Why I mentor
My first true venture in the energy sector 20 years ago was a near disaster. We had little knowledge of high-growth strategies/tactics, underestimated funding, and mistaken knowledge for wisdom. The good news was we did have a differentiated product addressing pain points for a large TAM. We knew we had the skills, execution, and talent. The challenge was a lack of guidance.
At my expense, we hired a coach and retained an advisor. Though doing so was late for that venture, the difference still immediately impacted the venture and gave us long-term lessons. We were able to regroup and reprioritize. We had a mediocre exit. It could have been worse without mentorship, but we were able to return our benefactors their funds with some gains.
Opportunity cost of time was our most painful lesson. Saving time with strong execution was critical to navigating the next steps and investing in scalable effects. Over time, we made fewer repeated mistakes and were less impactful. We began to make better decisions and reinforce better accountability standards confidently. Our advisors, mentors, and coaches magnified our confidence, productivity, and growth. In many cases, these folks become the closest allies. A few more, long-time mentors, investors, and friends.
One of those mentors who helped me early on passed recently became my oldest and dearest mentor and then investment partner. Together and many times with others, we have navigated over $1.2B in investment returns by ‘18, saved nearly another $1B by ‘22 by avoiding poor but popular investments, and embraced giving significantly for causes to elevate others on their journey.
For those who know me, I place mentorship as a priority for any founder or exec leader. So much so that we never invest in any founder unwilling or unable to build relationships with mentors and advisors. It has become a qualitative trait that signals high returns or red flags to divert funds. CDL fits the bill to help those positive traits.
During my recent post-acquisition hiatus and while conducting dozens of special advisory engagements, I met hundreds of Georgia Tech alums. We shared stories and our challenges and opportunities to give back. When I finally settled back in Atlanta, I began to discreetly explore options for giving back to GT at the intersection of being an alum, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
Previous to CDL, I have been honored to participate in and enjoy supporting several local and global programs. Each has its pros and cons. CDL’s objective-based, university-affiliated, and scientific focus was intriguing. There are over 20 ‘streams’ which focus on different industries or sectors.
After inquiring about the opportunities around GT during my exploration of programs, I was introduced to Sid Mookerji, Founder and Managing Partner at Silicon Road. I had known Sid only through his outstanding reputation. After an initial and relatively brief call, I was immediately inspired by him, his story, and his wisdom. He and Frank Blake sponsored the commerce stream with CDL Atlanta recently and highly recommended it to satisfy an ideal intersection for me.
My CDL Experience
We were given access to a portal with a detailed introduction, expectations, instructions, documentation, and past discussions. Lydia, Zoe, and Larry were all remarkably helpful in navigating my days during the session.
The first time I attended, I was impressed with the number of notable local members of the startup ecosystem present and the selection of founders. The academic participants were seasoned field experts who understood startups and provided advice relevant to their scale and stage.
The students supporting the program were from the select TI:GER program out of Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. Jonathan Giuliano, who leads the program, described the selection process for high-caliber applicants. I met four of them, each with varied backgrounds, hands-on experiences, passions, and aspirations.
The days were packed, fast-paced, and efficient. Two unique areas worked remarkably well for the program. First were the moderators. They each researched the startups well and our respective backgrounds. Also, they took an inquisitive and commentary approach to keep the day informative and engaging, capturing the best interactions for the benefit of the startups and other mentors. The second was the format. It gears toward experienced mentors in startups and within their field. The day breaks down into two ‘large group sessions, which serve as check-in milestones and decisions/outcomes for the day. Small group sessions further divided the half days, where a rotation of mentors and founders engage in updates, advice, and support.
The flow, staff, mentors, and format create a unique flow for speed and efficiency. The structure has enough flexibility to support founders in our flavor while creating enough accountability to make the most of the day. There is enough time between sessions for a startup to make meaningful progress. Mentors then needed to expect and support the founders in a more true advisory rather than micromanagement.
At my first session and with help from the generous Godfather of Atlanta Angel Investing, Sig Mosley, I was able to navigate the day naturally. After the experience and during the conclusion and reconnecting with Frank Blake and Sid Mookerji, I decided to contribute further to the program to support its continued growth.
Why I invested in CDL?
Founders and mentors are busy. A constant challenge is optimizing value creation during limited interactions. With speed and efficiency, CDL’s format has only a handful of intense session days. Founders maximize their time by absorbing a collection of advice and support. All the while, mentors can aid them in self-determinate capacities.
This format only works with strong moderators, seasoned startup mentors, an experienced & dynamic support team. Collective knowledge is an asset for any founder. As someone in a segment that serves commerce, it was also an opportunity to expand my network in the arena. I have personally or through an introduction, reached out to several mentors across the program who have been not only accessible but remarkably helpful.
In building or participating in startup programs, there are two-side dynamics where a program can only improve with both qualities of mentors and the selection of founders/startups. The startups selected in the program have made varying degrees of progress. Still, most importantly, they were far enough to have a strong enough offering to continue evaluating fit in the addressable market and gearing up to go to market. These startups are building science-based solutions that have global impacts. Georgia Tech is a leader in problem-solving and scaling solutions to global challenges and innovations, and this program exemplifies it.
Opportunities for CDL
- Deeper cross-connections of communities (vs. separate chapters) – There is a global event that has been virtual for the past couple of years. While a great way to bring the larger community together, CDL could offer a cross-pollination of mentors or focus groups on topical areas.
- Consistent metrics benchmarks – No two startups are alike. CDL accelerates the improvement of startups and founders through iterative qualitative and quantitative objectives. I believe there are common metrics we can use to benchmark startups and measure progress or identify challenges. How we work with founders and their priorities is up to us. Still, some common ground on what to measure can help us focus on the elements of a startup to magnify its progress.
- Benefits with Universities – Universities have immense resources and regularly wish to ensure to invite more outstanding intellect and diverse, experienced members into a campus. Suppose the partnership could include small benefits to mentors to access a part of those resources or people. In that case, it can create deeper bonds and mutual benefits to students/faculty by embracing seasoned mentors more into the university’s ecosystem.
- Hybrid Mentoring – CDL builds regional streams matching local entrepreneurs. Each mentor anchors in person with their local chapter. CDL mentors can cross-pollinate streams and locations as part-time or guest remote mentors. Why not offer access to the best from across the network?
- New Mentor Pairing – The onboarding process gives new mentors a lot of good background and advice to optimize their time. I benefited from the wonderful Sig Mosley helping me during my first day. NOTE: learned later this was not by accident. Again illustrating tht care the team puts into the program and respects everyone’s time. I realized that if this was standard, many new mentors might accelerate their engagement. Given the limited number of sessions, this pairing concept can accelerate a mentor’s value to startups.
Honored and thrilled to be a part of this program and look forward to working with the next generation startup and seasoned mentors. CDL-Atlanta recently added a new Space Stream which is a collaboration with CDL-Toronto & CDL-Paris. Considering Georgia Tech’s remarkable Aerospace school and it should shape up into a nice program. Learn more about Creative Destruction Lab or contact me if you have any questions!