Contributed by Keith Markfield
As entrepreneurs we often set out to solve a problem with an idea and passion. The pace of startup life is fast and furious as you’re finding your fit in the market and gaining traction. Ferris Bueller famously said about life that if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. The same holds true for a startup. You need to regularly pause to reflect, plan and iterate. This can be a challenge for first-time entrepreneurs or a one-person company.
Without the ability to bounce ideas off someone, we often get lost in the weeds or focus on the wrong things that we think are important but don’t matter to the customer. So where do we find that advice?
A few years ago, I ran into this issue firsthand when I started Moor For Less. At the time, there was no formal mentoring program in town. Luckily, I had some like-minded friends in my life with different skill sets. We decided to meet once a month over breakfast to “co-mentor” each other. The idea was simple; get a trusted opinion and perspective from an outsider with marketing/technology/financial experience under his/her belt. Talking through things in this way immediately proved valuable. Working with other entrepreneurs at various stages has proven to be the biggest help in staying focused and getting “unstuck”. I had the added benefit of finding a business partner through co-mentoring. Having a good rapport with someone whose experience and skills complement yours can quickly create a powerhouse team that can do great things.
When you’re starting a business, mentors provide the ability to have a “team” with the added benefit of learning from paths they’ve already walked. Even if you have a team in place, a mentor team can provide valuable outside perspective. Until you’ve built your company to the point of having a board, relying on mentors for experience, advice and connections is vital. Having a large mentor group that can tap into its own network has also proven to help move startups beyond their milestones. Whether it be manufacturing know-how, writing a business plan, marketing, sales, grant writing or anything else, mentors can cover many of the knowledge gaps needed to succeed and point you in the right direction.
UNCW’s CIE has built a formal mentoring program that has proven valuable to entrepreneurs in securing funding as well as hitting milestones. If that’s not for you, you can start your own co-mentoring group or meet like-minded entrepreneurs through N.E.W. (the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington).
Mentors can, and should, only take you so far. I cannot stress the importance of getting connected into the ecosystem in the area. If you’re brave enough to start your own company, be brave enough to introduce yourself to the like-minded people around you. Wilmington’s startup future is bright thanks to the people and groups that have stepped up to build the foundation we need. The best way for each of us to continue this trend is to provide value to those around you. Be a giver of yourself. Your experience and expertise matters and can help another entrepreneur get unstuck.
Keith Markfield is a software architect and developer. He is currently a partner in Greenlight Ventures, a software and innovation incubator that uses new and existing IP and resources to nurture startups from creation to exit. He is also the founder of Moor For Less, a marketplace for buying, selling and renting boat slips. https://www.linkedin.com/in/keith-markfield-7987924
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