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Why Start-Ups Are Like Parenting

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Blend Images - Terry Vine via Getty Images
Blend Images - Terry Vine via Getty Images

"Kids don't stay with you if you do it right. It's the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won't be needed in the long run."
―Barbara Kingsolver

As I change a diaper on my two-month old daughter -- our third in as many years -- I'm struck with a truth: I really didn't thank my parents enough. Parenting is give and take. As a child, I saw my parents as rule-making, food suppliers and did a lot of taking frankly, as kids do. Now that I do substantially more giving I get to see the other "side" and the whole picture gets a little clearer. In business, mentorship -- both giving and taking -- can add a depth of understanding to transform founders into leaders.

For those of us who have founded companies, startups are like your first-born -- exciting, terrifying and usually there are only three of you! There is only one goal: survive. It's crisis management everyday and the strategy is "let's find something that works today." You are young, in over your head and up to your eyeballs in... poop! As things progress and the crisis passes, founders and parents alike need to evolve into something more.

Without exception, seasoned parents will tell you how quickly it all goes by. As a young parent you'd love if your kids slowly transitioned from newborn to crawling infant to precocious toddler giving you time to adjust and reflect on each stage. But parenting -- like scaling up a business -- requires you to quickly change gears and become an expert in a matter of weeks. This is what is happening now at Foodee as we roll out our service across the U.S. Like a new dad asking grandpa how to change a diaper, I turned to mentorship to figure out how to make the leap.

One of our very engaged investors offered her services as CEO coach. As part of her process, I took the Leadership Values Assessment and the Myers-Briggs test. What resulted both humbled me and prompted reflection on areas for improvement. One colleague wrote: "You don't have all the answers and that's okay." In Scaling Up, author Verne Harnish describes a village of gurus -- a group of experienced mentors and advisors necessary in order for your business to successfully navigate the dangerous waters as you grow. Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes heads such a village for Foodee. Having just successfully navigated these waters himself, he's joined as a board member and advisor during this period of explosive growth as our company launches across Canada and throughout the U.S.

Ryan is not new to the value of mentorship, having recently co-founded The Next Big Thing -- a non-profit that provides peer and mentor networks to young entrepreneurs -- alongside fellow serial entrepreneur and chair Meredith Powell. Powell, who refers to her TNBT participants as her "kids," sees this value daily: "Many people mistake mentorship for a one-way street. Having had the privilege to advise dozens of entrepreneurs as well as run mentor programming through my foundation, I've learned committing to mentorship is no different from all truly meaningful things in life -- the rewards go both ways. Successful mentorship, like parenting, takes courage, empathy, generosity, focus, experience and unfiltered honesty. Your advisors become your tribe. And the stronger your tribe, the stronger your likelihood of creating something that will impact the world."

Ultimately, the positive effects of mentorship led us to embrace it fully within our culture. Everyone at Foodee has access to a mentor now -- I personally have two. Mentorship should be a never-ending process throughout your career and not for a specific career level. Being CEO does not mean you stop being mentored; it means targeting specific mentors to help you continue to develop new skills. Great mentorship focuses on learning and closing a gap in knowledge. And so it's just as important that CEOs recognize their role as mentor.

Jill Earthy Regional Director, B.C. & Yukon for Futurpreneur Canada agrees. She states, "We believe strongly in the power of mentorship. Everyday, we see the value of our volunteer mentors who contribute their expertise and experience by asking tough questions and guiding the entrepreneurs to find their own answers. Mentorship is about providing an external and supportive viewpoint without providing advice. This strategy sets entrepreneurs up for creating their own successful path."

Steve Jobs famously said, "We don't hire great people and tell them what to do, we hire them so they can tell us what to do." This echoes Barbara Kingsolver's sentiment toward parenting: if our goal is to create healthy, capable human beings then there comes a time that we must let go. If we don't, we risk smothering those around us and stifling growth. Personally, my transition to a more collaborative leader -- one that can successfully help our growing business scale up - meant letting go. I learned that from my mentors.

For more on finding a mentor, search for:

Futurpreneur Canada - A resource for entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 - 39 (1:1 mentoring).
MentorshipBC - An online resource connecting entrepreneurs in BC with a variety of mentoring programs.
Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) - Peer mentoring.
Gro Your Biz - Peer mentoring
MicroMentor- Free business mentoring program for entrepreneurs
Executive Mentors - Premier business mentoring service from prominent business leaders
Management Mentors - Offer corporate mentoring programs for businesses

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