In this weekly column, CEO of The DEC Network, Bill Chinn, interviews a “celebrity mentor” that is currently participating in the organization’s Fast Start Mentor Program. The program matches tenured business leaders who have handled crises to small business owners struggling to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
This week, Bill Chinn spoke with Chris Boult, EVP and CIO of CEC Entertainment, to get actionable advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Boult tells us how to perfect a pitch, develop ideas that resonate, and focus on the fundamentals of your business.
Bill Chinn: First things first, why do you mentor and why is this so important?
Chris Boult: One of the main reasons I mentor is because I feel strongly about paying it forward in the community in general. Particularly, I see young entrepreneurs who have great ideas that don’t have a large amount of experience working with someone in my position or investors. I have the opportunity to give them advice and help with the ideas they have, which prepares them to pitch their ideas to investors and potential customers.
Chinn: Experience counts, especially in a crisis, so that’s great advice. Can you give us an example of someone you just mentored—what was the problem and what was the advice you gave them?
Boult: I mentored someone very recently and it was a really good discussion. First of all, she works in an industry which I’m not familiar with. She does music-based events and that’s certainly not my forte. However, one of the struggles she has is reach, so we were able to connect in terms of how I could help her thrive, particularly around the use of social media channels and search engine optimization. She wasn’t really familiar with some of the tools that can be used to reach more potential customers. I’m far from an expert in her field, but I was able to guide and give her advice including how she should be using channels like Instagram and Tik Tok, short format videos which would really resonate with potential customers. It was actually a bit out of my comfort zone in terms of the space she was in, but a lot of the fundamental business techniques still apply.
Chinn: That’s excellent that you were able to help despite the differences in your industries. On a broader scale, what is your top recommendation to a small business owner or entrepreneur struggling through the COVID-19 crisis?
Boult: You have to have a solid pitch—not just a great business idea, but something that resonates with potential customers. What I find helpful when I’m mentoring is, I take the approach of pretending I’m a potential buyer. I ask, “What is your 30-second elevator pitch?” This is even more important now because people are squeezed on cash and people are squeezed on resources, so the pitch has to be something that really resonates. The second part is understanding what’s important to potential customers right now. Many priorities have changed for example, small business owners concerned about things like paying rent or paying their employees. You have to go in with that mindset as a business owner with potential customers, the mindset of, “What’s important right now where my idea could resonate?”
Chinn: I completely agree. Flipping the switch, what’s your experience as a mentee? Can you talk about anytime in your professional history where someone gave you great advice?
Boult: Having participated in both formal mentorship programs and having informal mentorship relationships, two of my most productive mentor/mentee relationships were actually informal ones. The first one was my former boss, I value that relationship very highly. I still lean on him as a good friend and as a mentee today. I’ll reach out and run ideas by him and I find the insights and ideas he provides very valuable.
I had another great mentor who is a retired CIO, and I meet with him fairly regularly. He is a great sounding board so he will listen to anything I want to do, both from a career perspective and overall for my professional development. He’ll say, “Chris, I hear what you’re saying. I’m not saying this is the answer, but I had a similar situation earlier in my career and this is how I dealt with it. This was the outcome and this is how I feel about how it ended up and the success I got out of it.” He’s very open, transparent and is a fantastic sounding board.
Chinn: Thanks for sharing that experience. Alright, when you aren’t watching Chelsea Football, is there a book, a blog or other printed material you are reading?
Boult: Similar to mentors, a man that I appreciate his work and what he has done is Richard Branson, the founder of many Virgin brands. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while and finally got to reading his first book, Losing My Virginity. He’s a great storyteller and is very inspirational in how he turns adversity into success. I’m about a third of the way through that book and really enjoying it.
Chinn: I love it, one Brit teaching another Brit. What’s your source of entertainment while you’re working from home?
Boult: Like everyone else, we’ve been watching a lot of Netflix and binge watching many shows. My wife and I actually just completed a bucket list item, which I’m excited about. Several weeks ago we decided we were going to watch every James Bond movie from Dr. No to the most recent release. Almost every night for 24 nights straight, we would watch a James Bond movie and it was awesome.
Chinn: That’s impressive. Do you have a favorite Bond?
Boult: My wife and I actually landed on the same one after watching all of the movies. We both agreed Pierce Brosnan is the best one, closely followed by Sean Connery. I know most people wouldn’t put him in front of Sean Connery, but having watched them all now, the Pierce Brosnan films were very good.
Chinn: I’m getting a theme here, almost everything is related to Great Britain in your world. What about a North Texas restaurant that you’re supporting right now?
Boult: There are two great local restaurants that we’re supporting. The first one is called Delucca and it’s a Brazilian pizza place in Southlake. When they’re open for dining, it’s like a Brazilian steakhouse where they bring you a variety of things but you get all sorts of different varieties of pizza. There’s another very small place called Sabai Sabai that serves Vietnamese, Thai and other Asian foods in Grapevine.
Chinn: My family also frequents Delucca and I think we just found our new meet-up spot. That brings us to our last question, what are you going to do as soon as the checkered flag drops and we are allowed to wander around?
Boult: One thing I love to do is go to music concerts. I’m really disappointed because my kids got me a great Christmas present this year, which was tickets to the Green Day and Weezer show coming up and it’s been cancelled. I’m clearly trying to get back to my adolescent days but I love Green Day. I actually went to a Green Day concert with my kids a few years ago and as we were getting into our seats my daughter looked around, turned to me and said, “Dad, you’re the oldest guy here by at least 20 years.”
Chinn: Thanks for ending the interview with a few laughs. I appreciate the help you are providing through our Fast Start Mentor Program and look forward to talking again soon.
The DEC Network is a partner of Dallas Innovates. The 501c3 non-profit organization drives innovation and economic impact by helping entrepreneurs start, build, and grow their businesses. Through a number of innovation hubs across DFW, The DEC Network provides entrepreneurs with education, mentorship, community, and advocacy. For more information, please visit www.thedec.co.
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