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Steve Jbara, Endeavor Detroit’s newest board member, is President and Founder of Detroit Pistons affiliate Grand Rapids Drive.
What are your areas of expertise?
My day-to-day work is in sports entertainment, marketing/advertising, and sales, but I’ve sold two tech startups, including one to Amazon, and am comfortable in the tech entrepreneurship space.
Why did you decide to join Endeavor’s board? How heavily did the idea of mentoring other entrepreneurs factor in to your decision?
The mentorship piece of Endeavor was a big part of why I joined. When I started my first company I had no idea what I was doing – whether it was raising money or executing the mundane day-to-day details of running a small business. Luckily, I connected to an incredible group of investors that I clung to for the next few years and learned everything from them. I was so struck when Antonio, Endeavor Detroit’s Managing Director, showed me the bubble chart for the first time — that visual representation of how Endeavor Entrepreneurs give back and ensure that future generations have access to the support they did, and the regional impact that creates, is pretty incredible. The economic impact of mentorship seems to be hiding in plain sight. I also like that Endeavor gives entrepreneurs a chance to show how badly they want to succeed.
Mentorship is obviously a critical part of Endeavor’s model – what do you think makes a good mentor?
1. Openness: Based on experience, I’m a firm believer that the best mentors are able to create an atmosphere where entrepreneurs can comfortably ask any questions about how to grow their business without hesitation. A good mentor is accessible, an easy conversationalist, and creates a sense of comfort for the entrepreneur. A good mentor is also comfortable with themself, able to share successes and failures honestly.
2. Follow-up: A lot of entrepreneurs, especially in their early stages, leave meetings with potential mentors assuming that was it, they had their time, and hesitate to take up any more of it. A good mentor will follow up with an entrepreneur on their own either to ensure anything that was discussed for potential follow-through is addressed, or just to check in. A mentor who takes the initiative to be thorough, even though they are busy, is so valuable.
What has been your greatest challenge in entrepreneurship and how did you overcome it? Did mentorship play a part?
When I sold my first company to a national player, I leaned on my mentor at the time to help structure and time the deal — and I’m really glad I did. We still joke about it, but I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful or gotten half the money I did if it hadn’t been for this person. As a relatively new entrepreneur who sees real dollar signs for the first time, it can be tempting to jump on the first offer and “take the money and run,” even if it’s not ideal. It’s absolutely important to utilize someone who has experienced those types of transactions and can muscle a deal through.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of a successful entrepreneur?
1. Ambition: Every successful venture I’ve done was in the context of not needing to be the smartest in the room or even the most inventive, but being able to take an idea and run with it, and being willing to take the risk to go all out and pursue it. In the first case, I quit my job to pursue the idea. The best entrepreneurs are hungry – they eat, breathe, and sleep their business to get investment and be successful, and are always striving.
2. Likability: My philosophy, especially when hiring, is whether a person can pass the “airport test.” It goes like this: You and I are traveling across the country for meetings and are on our way back after being gone for a week, tired, in a physically/mentally questionable state, and just ready to be home. We finally get to the airport, drag our bags throughs security, and get to the gate only to find out our flight just got delayed three hours. Are you someone I could spend another three hours with in this situation without losing my mind? In life that translates to – are you a likable, good person I want to be around even in the most stressful situations? Are you a person someone can get behind and recommend to others without hesitation? I think that applies to mentors/mentorship, too – nobody wants a mentor who can’t past the airport test. Obviously intelligence, ambition and all the rest is crucial, but at the end of the day, people who pass the airport test are the ones I’ve seen be the most successful.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
There is nothing wrong with hearing ’No’
What advice would you give an entrepreneur looking to scale their company, if you had to pick one thing?
Utilize your network. There are plenty of people that have grown companies and made mistakes… learn from them. Also — hire a CFO ASAP!
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