My Advice to Entrepreneurs: Find People Who Have “Seen the Movie.”

by Eric Tobias - Partner

One of the major responsibilities I have at High Alpha is to coach many of our first time CEOs and help them achieve success with their new businesses. As a former founder, it’s easy for me to relive some of my own experiences to understand and have context for how I make decisions. Our CEOs ask for connections to people within High Alpha’s network that they can learn from in order to avoid the pitfalls and gain functional knowledge that you’d only really know if you have started and run a business before.

It’s something that I experienced a lot as a CEO myself. It’s often paralyzing to think about all the decisions you have to make without really knowing what exactly to do or the best practices for any business decision. CEOs mostly benefit from talking to people who have succeeded or failed with certain decisions to get more data points about how to make their own decisions. I like to think of it in terms of a movie. When you watch a film multiple times, you’re able to clearly pinpoint what happened and why it happened. Furthermore, there’s an immeasurable amount of context that comes from understanding the story of how a startup grows into a sizable business.

Example: Oftentimes, young companies don’t hit their quarterly sales goals because they haven’t hired enough salespeople to have capacity. This goes deeper to understanding salesperson ramp time and quotas which isn’t intuitive or obvious the first time around.

In Indianapolis, we have an interesting problem where we have some large software companies like Salesforce, Genesys, Angie’s List etc… and a bunch of smaller, up and coming startups. We lack many “mid-sized businesses” that can be instrumental in giving advice and helping the smaller players learn from their mistakes.

At High Alpha, we’ve created some interesting solutions for this problem— the biggest one being connecting our CEOs with our network of High Growth CEOs through bespoke engagements around networking. This year we have started our first “XO Summit” to have a week for our CEOs to learn from some established leaders and up and coming businesses. Additionally, we have function-based collaboration sessions called “Flight Schools” that are targeted at our companies employees based on functional area such as sales, product, or marketing. We’re constantly looking for more opportunities for our company leaders to share and learn from each other.

The ultimate goal here is for our CEOs to build a network of mentors at different stages of the business lifecycle that are transparent and vulnerable with their mistakes. This helps them to understand the pitfalls and have context for decisions. No one person gets it 100% right — even when you see the billion dollar exits — there are mistakes and learnings that can and need to be captured to help build better businesses. At High Alpha, we believe that this is one of the areas of expertise that we provide that will make our companies more successful in the long term. By injecting huge value into our leaders through a collective network, our companies can learn from the people who have seen the movie so they can make the most out of their opportunities.