Monday, May 5, 2014

Mentors Offer Perceptions from Outside the Comfort Zone

Written by Ann Revell-Pechar as part of CED's Venture Mentoring Service: Stories from the Front Lines Series.

Justin Miller, Co-Founder of WedPics, first became active with CED’s VMS in early 2013. His startup was undergoing a reincarnation of sorts, and he turned to the program because he knew from past experience that getting new perspectives from experienced professionals can make the difference between seeing success and not.

“I believe in the idea of business mentors,” said Miller. “At IBM, we were encouraged to have personal mentors, and we mentored other colleagues. I learned then to take these opportunities to talk to folks outside of your comfort zone, and get insight from people who have been there/done that. If nothing else, mentors give you inspiration you don’t get from your day to day activities.”

Miller had four mentors from CED VMS. Each brought different skillsets to table, from institutional investing to management and mobile development. “It was such an interesting blend,” said Miller.

Initially the group met every six weeks, and then moved to every eight weeks to adjust to founder and mentor needs. Miller would describe the status of his business activities and roadblocks, after which the mentors offered feedback or insights, and then posed questions as homework.

“My mentors enabled me to re-think the way I was doing things,” he said.During the latter part of his year of involvement, fundraising became 100% of Miller’s day. The mentors then became a great sounding board for his efforts, which eventually led to him raising $1.5 Million in Series A capital.

“It was great,” said Miller. “I picked their brains and gained amazing insights into how to properly go about what I had to do to get to the next step. Metrics I can do all day long, but how do you actually get people to invest at the stage I was at was confounding me. They helped me understand what it looks like, who the key players are, etc. This was especially true with institutional investors. I didn’t have that experience so having access to those who did was priceless.”

Having access to executives providing non-biased opinions made Miller stay honest about what he needed to do differently, with definite encouragement with what was being done well, but with fresh ideas about what needed to be reconsidered. From a networking standpoint, he found that he was regularly being introduced to others in the region for a more broad set of inputs.

“CED’s VMS program is a great opportunity to engage with mentors, and extend your network,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the Triangle’s great resources and it doesn’t come with a lot of strings attached. They help YOU, the entrepreneur, succeed in some capacity. So, why not take opportunity to learn from folks that have been there. Not to follow their path, but to gain insider info and build critical relationships."

Miller is convinced that CED VMS is a really good resource, but it’s only as valuable as the venture enables it to be. He doesn’t think companies need to be at a particular stage of development, but recommends that the founder comes ready with a set of questions and goals for what they want to get out of the mentorship. “Don’t leave it to the mentors. They have their own full time jobs doing something else, so leverage their time in best way possible."

Said Miller, “The Triangle’s technology community is rich with expertise. You can get help with everything from fundraising to scaling growth to more impactful marketing ideas --that’s an advantage CED’s VMS has that’s truly unique.”

For more information on CED's Venture Mentoring Service, visit  Applications for ventures and mentors are available online.

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