“A horse for every course” – An exclusive interview with mentor and charter member, Venkat Tadanki.

Here is the behind the scenes excerpt of a private interview with our mentor and charter member, Venkat Tadanki. Venkat has achieved accomplishments that we all dream of, from being a VP at the corporate giant Pepsi to having a technology company get acquired for big money. He is is also the founder and CEO of Secova. I wanted to find out if Venkat had any mentors that helped him along the way, contributing to his success. And I also wanted to find out if he had any guidance for us entrepreneurs.

I interviewed Venkat in his Irvine office  This article includes some quotes from Venkat and my own analysis.

The first thing I wanted to know from Venkat is if he had any mentors that contributed to his own success. He did share the story about one influential mentor early in his marketing career at ITC. Venkat would visit this mentor for feedback anytime he had a doubt or a crazy idea. And what’s comic about this scenario is that his mentor would keep a stone cold face every time Venkat came to visit him. He would share his opinion every once in awhile but forced Venkat to use his intuition to make his decisions. His most radical ideas were not usually accepted by his management team, but had the most chance to be a blowout success. Under the wing of his mentor, Venkat did implement some of these ideas, creating his own book of success stories.

Most of us entrepreneurs are eager to learn. I especially have an insatiable appetite for advice from gentleman like Venkat. I asked if he could share some advice for us. He gave us some juicy recommendations that can apply to entrepreneurs at all levels:

  1. “Don’t try to be everything to everyone.” This can be a tough piece of advice to follow for startups because we want to generate as much revenue as we can, from anywhere we can get it. Often times service companies will even say yes to projects that are not worth the resources spent. SaaS startups try to position their technology as a solution for all industries. The best strategy is to choose one target market that you can best serve with your technology. According to Venkat, “Once you reach a certain volume, then you can expand to additional markets.”
  2. “You need to have a willingness to change.” Darwin taught us that it’s not the strongest of the species that survive, but the ones who are most responsive to change. The same applies to business. When customer needs evolve, or new technology is available, or when sales tax goes up, entrepreneurs need to adapt. That means changing our business models, service offerings, team size, positioning, etc.
  3. For the startups who are fundraising, this is a strong piece of advice for you. “Your actual revenue will be half of your projections, and your actual costs will be double your projections. So, always have a plan B ready to implement.” Yes, it’s hard to hear this, but it’s true.
  4. “You need to have a cash is king mindset.” Startups need to know when their company will be profitable, so the founders stay in control. If you rely on fundraising round after round, then your company will no longer be your own. So focus on sales and business development, bootstrap for as long as you can, generate sales, and minimize investment intake.
  5. “Put less emphasis on success versus failure.” This is one of my favorite pieces of advice from Venkat. In today’s society we are all very hard on ourselves and our mindset can easily get overrun by ego. We need to stay process oriented over result oriented. This will help us stay true to providing good value to our customers and team who will stay loyal to us in return.
  6. “Have passion for what you do.” In order for a mentor, investor or employee to get behind your vision, they need to see your passion. They need to feel your energy, and experience your fire. Look for ways to bring your passion into your company and into the story you tell. This can come from looking at struggles you have gone through in your own life, and using this company as part of the journey to overcome the struggle.

What I found the most interesting about this advice that Venkat shared, is that he shared the exact same advice in this Business Standard interview back in 2004! That means Venkat is preaching the same advice for 12+ years. This is important for us to acknowledge because entrepreneurs can get into a paralysis trying to seek out new advice. This is a reminder for us to embrace the advice above, and take action growing our businesses. The simple core principles like the ones above are all we need to create viable businesses.

Venkat explained that he no longer wishes to start new companies. He is happy maintaining Secova and being an investor in new companies. So I was curious, that having so much success on his resume, does he still turn to mentors for advice. His reply was “I have a horse for every course.” He used technology trends to explain this metaphor. Venkat is an older gentleman, and did not grow up with a smartphone. Cutting edge technology is not his expertise. So he turns to the CEO’s of the companies that he has invested in to share their expertise. He has different Mentors for different questions related to technology. “I turn to these CEOs for help rather than my classmates from IIM Calcutta.”

I asked Venkat if he had any questions for me. He did have one, and it was very sweet. He asked, “how do I be a good mentor?” And this is in my opinion the most important question a mentor (and even a mentee) can ask. So, here you go Venkat. The simple one word answer is compassion. The mentor needs to have a 100% interest in helping their mentee without expecting anything in return. They also need to have their mentee’s best interests in mind when providing feedback or suggestions. Finally, mentors need to have a genuine desire to improve their mentee’s livelihood and happiness. Anything less is detrimental to both parties. From there, it’s all about sharing candid insight, feedback and maybe an introduction from time to time.

One lucky member is going to have a one-on-one mentor relationship with Venkat in our upcoming Mentor Connect program. Apply today for the program here.

Written by Brian Frankel.

Brian is the founder of Mentor Matchmaker and runs the TiE Mentor Connect program.

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