Why you should build an ARMY of mentors

No startup is an island.

Since independence is a pretty common entrepreneurial trait, going at it alone becomes a mistake that’s easy to fall into for a lot of startup founders.

This is a mistake.

Listen carefully. Developing an honest-to-goodness startup is a difficult chore. Most startups still fail within 5 years of being founded. You need all the help you can get. When you get started, one of things you should always remember is to develop your support structure. You need mentors.

Notice I used the plural form there. It’s easy to think that you have to go looking out for one mentor. Do more. Get an army of great ones. This ALWAYS pays off.

Expect not only to receive wisdom and sage advice from your mentors, but possibly even the following items:

1) friendship and emotional support

2) a large network of very useful contacts

3) possible clients

4) possible capital

In corporate, I’d had an image of a mentor – an older person in the same company who is typically an expert in what I am doing.

What I’ve discovered in startups is that there can be many different types of mentors. Here’s my list.

1) The Domain Mentor

This is the mentor you run to for advice with regards to the particular field your business is in.  Having established an HR solutions firm with STORM, it was important for me to have people to run to with regards to HR. I ran to Gina Hechanova and Bopeep Franco of Ateneo CORD for HR advice when STORM was growing. We even partnered for some projects were they needed a technology partner.

2) The Entrepreneurial Mentor

No matter how long you talk to your domain mentor, it would be really impossible for her to relate to what you are going through as a startup founder. Knowing what the business is about is vastly different from running the business. It would be quite advantageous for you to talk to someone who knows what exactly it takes to build a successful startup – who has felt what you feel, who can tell you “that’s normal” and “you should abandon that now.”

This was our challenge when Pao and I built STORM, we had no entrepreneurial mentors – so we had to go through everything through trial and error. This almost killed our firm many times. I have no doubts that if we could have networked with an entrepreneurial mentor early on, it would have been smoother sailing.

3) The Peer Mentor

Karen Yao is the founder of the HR Consulting firm Congruent Partnerships. She is my age and is an awesome HR practitioner and facilitator. Around once a month, we would have coffee and we would talk and exchange ideas about HR and startups. We usually exchange advice on stuff like hiring, office space and rent, the future of our respective firms, what the other would think about a new concept the other would like to introduce, and so much more. Karen is what I call a peer mentor – the direction of the mentorship is two-way, and we see each other as peers. I am lucky to have Karen to talk with because she functions as both a domain mentor and an entrepreneurial mentor – this always makes our talks so much more interesting.  And naturally, we have given paying projects to one another.

4) The Life Mentor (Or Life Coach)

So how will startup life affect your relationships with your family, friends, and loved ones? When does work become too much? How is your prayer life? How are you eating?

Taking the plunge and forming your own startup won’t really be a cure-all. Yes, it can make your professional life that much more rewarding. I am into the notion though, that a happy life is a balanced one. There are other aspects of life that you cannot take for granted: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. A poorly managed dimension can easily drag all the rest of the dimensions – so it’s very important you have someone in your corner whom you can talk to about not merely your startup, but how it relates to the rest of your life.

I am quite lucky in this regard because I married one of the wisest people I know.

5) Encouraging Friends

Doesn’t really fall into the “mentor” category, but does so in the “support structure” concept. I’d thought I’d might as well throw this in here.

Are some of your friends negativity-mongers?  You know, those people who always complain, who always see the glass half-empty, or will always point out the huge risk you are taking in going after your idea. Lots of these in corporate. (some are just plain negative and cannot help it, but some are crabs)

You are who you surround yourself with.

So be sure to surround yourself with people who encourage you, who will stand by you. Not only that, but also try to surround yourself with people who are less afraid of taking risks in their lives, people who are willing to put stuff on the line in going after what they want.

So there you go – different types of mentors for the startup founders. I purposely didn’t include here “formalized” mentors like the Board of Directors or Advisory Boards – this will be taken up in a future post.

Just some last things. Of course, I recommend you take initiative and ask people whom you respect if they are open to being your mentor. (you’d be surprised at how some people would just want to help) Just two pieces of advice:

1) Know if they’re a good guy or a bad guy

Doesn’t get any more basic than this. The main thing about being a mentor is not only the wisdom you will gain, but more importantly, that the mentor has a personal stake in your success. Remember that. A mentor wants to see you succeed.

You may know a number of entrepreneurs who are all about money. You know who I am talking about. The first thing this person would think of when they meet you is “how can this guy make me more money?” There are also arrogant ones who think they are God’s gift to the industry, or people who simply will not share anything with you “keep their edge.” Avoid these people like the plague. You, like most people, can probably smell them a mile away.

Go after good guys. Look at their backgrounds, see what type of work they’ve done and who they’ve associated with. Talk to people who’ve worked with them. You, like most people, can probably smell good guys a mile away as well.

2) Don’t force it

The big thing about the mentor-mentee relationships is that you should have a high degree of comfortability and compatibility: there should be chemistry, you should like one another. This is why a lot of the formal corporate mentor programs don’t work – it feels forced. So don’t force it.

It might not be a good idea to just email someone “Can you be my mentor?” Have coffee with the person first, get to know the person first. Check for rapport, check for chemistry.

Remember, you cannot afford to be an island. Surround yourself with great people you can turn to for advice, who will be there for you, and who want you to succeed.

(Join the Juangreatleap movement and learn more about startups! Subscribe to the blog now to get the newsletter and join the forum!)

How God Founded Our Startup

When a new employee starts in STORM, or any of the startups I’m associated with (we’re all in one building), they are treated to something different (especially if they’ve previously worked in corporations before) which happens every three o’clock. We invite the newbie to our conference room, where we read the Gospel for the day, and then everyone gets her turn to say a prayer.

When we celebrate a victory, we quickly remind ourselves that ultimately, it was God who enabled the victory. Yes, we have very talented and intelligent people on our team – but where do all these gifts come from anyway? We cannot and will not take full credit.

On the lower-right corner of our website, you will see Whom we dedicate this company to.

Why am I so obsessed with creating a workplace where culture is defined by faith?

During the company newbie orientation process, I give the talk on our history. A history of a startup is pretty much the history of its founders. When I give this talk, I get quite emotional because it is my life I am sharing. I tell new employees about how truly blessed we were in those early years – about how timing would always be so eerily perfect. The right client when we need it. A founder who backed out, only to become our first (needed) client. The right employee when we need it. Never missing payroll even in those times when we didn’t know where we could get the cash – I consider this nothing short of a miracle.

Soon, I reach the point where I talk about making my great leap in 2008 – from part-time to full-time, from corporate lifer to full-blown entrepreneur.

I made that leap at the MOST inopportune time ever – a full-blown recession, STORM having all sorts of problems, a person borrowing a huge chunk of money from me disappearing (and in doing so, wiping out my funds), a newborn son and a wife to support, our then-largest client alerting us through fax that they were letting go of us in two weeks, an impending 80% salary cut if I went full-time in STORM.

It was a completely idiotic decision.

So why, why, why, did I choose to make that leap when I did?

Discernment – I knew God wanted me to do so.

That’s it.

There was no secret client I was wooing, nor did I have a cash stash somewhere. No ace in the sleeve. Nor did I possess any irrational confidence that I could turn things around. I was wracked with doubt. Logic screamed at me to reconsider. I was not at peace.

(side note: I find that having “peace” with a decision is an overrated discernment element. I find that a lot of times, God talks to us by disturbing us. Oftentimes, when God asks us to grow and expand our horizons, it isn’t peace that is felt. It is disturbance. It is disturbance because when we expand our horizons, we always step out of our comfort zones)

But God was my rock.

So I leapt when He said so. It was truly a leap of Faith.

And ever since that leap, God has remained so faithful.

Not only has STORM been doubling revenues every year since ’08, but I have found what I want to do for the rest of my life: building startups and helping people build startups. I can talk about this topic nonstop for weeks. For the first time in my life, I have voluntarily devoured tons of (non-fiction)books on a topic. You could ask my wife – I have given up radio and I now instead listen to audiobooks and podcasts while driving. I would do this for free – I love this stuff.

I sometimes think of what I do now: the thrill of starting things, the experience of learning something by making decisions and truly being accountable for the ramifications, growing my startup family, work becoming my hobby and vice-versa, being involved in radically different but interesting things, writing and talking to people about something I am truly passionate about, I think of all these and I shudder. I shudder at the thought of how quickly and easily I might have decided to ignore that call to leap. Then I thank God again and again for the inspiration I was given.

I am utterly convinced with my entire being that if God had not intervened, if I had not been sufficiently guided, if I just followed what the world would have had me do, I would not have taken that leap. I would still be in a corporation now – completely uninspired, working for just my salary, totally waiting for Friday just like everyone else. No startups for me. No juangreatleap.

Instead, I had been redeemed.

This month, I met up with two blog readers I haven’t previously been acquainted with who invited me for coffee. Both asked me why I was doing this. Both noticed there weren’t any ads on this site. Both noticed I wasn’t asking for money during the meeting.

This is my answer, guys 🙂 There will never be ads on this site, nor will I be asking for money for “consulting” when I meet people. This part of my life has been Gift. And so, for my part, I will share what I can with those who trust me enough to ask.

In all the ways I can think of, I try to make God the center of my work.

Just simply to give credit where it is due.

(Join the Juangreatleap movement and learn more about startups! Subscribe to the blog now to get the newsletter and join the forum)


Start-bucks Coffee.

My first startup, STORM Consulting, started as an idea in 2005, I talked about it with around 10 people – all potential co-owners I targeted – mostly in Starbucks. I then narrowed the field down from ten to two people and began building the foundation of the firm with my two new partners.

A recent startup, StreamEngine, (site is still in beta) which is launching this January, started when I talked to potential partners – mostly in Starbucks (some in Seattle’s Best).

A chunk of my time now I’m currently using by  talking to different people regarding different ideas – all in coffee places and dining areas in the metro, 30-60 minutes each, mostly after hours.

You want to know where to start? Talk about it with someone. Get that idea of yours out of your head and into a conversation. To properly nurture ideas, they need to be out in the open, where they can grow, receive feedback, and get the attention they need. The more you talk about it, the more your idea will become real, more palpable. Energy is generated, momentum is generated – both critical elements in launching a startup.

Ideally, you are also using this process to recruit for potential partners. This is very critical, because once the incorporation is done – you essentially become married to your partners. Listen carefully: Who is excited about your idea? Who can help you take your idea further? Is this person DIFFERENT than you in key areas (ideas, skill set, network)? Is this person SAME as you in the key areas? (values, principles, work ethic)

So you want to start? Grab a cup with a friend tonight!

(Join the Juangreatleap movement and learn more about startups! Subscribe to the blog now to get the newsletter and join the forum!)

The ONE TRUE RISK I faced in taking the startup leap

One of these days, I’ll post the full-blown story of what exactly happened when I took the leap and kissed my corporate career goodbye. It was truly a Faith-Leap for me.

Till then, kindly make do with this super abridged version:

I was a 33-year old corporate lifer with a wife and a newborn son I was supporting. It was the middle of the 2008 recession. The startup firm I was working part-time putting up was struggling mightily, partly because I wasn’t giving it the time it deserved.

I had two paths to take.

One was to continue on my 12-year corporate career as a line HR director, continue receiving my comfortable salary, continue with the peace of mind that my family would be ok. I would also continue working in a career I had since realized wasn’t for me, and didn’t stoke my passions anymore. It would also mean the sure-death of STORM, my startup baby.

The other path was unthinkable: to go full-time in the startup, in an effort to right the ship. In doing so, I would be swallowing an 80% salary cut during a recession year and I would be leaving behind a career which took a decade to build. It would mean my startup would have a chance of surviving.

Easy choice right? Bye-bye STORM. After all, what idiot would risk his family? The more I thought of it however, the more I saw the real risk.

It then became clear: I could always go back to my corporate career. There would ALWAYS be someone in need of a good HR guy. If my experiment with STORM didn’t work out, I could always go back. Malamang may increase pa. 

On the other hand, I realized I could never go back to STORM. Had I let go of it, it would have died and that would’ve been it. I would never find out what could’ve happened if I took the leap. I knew it would be hard to live with that what-if. The real risk was to grow old one day and never find out.  

And so, with confidence and faith amidst a trying time, I took my great leap.

My wife Pauline supported me that time through and through. We tightened our belts and made small sacrifices to make ends meet. It never became desperate though. In a few months, we were Blessed with a big client, and revenues started growing.

The benefits of making the leap are fantastic: I am able to pursue what I am passionate about everyday. I wake up in the morning actually excited to go to work. I am learning tremendously. I am able to decide and do what I feel is relevant and important, like this blog, in the context of my work. I feel God more in the workplace, and feel surer that I am where He wants me to be – pursuing my God-given passions.

These are things which I feel everyday, which I seldom felt in my corporate career. I believe everyone should be given the freedom to pursue these, work is such an integral part of our lives. We can’t and mustn’t settle.

Think about it. Is the risk even that big?

Young people. They say “startups are for the young” because of two things: first is that it takes a lot of energy to pursue a startup. You will work HARDER than you did in corporate. Hopefully it’s not only because of your intense will to make it, but also because you’ve chosen a product you love. The other reason startups are for the young? You have nothing to lose. You don’t have mouths to feed yet, nor a house loan to pay. You can always go back climbing the corporate ladder. It will always be there for you.  The ONLY thing you might be sacrificing is lifestyle (the one your corporate salary allows you to afford), which really if you think about it, isn’t worth it. At all. If you have that itch, there is no sense stalling. Take that leap now.

Slightly older folks. You probably have something to lose. It’s the large, 2x-a-month cash that comes in like clockwork. You use it to feed your dependents. If you think about it, your career is NOT really at risk – you can always go back to it.  By now though, you probably have an idea if that career of yours really is something you really love, or its something you are stuck with. If it is the latter, you owe it to yourself to take a leap – don’t settle. Not necessarily a giant, hairy leap, but perhaps smaller, more calculated leaps that build momentum. (I talk about that here) Create a definitive plan. Partner with young people who can take the big leaps. You are the one they will look for needed domain knowledge. Small, low-risk steps.

Look, startups are not for everyone. They require a high tolerance for ambiguity and failure, as well as high intestinal fortitude. I remember the early years when my partner Pao and I would face not knowing where the money would come from WHILE losing a huge client WHILE losing a key employee WHILE having to clean the office. Grabe. However, if you have that fire in your belly, there is NOTHING as exhilarating as being the captain of your own ship, I tell you.

There is only one way to find out though. Take a chance.