Successful startup founders have a tendency to take the money and run after hitting it big. And who can blame them for cashing out? Every newcomer has to pay their dues, proving their business model is sound before getting funded. But in order to generate new business opportunities in a sector and push innovation forward, entrepreneurs who’ve already made it have a real interest in helping others make it, too.
It isn’t about charity, for one thing, and it shouldn’t be half-hearted, for another. Real dedication to your own business community takes more than showing up to this or that event, getting your picture taken, and humble-bragging about your team spirit. There’s always going to be a promising, early-stage entrepreneur standing in shoes you once filled. If she fails, your industry could’ve missed out on a significant innovation. And if she succeeds without your help, her company could become your biggest competitor when it might’ve turned into your best partner. The truth of the matter is that how–and whether–you choose to reinvest in your own field matters more than you might think.
We often equate giving with money. And yes, capital is wonderful. I haven’t met a single startup that would turn down an infusion of cash offered with no strings attached. But if your idea of encouraging other businesspeople is just to throw a little money their way and then move along, you’re not helping at all. In fact, you could be hurting them.
Money, given in the right circumstances, can be exactly what a company needs to progress. But if your goal is to help others move their businesses toward success, think mentorship rather than (just) money. As an entrepreneur, I’ve failed too many times over the course of my career to count. When I was starting out, the process of launching and growing a business was new to me, and I made mistakes I might have avoided were I armed with the sound advice and resources of someone more experienced.
Don’t get me wrong–mistakes can be beneficial and help an entrepreneur grow. But there’s no need for the founder of a startup to commit a series of time-wasting errors that are simply the result of business immaturity or ignorance. And those errors, if they do occur, aren’t always a sign that the entrepreneur himself lacks talent or his ideas lack merit.
Step in and share those tactical, specific tips you learned through experience that can help move new companies through the business cycle faster. Lead your protégés to mature their businesses more quickly, which will help them get further while burning through less capital, and support them primarily through guidance at important junctures. You won’t just be helping out ond or two companies or individuals, you’ll be paving the way for further innovation in your industry.
It’s become pretty cliché to tout our self-avowedly busy lives as some bizarre badge of honor. Look, we get it. If you’ve been successful as a business owner, chances are your time and wisdom are highly sought. But time constraints are hardly an acceptable excuse for not giving back to other entrepreneurs.
If you can’t find an hour or so each week to get involved in mentoring startups, you have two other options. First, you can delegate the advising to key leaders within your organization. This can sometimes be seen as a smarmy way to shirk the responsibility yourself, but it still counts as having a hand in giving back since you’re doing the coordinating. If you come across a software company that needs help with sales, encourage your VP of sales to mentor them. If you’re asked for advice by the founder of a growing herbal supplement company, connect her to your COO, who could surely give some insight into how to scale up effectively.
Your second option is to delegate some of your other tasks to someone on your team, freeing up some space for you to get your very own hands dirty. If you can’t tell, I recommend this option. The benefits of sharing your expertise firsthand are invaluable to the companies you help. And the greater business community will start to notice–and applaud–your efforts, which further solidifies your reputation as a true leader. But here, too, it’s more than just good PR. You’ll be building relationships that are good not only for your own company but the broader business landscape you operate within.
So you’ve obviously been successful in the business world. But why is reinvesting in the business community such a challenge for you and other savvy businesspeople? The fact is, giving back needs to be seen as a business venture in and of itself. The more you help other companies refine their processes and brands (either through money or mentorship), the more likely your own community is to attract fresh talent, gain more customers, and become more profitable. By taking an active role in developing a pool of great organizations, you can improve your local economy, grow your business sector, or foster productive competition while heading off some of the risks competitors pose.
Giving of your time and resources is in some ways a selfless endeavor, but reinvesting in promising startups also provides ample opportunity for you. Even in the most brutally capitalist environment, it remains the case that helping someone almost always ends up rewarding you as well. While that shouldn’t be your main goal, it’s smart to think of it as a happy side-effect of doing the right thing for your business community.
Whether you decide to pitch in though one-on-one mentoring, serving on an advisory board, making monetary investments, or other creative pursuits, everyone stands to benefit when you look outside yourself and start looking out for the next crop of entrepreneurs.
Mario Martinez II is the managing director at MRTNZ Ventures and serves as chairman of Invest Southwest and its Venture Madness event. Mario’s previous company, 360 Vantage, was acquired by IMS Health. Follow him on Twitter @MarioMartinezII.