Written by Greg Zen July 25, 2022
Why did you decide to become a mentor?
I first became a mentor while in high school and have always looked for opportunities to mentor others in whatever way is available to me at any given time. Around 2012, I began dedicating regular time to advising entrepreneurs and startup founders exclusively and have mentored over 1,000 founders since.
Through mentoring startup founders, I found the area of service I am most passionate about and have sculpted my career, including products, toward empowering entrepreneurs as my life's work.
What role did mentors play in your past?
Sadly, not enough. I would say part of the reason I chose to mentor was because of a lack of quality mentors early in my life.
I know what that feels like.
How did you get your career start?
I was a telecom hacker of sorts starting in the late 80s. After graduating high school, I joined the US Navy where I became one of the first network architects and engineers in the early days of distributed networking (LAN/WAN).
I continued exploring tech in my career and within a few years after my military service, I had built a small tech company that was quickly acquired. Thus began my journey into startups, and while I have also had successes (and some failures) in other areas of business building, startups have always stayed my primary passion.
What do most people get wrong about startups?
By far and large, not verifying your assumptions as a founder before you begin building is where the odds start stacking against your success. Most founders fall in love with their solution ideas instead of the problems their customers are actually facing and that is the second big mistake out of the gate.
The first huge mistake, that nearly all first-time founders make, is chasing after a startup path that doesn't align with their lifestyle choices. For example; if you want a calm company, where you answer to nobody but your customers, a venture-backed 'unicorn' path is probably not keeping in line with your hopes and dreams and there is a much larger chance of failure just starting off not considering this crucial matter.
How do you usually set up mentorships?
Before I accept any new mentee on a subscription basis we will have an introductory call where we can determine if this is a good fit for both of us.
This of course does not apply to one-off Q&A sessions.
Standard plans include 2 (two) scheduled calls per month, during my office hours every other Monday, and direct access to me via your own private channel on my personal Slack workspace.
Who is your ideal mentee?
I find my personal sweet spot is with either first-time or repeat founders looking for a long-term advisor, that are early-stage in creating software or hard-tech solutions, either in traditional business models such as SaaS or cutting-edge web3 verticals or are looking to dial in their next startup idea before getting started.
What’s been your favorite mentorship story so far?
Every mentee has different needs and trajectories and it’s truly very rewarding for me to be invited to join them all on their individual journeys.
So far my favorite has been seeing a first-time founder break through so many barriers that come with the uphill battle of being a female founder. Seeing her really soak in and apply my advice, and get over every challenge including a tough co-founder break-up, has been rewarding beyond words.
What are you getting out of being a mentor?
I believe strongly that the innovators of today, especially startup founders, are the tip of the spear moving humanity forward. Helping be a part of empowering those founders, keeping that spear sharp and pointed in the right direction, is immensely rewarding.
For me, the very act of helping founders flip the odds of success in their favor is a purpose-driven lifestyle choice, not just a part of my career.
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