Entrepreneurs work with the sole focus on creating value. Many business founders work towards this goal devotedly while constantly overcoming several odds and challenges. During early stages of the business, efforts are largely directed to achieve the perfect product-market fit. Until this stage, the entrepreneur works with a small team that is high on motivation and fully aligned with the vision.
Need for a coach
However, as the business starts to scale, founders start to experience newer business challenges such as market reach, brand building, raising capital, team expansion, conflict management among others. During growth stages, founders are expected to possess skills to manage the scale and the transition from smaller teams to larger ones. Most first-time entrepreneurs have neither experienced managing large teams at scale, nor have they managed multiple business priorities at the same time. With larger teams, it is extremely important for the entrepreneur to demonstrate people and business leadership. While doing so, the founder needs to keep learning and adapting to change. Entrepreneurs also need to undergo a self-reflection of their own impact as a leader – an aspect that is often missing in many.
Every behaviour, action and decision of the founder has a huge bearing on the business impact, growth and sustainability. The founder may not necessarily have all the knowledge or decision-making abilities, and hence having a sounding board will certainly help. A coach can facilitate this process of learning and self-reflection in a structured manner.
Let me draw an analogy from sports. Coaches work on the team composition, recruitment and internal alignment, game strategy, physical and mental strength, learning from failure or mistakes and other matters. Their endeavour is for the sports team to win matches and tournaments.
Attributes of a coach
For startups, it is important to differentiate between mentors and coaches. Mentors often answer questions posed by entrepreneurs, but do not actively participate in the business operations of the startup. Since the support is largely advisory in nature without a fixed schedule, mentors do not require payment for their assistance.
However, coaches function differently. They tend to get their hands dirty – often participating in key activities of the company. During fund raising for example, it is common to find a coach inside the negotiation room with the startup and the potential investors.
Having a coach in the same line of business come with its own advantages. Someone who has started a few businesses and exited some of them successfully will make a great coach. They will be able to provide guidance to young entrepreneurs on business expansion, fund raising and other aspects. Where as a coach with a rich experience in a diversified skill set of human resources, innovation, operations management, new market entry among others can present a higher degree of objectivity to entrepreneurs despite not being from the same industry.
Coaches need to be self-confident and possess courage to differ from the opinion of the founder. By playing the devil’s advocate and questioning underlying assumptions of the founder, coaches add value by asking the right questions even if there appears to be an internal consensus on a decision.
Given the proximity with the entrepreneur, coaches can identify the individual strengths and areas for improvement. The coach may want to work on the leadership aspects of the founder, or she might want to refer to another coach who can help the founder become self-aware, identify or clarify personal objectives and chart out a plan for them to achieve their full potential.
Engaging a coach
For startups experiencing rapid growth, a business or leadership coach can add a lot of value. Prior to engaging a coach, the founder must prepare themselves on quite a few aspects. It can be daunting for many to talk to strangers about personal struggles or other people’s aspects that have a bearing on the company’s business. However, it is very important to openly discuss any topic with the coach without hesitation. Certified coaches maintain strict confidentiality and follow a code of ethics, and so it is one less issue to worry about.
By being rigid to changes or unwilling to listen to differing opinions, many individuals limit their growth potential. Entrepreneurs must be open to receiving feedback and be willing to adapt to positive changes in order to truly benefit from a coach.
Coaching is a serious business that can yield great dividends. Entrepreneurs, therefore, must consider investing in a coach.
The author, Praveen Mokkapati is the Associate Partner at Anthill Ventures.
Disclaimer: This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the contributing authors and not of IDG Media and its editor(s).