this moment that the loneliness of the job is omnipresent. Your options are pretty limited as to where to get input – do you call your board? How about your team? Maybe go home and talk to your partner? Sure, Mom will take your call and tell you she loves you – but can she help you find a new head of sales?

MENTORSHIP AND MONSTER SLAYING

As an entrepreneur, you must push forward and keep charging even when The Monster is breathing really loud and you swear he’s sleeping under your bed. So this isn’t about courage, motivation or sticking to your guns.

Rather, this is about getting advice from someone who not only knows you but also knows enough about the subject matter in question…AND who also has the wherewithal to give you OBJECTIVE advice.

Every great entrepreneur needs a mentor. It is that simple. That’s why I ask this ONE question. Recognition of this need is the first step. Finding a group of great mentors is another step. The third step is using your mentors to help you slay The (fucking) Monster, regain your courage, and go back to building your amazing business.

Here are the five lessons I learned about mentorship during my entrepreneurial journey.

Lesson #1: Don’t go it alone – just about every great entrepreneur has a mentor.

Whenever you read about the great ones, the story is always told after the fact and when the genius of the entrepreneur is obvious. Gates, Jobs, Benioff, Schultz – amazing entrepreneurs – undoubtedly faced The Monster at some point on their journey. But the story that often isn’t told is that each of the really great ones has relied on some form of mentorship to help them fight whatever form their personal demon took. If you want proof, here’s a great photo journal of many more examples of entrepreneurs and their mentors.

The point is simple: if the best of the best of best rely on the power of mentorship, why wouldn’t you? Mentors can help you in a variety of ways, and there is no one-size-fits-all. A good relationship with a mentor will also be bidirectional, meaning that both the mentor and the mentee benefit from the relationship. Inc. Magazine published a good short interview with Daymond John of Shark Tank, who explains why all entrepreneurs – even him – need mentors to educate them on everything from fashion trends to acquiring digital skills.

“Technology is moving so fast, and it’s so vast, that having a mentor and someone who’s teaching you the fundamentals – where things are going and how to move accurately and spend your time – is essential.”

Lesson #2: Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength.

I can remember one of my biggest challenges as an entrepreneur when I was struggling to find an exceptional sales leader even though my business was in hyper growth mode. At one particular dark moment, after the *fourth* straight VP of Sales didn’t work out, I was at my wits’ end and was starting to question my own judgment and capabilities as a CEO. I really didn’t know what to do. It was at this very dark moment that I had lunch with one of my mentors, the former CEO of Veritas, Mark Leslie. I got to know Mark back in my banking days and had nurtured a relationship with him for several years, keeping in touch with him and updating him on my progress running ServiceSource.

I knew Mark was teaching a course at Stanford and it was focused on what he was calling The Sales Learning Curve – basically helping MBA students get prepared for managing the sales function.

But now came the hard part. Even though I knew Mark and was in somewhat regular contact with him, the only real way I was going to get what I needed was to have the courage to admit I was screwing up in my job, admit the mistakes I was making and ask for his help.

When I sought his input, I was open about the problems I was facing, the self-doubt I was feeling and the issues that I was wrestling with in detail. I left nothing out and openly admitted my mistakes. Why? Because with a mentor you *CAN* do just that – this should be a judgment-free relationship (different than your Board, by the way) – and that’s what makes it work. I will tell you more about Mark’s specific advice to me in a future post – or see his post here on mentorship – but suffice to say he is a real expert in this area. It was game changing for me and my business.

Lesson #3: Having one mentor is good. Having half a dozen is better.

I recently compiled a list of individuals whom I would consider to be my mentors – great leaders I could comfortably call upon to run an idea, question or strategic consideration by and expect both a prompt and thorough response. Not only was this a great exercise for me to express my gratitude, but it also showed me just how diverse and deep my mentor circle has become.

When I reviewed the list another point jumped out at me. There is a time component (based on relevancy of your journey) – and your mentorship circle should evolve as your business and personal needs change.

For example, when I was first getting started, it was critical for me to get advice from those who were highly engaged in startups and all the key issues that getting a business off the ground entails.

However, when my company was a more mature, public company and I was working to shift my business model, it incredibly helpful to be able to grab time with my friend Shantanu Narayen (CEO of Adobe) about what works and doesn’t when undertaking this strategic shift.

I think Reid Hoffman described it best in a recent interview:

“I think people think it’s convenient when I say my network is my mentor,” the Greylock Partners investor told attendees at Startup Grind’s annual international conference in Mountain View on Tuesday. That’s because they think he is just touting the kind of professional networking offered through LinkedIn, which he co-founded. “I’m not doing that actually,” Hoffman said. “What I find is I have had mentors for different aspects of my development.”

The key point is twofold. First, you don’t need one mentor, you need several, as Reid points out above. Second, your needs (like any other relationship) will evolve, so mentorship is an active not a passive exercise.

Lesson #4: Getting good mentors takes networking and self-awareness.

Here is a great quote from Sir Richard Branson’s the topic of mentoring:

“Mentoring was very important for me personally. For example, Sir Freddie Laker gave me invaluable advice and guidance as we set up Virgin Atlantic, while my mum has been a mentor throughout my life. Nowadays, I find mentors inside and outside of Virgin every day. If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road. If you want success then it takes hard work, hard work and more hard work. But it also takes a little help along the way. If you are determined and enthusiastic then people will support you.”

I love his point of view, but what really jumped out for me was the last line.  As an entrepreneur, if you show up with a strong will to win and high level of commitment, this attitude will be contagious.  I have found that when I am enthusiastic, it is obvious and it opens a lot of doors because people are drawn to this enthusiasm and willing to help.  This is the first step to attracting great mentors who want to help you.

The second step comes to self-awareness and networking. By being self-aware, I can be open to what issues I am facing AND be on the lookout for people who can help me. When I do this, I show up differently and repeatedly find myself connecting with great mentors without consciously seeking them out.

It is like when you buy a new car. Ever notice that the day after you buy a new Jeep, how many *other* cool people are also driving a Jeep? Did the population of Jeep owners suddenly increase due to your new purchase? How many followers do you have on Twitter?? Or is it that your self-awareness around the coolness of Jeeps that just skyrocketed?

So it goes with mentorship. By being enthusiastic, self-aware and open to networking, you will be amazed at how many mutually beneficial relationships will materialize. If you want more tactics on finding mentors, here’s a great Fortune article on How to Find and Use a Mentor.

So, that brings me back to my original question, and why it’s so crucial.

Lesson #5: The Monster will only win if you let it. Don’t let it.

To be a great entrepreneur and leader, it takes courage, confidence and a willingness to do what others have not been able to do in the past. This is all good stuff.

However, if you have these traits BUT DON’T have self-awareness and the willingness to ask for help, I would wager that your proclivity for success is low. It might sound counterintuitive in some ways. And it definitely shatters the myth that everything the entrepreneur touches automatically turns to gold. But sometimes being the hero really does mean asking for help – because that’s the most foolproof, expedient way of moving from point A to point B.

Being a great entrepreneur really means finding the most efficient way to get your goals accomplished – and just about everything you are trying to do has been done by someone before you.

Reid Hoffman put it well when he said:

“As entrepreneurs we are confident. We like to think we can figure things out for ourselves. But seek out intelligence. That’s really important. It’s far less costly to get intelligence in a 15- to 30-minute conversation than to spend a couple months doing something and realize that was the wrong thing to do.”

Your ability to find that someone (self-awareness), develop a relationship (network) and learn (copy) from them will help you get the results you want in a much shorter timeframe than doing it yourself.

The key is to see mentorship, advice and input as a sign of strength. It is the weak leader who believe he needs to do it all himself.