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 Mentoring Program. The program matches tenured business leaders who have handled crises before to small business owners struggling to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
This week, Bill Chinn spoke with Heidi Potthoff, Founder of HMP Mufasa, to get actionable advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs including doing the research to understand the background and experience of your mentor, going into mentoring meetings with an objective, and always being open to learning.
Bill Chinn: Let’s kick it off with this question: why do you mentor and why did you want to give back in the mentoring arena?
Heidi Potthoff: I’ll start by giving a little background—I spent 20+ years in the corporate world both agency and client side and I learned more than I had ever expected. I had wonderful teachers, mentors, colleagues and friends who encouraged me along the way. As part of a soul searching exercise I learned that there was a lot more I wanted to explore, learn, and give back. I believed and still believe, there is a bigger purpose in life.
In the latter years I was exposed to more of the international side of business; VC, PE, M&A, (all of the acronyms and at the other end of spectrum startups). I decided at that time to dive into my true passion; being bigger, faster and stronger. I began mentoring with various startups in our community. I quickly learned that there are very intelligent, driven and innovative people in this arena. I also learned that we (Dallas) had an opportunity to stand out and not just be a fly-by city. At this point, my new venture began; accelerating startups.
Chinn: Thank you for sharing that. What is your experience with mentoring like and how have you helped entrepreneurs through mentoring?
Potthoff: My experience has been very rewarding to say the least. I’ve had the opportunity to mentor many individuals over the last two years. I believe it is extremely valuable to change and grow. And to engage in that growth requires collaboration, ideation and a different perspective. Mentoring is not just scheduling a monthly meeting with a checkpoint. Mentoring to me is fully engaging in the brand—to be a champion to the CEO.
I believe that no matter what stage, it’s important to build a rapport, chemistry and true understanding of their needs, wants and gaps. I can say that the companies that I have been fortunate enough to mentor have all had integrity, innovation, intelligence, drive and the tenacity to never give up. I am very proud to be able to mentor in the entrepreneurial community. As entrepreneurs grow and scale, the most liberating and exciting thing for me as a mentor is to be able to support entrepreneurs to be the best they can be. Maybe a bit cliché-ish but true. I love to be the champion behind the scenes supporting them in being bigger, faster and stronger.
Chinn: I love that. What changes have you seen in relation to COVID-19 and mentoring? Has your mentoring style changed due to the crisis?
Potthoff: Prior to COVID-19, my motto and belief was to support the acceleration of entrepreneurs twelve to eighteen months faster than they forecasted. COVID-19 has supported this acceleration. COVID-19 has not changed my style per se, but it has allowed me to learn and understand at a deeper level about myself and more importantly, the entrepreneurs. Everyone deals with things very differently and as a community we need to embrace that. I believe more than ever, the community is working together to build, grow and shine—that is very powerful.
If I need to point out one thing that has changed for me prior to COVID-19 is that the face-to-face interaction and relationship you get to experience can be a bit challenging on a Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts. There is something to be said about being able to sit next to somebody, learning their “being,” drive, energy, and all that comes with that.
I am not sure it will ever go back to what we once knew as comfortable, but change is good, change is growth. We will get to where we need to be to continue to evolve.
Chinn: That’s interesting and very insightful. What advice would you give to mentees to get the most value out of their mentor?
Potthoff: Do the research on who you are meeting. Understand their experience and as much of their background as you can. Go into your meeting with an objective. Create a list of questions that are specific to your needs. Collaborate, learn and understand how the mentor can support you. Think of it like an interview. You set the expectations as you want the best from your mentor.
Chinn: I agree. Can you tell me why one-on-one mentoring is so important to you? Why not tell an entrepreneur to read a book or take a class?
Potthoff: COVID-19 has changed the way mentoring is going to be done—it’s not in a room where you can whiteboard everything and really get to know one another. Interaction is changing and is still being defined. In my mind, a mentor is someone that the mentee should be challenged by, respects and enjoys being around, and can learn from. They have to be able to trust the individual, and if that’s not there, the relationship is much less likely to work. It has to be a win-win. A win for me is being able to guide and share something that they didn’t already know. It’s being a big brother or a big sister and doing the right thing for the entrepreneur to grow.
Chinn: Flip the coin for me—can you talk about your experience as a mentee?
Potthoff: To me, both a mentee and a mentor are individuals who are always learning. I don’t look at being a mentee as a specific point in your life—it’s ongoing. Every individual who has supported me in my journey has been a mentor to me in some facet. Even if you think you know the right answer, there are other perspectives and other ways to look at it.
Chinn: That’s great. Is there a business book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs?
Potthoff: There are a lot, but one that I continue to read over and over is Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. I have notes in the margins from every single time in my life that I read it. I find this book forces you to take an introspective look at where you are at a given point in time. It challenges accountability, growth, agility, among other things. Another book I recommend is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. This challenges you to get to the core, hence the “why.” Both are great books.
Chinn: Those are good recommendations. Do you have a guilty pleasure on TV?
Potthoff: I like Succession and Big Little Lies. I’m more into dark comedy. If it’s just funny then I can multitask, but it has to be really engaging for me to only focus on TV.
Chinn: Looking to the future, what are you going to go do when we’re allowed to do whatever we want to do?
Potthoff: I think I’ll go back down to Ambergris Caye to go scuba diving. We love doing that—it’s beautiful, calming and adventurous. We turn off our phones, listen to the ocean, feel the ocean air and just chill.
Chinn: That’s awesome. Do you have any last words of advice for entrepreneurs?
Potthoff: I’ve learned to always know your audience, to treat everybody with respect, to be humble, say thank you and have faith! When it comes to life, those are characteristics that I want to empower personally and professionally. And I’ve always believed that if you can incorporate personal and professional, you will enjoy life just a little bit more.
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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