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In this series, Endeavor Detroit explores the significance of mentorship by talking with founders and their mentors about the business and personal impact of their relationships.
Nearly nine years since inception, DROUGHT is the leading certified USDA organic juice brand in the Midwest and first-to-market in Michigan with four retail locations in the metro-Detroit area, and national expansion on the horizon. Caitlin James, co-founder and CEO of DROUGHT, and her mentor Andrew Dickow, Managing Director at Greenwich Capital Group, discuss the advantages of a great mentor/entrepreneur relationship.
How did you and your mentor meet? What qualities about one another made you feel good about the potential relationship?
Caitlin James: We met Andrew through our local Endeavor rep about a year and a half ago. Andrew immediately struck me as a hard worker with relevant experience and an entrepreneurial mindset. It’s common to meet a mentor with phenomenal/relevant experience but who seems to be far removed from the ‘daily grind’ of functioning as a startup – I didn’t feel this way with Andrew. He owns and manages a handful of businesses and has worked directly in food manufacturing, so I knew he could legitimately relate with our story, challenges and ultimate goals of growing our business.
Andrew Dickow: My goal for the initial meeting was simply to listen. I was aware of the brand and was a consumer of their product, so I already knew there was a solid foundation for the product and branding side. Once Caitlin and I started chatting it was very clear that our meeting was going to be a little bit different. Neither one of us asked the other for their resume, credentials, or experience (for better or for worse). We jumped right into what the company was facing in the short-term and long-term. Once I had the opportunity to hear everything, my goal was to break things down in a simple way. It was clear that Caitlin and her sisters were driven and hard-working, so I just wanted to help them get dialed in on a path to achieving their long-term objectives, while helping to fill in the gaps with my background and experience.
So, it was meant to be. How would you describe your relationship now?
CJ: Excellent! We’ve been in business for nearly 9 years and have found very few people that all four sisters collectively vibe with and trust. With a family business, it can be tough for an ‘outsider’ to genuinely connect with all of us and understand our agenda, but Andrew has been able to seamlessly understand DROUGHT from the beginning. His skillset fills a gap that we don’t currently have on our team, which is great.
AD: This is a funny question for a variety of reasons. I have developed an insanely close relationship with the team. It feels very natural and everyone always feels empowered to share their ideas and perspective. We are communicating daily in some form or fashion, whether through our group chat, e-mail or a quick phone call. Everyone is extremely focused, but my favorite part of the team dynamic is that we never try to take ourselves too seriously.
Okay, that’s just heartwarming. Can you share an example of a time the two of you worked through a challenge together? What do you think you learned from that experience?
CJ: Andrew has repeatedly helped us refocus and fully understand the ‘how’ behind the ‘why.’ Specifically, he’s worked on (and still is working on!) assisting us in understanding the ebb and flow of our finances and how to deliberately move the needle. He’s coached us in best practices when seeking strategic investment and how to confidently pitch our business to potential partners. It’s been helpful for Andrew to share anecdotal stories of other successful F&B businesses who have traveled the same path we are on. I believe the best takeaway for all of us has been increased confidence in the future of DROUGHT!
AD: I think a great example has been in identifying the long-term goals of DROUGHT and then putting an executable plan in place that allowed us to make progress towards that goal. I helped the team better understand their profitability by channel in order to determine how they could reinvest any potential savings into growing out their wholesale line. We determined they could consolidate six retail locations down to four in order to redeploy funds into building a national cold-pressed juice brand in retailers, restaurants and other outlets all over the country.
Caitlin, how has Andrew helped you grow as an entrepreneur and business owner?
CJ: Andrew has helped me to understand all of the nuances I am expected to be sharp on as a CEO. I think there’s an interesting evolution of starting a business with zero experience, making cool business cards that say “CEO” on them, and then realizing almost a decade later that I am an expert in my field and a real CEO. Andrew has assisted me in being intentional with my work and planning to ensure DROUGHT can capitalize on all of its opportunities.
Why do you think the entrepreneur/mentor relationship is important? What’s the most important thing you’ve gotten out of mentorship?
CJ: The most important thing I’ve gotten out of this mentorship is a new trusted friend and partner! I think it’s immensely important to have a trusted inner circle when operating a business. Finding an experienced mentor enables you to skip over some costly mistakes and be more informed on when and where to pivot intelligently.
AD: It’s crucial to find a mentor who has a differentiated set of experiences and expertise than you. It’s also important to have someone who isn’t in the weeds on a day to day basis share their thoughts — sometimes it is hard to see details when you are so focused on just running the day to day operation. Lastly, I would say it is always important for leadership, at any stage, to have someone to bounce their ideas of off and get reassurance. The DROUGHT team is insanely talented, and my goal is simply to help unleash their talents.
Andrew, what experiences in your career do you think have helped you become such a good mentor?
I am the son of two extremely hard-working immigrants and grew up working in a variety of jobs, and for several of my family’s entrepreneurial endeavors. I was exposed at a very young age to many different aspects of business, but nothing was ever handed to me. I also spent nearly 10 years at General Mills working in a variety of different capacities and geographies. Throughout my career I basically touched every aspect of the food and beverage industry including supply chain, finance, branding, and ultimately mergers and acquisitions. I have also mentored a range of different food and beverage companies across the U.S. I truly believe getting to work with so many talented people helped me to become more well-rounded and better partner.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a mentor?
AD: 1) Do it for the right reasons: Do it because you want to help others succeed. Do it because you are passionate about a certain industry or field. Do it because you believe you can fill in a gap. Do it because you can get the best out of people. If you are doing it for notoriety, for financial gain, or for ego, people will recognize it immediately. Be genuine and the rest will work itself out. 2) Listen: Being a mentor doesn’t necessarily mean just giving a bunch of advice. Sometimes entrepreneurs can solve their problems just by talking them through. 3) Connect with the people: It can’t always just be about the business fundamentals. I always try to identify what motivates and drives each person I work with. Once I identify that, I can line up the entrepreneur’s objectives with those of the company for the best output.
Caitlin, what’s the best piece of advice your mentor ever gave you?
CJ: Know your numbers! Measurable objectives are key. (I’m paraphrasing – not sure if Andrew objects to this basic description!)
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are scaling their companies and looking for mentorship?
CJ: Take every meeting! I can’t tell you how many times I walked into meetings thinking this person/business/organization had nothing in common with my goals, and subsequently left with an amazing new contact! Don’t reinvent the wheel – find someone who’s done it and succeeded (or failed!), and learn from them.
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