Role of Guru (Coach) in Start-ups: Inspire, Energise

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The role of coach has become even more important because of acceleration in speed of change, multiple moving parts in the organization and continuous challenges faced by Start-ups. In these situations it is important to get an independent and outside in perspective from someone who has a holistic perspective of the business and the outside world view.

Just sharing my thoughts based on a few assignments, interactions with founders and my own experience of starting my journey as founder of Sarcha Advisors.

Key Takeaways:

A. Engagement

Building a Coach/ Mentee relationship is an art therefore it is extremely important to take time before finalising a formal engagement. The relationship is built around trust and mutual respect. The relationship must have a Dilse (heart) connect, Guru needs to be more of a Dost (friend) in the interactions and build a personal and emotional bond with the founder and the company to empathise with the founder. This will promote two way, open and transparent interactions, encourage candid feedback amongst the two parties.

The Coach must have a skin in the game, put his reputation and money in the company and see himself to be an extension of founding team. Any compensation should as far as possible be through equity to align interest. The coach must be responsive and accessible.  The coach must also be assessed by his mentee at least once a quarter to ensure no mismatch in the expectations.

Most of the times the coach has certain beliefs of the past but in current times he needs to be flexible and agile in his thinking, not have any ego and be a minister of the founder and ensure that founder takes ownership of decision even if it is not in line with recommendation of the Guru.

B. Role of Coach

The Coach needs to be a clone of the founders to ensure he offers a holistic and balanced advise. He needs to be a dost 70% of the time, parent 10% of the time and child (learner, curious accept feedback) 20% of the time. The Coach needs to provide support in building the foundation of the business, define goals and objectives. The coach must share his life experiences in the form of stories.

Illustrative list of activities are given below. While this is a long list, but it does not necessarily mean that all activities will need to be taken up concurrently, there needs to be a prioritisation of activities to be decided jointly amongst the founder and coach. It is also not expected that Coach will have all the answers, therefore one may need to look at subject matter experts for certain activities.

  • Facilitate in defining and aligning aspiration, higher purpose and values of the company and the founder, to minimize friction in thinking and execution linked to company goals. Ensure inter-se alignment amongst founders and encourage creation of founder agreement.
  • In order to ensure sustainable and profitable business model, facilitate thinking around business model attractiveness of opportunities, ability to compete, risks and synergies, customer and people centricity, scenario planning linked to emerging trends and changing needs of the business and consumers.
  • Help in building a performance driven, innovative (IP and patents) and teams-based culture (organization building). Set stretch goals and develop a performance monitoring framework, encourage focus on outcomes (and not activities). Bring in process orientation to scale faster.
  • Help define operating, financial guidelines (including certain decisions based on cash flows).
  • Help in deciding the criteria of choosing investors. Be a bridge amongst board, investors, and certain other stakeholders to arrive at a balanced decision in case of conflict.  
  • Ask first principle questions as a non-expert (outside in view) as the answers will always come from the team given their closeness to the business.
  • Ensure the founder remains at the centre during highs and lows, coach could be a cheer leader to energize and inspire.
  • Ensure that founder takes a balanced view in decision making and thinking trade-offs. Creating frameworks for setting priorities, resource allocation, growth and cost drivers. While most of the time the founder needs to take informed decisions, but the coach needs to encourage the founder to take some gut calls, encourage experimentation and speed up learning. 
  • Define what capabilities to be built in-house and outsourced to promote growth through alliances and partnerships. Coach can help in being the bouncing board of key hires and define help think through the boundary conditions of partnerships and alliances.

In conclusion, the Coach needs to be a friend of the founder and inspire and energise the founder and founding team while ensuring they are at peace during the highs and lows of the business and their personal life. The key is to ensure all team members enjoy the journey of their creation.

May 2021