For Matchchat Founder James Routledge, taking advice from those with more experience and knowledge than him has always been key to the way he runs his business. Routledge set up his football discussion platform with three university friends at the age of 20. He put his studies on hold to enter the fast-paced world of tech start-ups and sought all the business support and mentoring he could. He began networking and turned to LinkedIn to find entrepreneurs with experience for help and advice, which led him to the Ignite 100 Accelerator Programme. In this programme, young tech entrepreneurs receive valuable advice from industry professionals that has them emerging investment-ready. This was a crucial time for Matchchat as it led Routledge to restructure his business model.
Initially, he envisaged users downloading the app and using it as a platform to chat with other users during a game. However, the mentors on the programme recommended that Routledge go where users already were – football news sites – and embedding into their existing platforms. “If you meet five people who you really respect and they tell you to change your product then you start to take that on board” Routledge said. He urges other entrepreneurs to follow his example and shamelessly seek out those who can help, “it’s a lot easier to find someone on LinkedIn than spending three months trying to work it out”. As a result of the programme, Matchchat brought experienced sports entrepreneur Gerry Boon onto its board. Routledge praised the impact of working with experienced business advisors and how it transformed the business and helped him rework his entire business model.
But business mentoring isn’t just for youngsters who are running start-ups, it is increasingly being recognised as a way for experienced business people to succeed. Steve Lindsey is the CEO and founder of Lontra, which created a new form of air compression technology. He has ambitious plans for its roll out and believes the technology has the potential for numerous licensing deals with major companies. The business plans to scale-up its activities and create more contracts with other big business. Early on Lindsey realised that, despite already having a significant amount of business experience, he needed a trusted business advisor to help guide him through the complex world of IP, licensing and international expansion.
“Our ambition from the beginning was always to grow the company into a big company, not necessarily in terms of people, but in terms of revenue,” Lindsey said. “So right from the beginning we had a plan to recruit people who had experience of big businesses. Our board was top-heavy. We were a start-up but we had a board which could run a big business.” Entrepreneurs often reach a point in their business development when they have to step out of their comfort zones. This often occurs when they are expanding the business and hiring new talent or merging into new markets where they may lack experience. This is when mentors such as David Carter get involved with them and as he puts it “takes them to, through and out the other side.” Carter believes that companies who experience the most success are those with the best leaders, which is what drew him into working as a mentor. “I was fascinated why one company was outperforming another and the answer was leadership and culture,” he says.
For many entrepreneurs working with a mentor is not just about business development, it is also about personal development. As a business begins to change and evolve, so too does the person running it. “Entrepreneurs launch businesses, then as the business grows they become managers, but they need to become leaders,” says Carter.