My passion is helping entrepreneurs to realize their dreams. To do so, they must learn from the lessons that caused so many entrepreneurs to fail. My aim is to be a business sherpa, if you will, so that I can help them avoid mistakes that are so common to startups.
One analogy I frequently use is comparing building a successful business to climbing Mount Everest. Climbing Mount Everest is a long-term project with a clear end goal in mind. Launching a startup with an end goal of a successful exit event is the same thing.
Whether that exit is an IPO, acquisition or private equity buyout, you’ll travel the same path to get there. You’ll climb a mountain. And along the way you’ll make mistakes, you’ll get tired, and you’ll face periods of exhilaration and burnout. You’ll experience the joy of reaching tremendous heights and the pain of excruciating lows. Some of those lows may be near-death experiences for your business.
Why You Want a Business Sherpa
As you prepare to climb Mount Everest, you can take all the mountain climbing classes you want. No doubt you’ll read every book available on mountain climbing. You may even buy the very best equipment.
But here’s the thing. As soon as you get to the base of the mountain the first thing you’ll do is to hire a sherpa. And, no, it’s not because the sherpa will carry your equipment.
It’s because the sherpa has knowledge that will not only help you realize your dream, it will likely save your life.
Because the sherpa goes up and down the mountain every single week. He knows how to read the wind shifts and weather. He can tell you where not to put your ladder as he recounts a story of people who died by doing so.
He’ll pause before taking you up a different path than he took the prior week, because the conditions are always changing. It’s at this moment when you’ll appreciate that there is no substitute for experience.
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When you finally reach the summit, you’ll reap the rewards of achieving your goal. And you’ll deserve it! But you couldn’t have accomplished it alone. Your success was dependent on the skill of the sherpa…your partner in accomplishing your goal.
And you need the same kind of experienced guidance if you expect your business to reach the summit.
Finding a Business Sherpa
But, all sherpas are not the same. Let’s face it…some will be in better physical condition than others. Some will have better judgement than others.
What that means is that you’ll need to screen the sherpa to make sure he’s a good fit for you. Likewise, you need to screen investors when it’s time to raise money for your business.
In business, sherpas can fill many roles. Of course, you should find a business sherpa early on to serve on your board of advisors. It should be someone you trust and admire. Someone who has been there, done that and achieved a great deal of business success. Someone who can guide you on how to:
- not run out of cash,
- recruit and manage outstanding talent,
- analyze risk and place intelligent “bets,” and
- identify and partner with investors who can guide you to a lucrative exit.
You’re looking for business sherpas who know where to put the ladder. Who know how raising money “this year” is different than it was “last year.” Sherpas who know your specific industry and how to win in it. Sherpas who can save your business life.
Finding a sherpa will be especially important when it comes to fundraising. Your first step will be to create a target investor list that identifies VC firms and angel investors who have had successful exits in your space. Once you create your list you’ll need to know how to choose which angels to partner with.
By talking with these angels about your business and, just as importantly, their experience, you’ll get a sense of which sherpa has the best skills and insights to help your business reach the summit. You’ll want to look for investors who have had successes, of course. But also look for the horror stories…the times where they have failed.
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