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I was a former adjunct professor for nearly a decade in Seattle University’s business school teaching MBA Entrepreneurship students. In addition, in my business career of 45 years I have also been directly involved in 60+ startup companies as M&A advisor, Investor, Board Director, CEO/operating executive…and mentor to CEOs and management teams. Frankly, I have seen and personally experienced myself all the “ups and downs” of being an entrepreneur, especially those first-time entrepreneur business owners and CEOs.

As we know, there are a multitude of pitfalls and mistakes one can make from basically naivety and lack of experience as a new business owner and CEO. However, one mistake that I saw and still see over and over again, is for new entrepreneurs thinking they can go it alone without having good and qualified mentors to lean on for solid advice. I have seen that the odds for achieving early business success are improved significantly by adding a minimum of 1-2 trusted advisors, either in form of a formal board of directors or an advisory board. These advisors or mentors can also provide important accountability and discipline and a frame of reference for the what it means to be a good CEO and leader.

I will use one of my former students, Jeff Widmeyer, as an example of taking a unique approach to using mentors and achieving a major business success. Jeff’s company Ro Health and our Alexander Hutton M&A Advisory firm, just announced the successful majority sale of the company to Achieve Partners, a private equity firm for several million in what is a life-changing event for Jeff and his family. Now with a large financial partner on board, Jeff will continue to grow and lead Ro Health to even greater success. This journey has been especially gratifying for me personally as Jeff developed the business concept and business model of Ro Health while he was a student in my SU MBA class 8 years ago. He was very smart in listening to the guest lecturers by entrepreneur business owners and the teaching provided on various entrepreneurial subjects. One subject that closely resonated with him was the importance of having close mentors for advice and experience.

After the SU class was completed, Jeff formed Ro Health which included forming a small Advisory Board of 5 members. He asked me to serve as Chair of the Board, which I have done since the company’s inception. Since he was the 100% owner and did not take on any outside investment capital, he did not believe he needed nor wanted a legal board of directors. At this early stage any board member would also be concerned about their legal liability. So Jeff designed and agreed to use the Advisory Board (with no legal liability) as his close advisors and mentors. However, in this case the AB without any voting control, was nevertheless treated the same as would be expected of a formal Board. This unique approach included quarterly board meetings, CEO accountability and Board governance. He provided each board member with an appropriate amount of equity ownership in compensation for their services. It worked very well, but primarily because Jeff respected and utilized his advisory board as key mentors. We were all there for him as he experienced business challenges, including having to totally pivot the business during the dark days of the Covid pandemic in early 2019 and then fully recover the business over the last two years. Jeff agrees that having this Advisory Board as mentors has been instrumental in being able to realize the very successful liquidity event.

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