Achieving True Greatness Through Relationships: Techstars Interviews Mindmaven CEO
Mindmaven’s CEO and founder, Patrick Ewers recently sat down for an interview hosted by David Cohen, Co-Founder and Chairman of Techstars. You can catch the podcast here, or read through the summary below.
Some Background on the Star: Patrick Ewers of Mindmaven
David: Tell people listening a little bit about yourself.
Patrick: I first joined LinkedIn—back when nobody thought it would become as big as it is today—because I believed so much in the power of relationships and what they were doing. When my time there was over, I really wanted to do more to help people make the most of their relationships. I had found my passion.
Immediately after, my wife and I were traveling around the world and ended up in a Buddhist monastery for a ten-day silent meditation retreat.
During this time, I thought deeply about what I would do with my life when this journey came to an end, and it was time for the next one. The idea for Mindmaven came to me like a revelation from inside and my path became clear.
Mindmaven: Achieving True Greatness Through Relationships
David: So give people some background on what Mindmaven does. The way I understand it is that you basically give leaders superpowers, you’re a sort of relationship management genius.
Patrick: Yeah that’s pretty close! Basically, we’re an executive coaching firm helping leaders achieve True Greatness by focusing on relationships. The basis for this focus is the belief that nobody has ever reached their highest potential without help from others.
While most people agree with this principle up front, far too many don’t pay enough attention to act upon it, and as a result, often walk a much more difficult path.
The problem is that the steps you need to take care of relationships are vitally important but almost never urgent. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is becoming more and more urgency driven, so those steps get overlooked. To overcome this obstacle, we need to solve the classic problem of importance vs. urgency.
One way to attack the problem is to be smarter about how you use your time—we call it INTENT, learning how to become more intentional in allocating your time so you focus your energy on the things that matter most.
The other approach, equally important, is: you must look for opportunities to free up your time—in other words, stop doing those things that don’t provide extra value, and delegate the things others can do to get leverage. And the leverage I’m primarily interested in helping people find is leverage specifically within “the Office of the CEO.”
As a startup CEO hires C-suite people, those people take over functions that used to take up the CEO’s time, leaving the CEO with only the actual CEO responsibilities. But once the C-suite is fully populated, many CEOs hit a ceiling, you can’t hire another person to be yourself.
At Mindmaven, we encourage leaders to hire an Executive Assistant (EA) or a Chief of Staff to extend more leverage into the Office of the CEO. We then focus on teaching leaders how to gain maximum leverage by working with an EA or Chief of Staff to free up 8-10 hours each week—basically a full work day. The time saved by incorporating this leverage can then be invested into relationships, rewarding you with unbelievable benefits.
David: And that’s how I first engaged with you and how Techstars started engaging with you because several of us had that feeling of being overwhelmed as leaders. What resonated with me when I first heard what you shared is: it’s easy to fall into that trap of “I don’t have time for what I know I should do for relationships.” But you helped us understand that others (like an EA) can help you do this. It just has to become a priority. And you’re a huge believer that this is the path to greatness as a leader—it’s through taking the time to actually build and manage relationships.
Patrick: You’re hitting on a really important point. Many people, if asked, would describe us as productivity gurus. But we’re only that because we had to solve the problem of urgency vs importance. If listeners believe us that we can free up 8-10 hours (and our clients can confirm this), the question is: how do you use that freed up time? And I say, every time, relationships. Focus that time now on relationships because it will reward you in dividends that you can’t even possibly believe.
Nearly every startup founder that made it, that achieved true success, can point to one time when something incredible, even game-changing happened because someone they knew thought of them at the right time.
But that only happens if you manage your relationships well, so that your contacts are not only capable of thinking of you when it matters but are very likely to.
Once you’re no longer just founder anymore but have become a CEO, the only job you have is to find the best people you can, convince them to join you, keep them excited about your vision, and get them to follow you through hell and back. The entire role boils down to relationships, but it is difficult to pull off if you don’t have the time.
That’s why we focus first on freeing up time by bringing incredible leverage and intent into your world. And then getting you to commit to spending that time that is freed up on the work that makes the biggest difference.
David: It’s so important. And you said everyone can think of that one situation—and if you’ve been at a business for a while you could probably think of 5-10—where someone thought of you in a critical moment because you maintained a relationship… or the flip side, someone thought of your competitor because you didn’t maintain the relationship, and you’re wondering, “Why didn’t I see that opportunity?” It comes down to giving first in your relationships, helping them out, having a genuine relationship so that down the road, they’ll think of you in a moment that really matters.
Can you think of an example story to share of this happening?
A Real World Story: The Power of Relationships
Patrick: Here’s a real story that is really profound because it’s often neglected.
We worked with a company—where I also knew the investor quite well—that grew to become the second biggest social gaming company in the industry. Around, or maybe just after, their Series A, the founder/CEO and a major investor started nurturing relationships with folks who might eventually acquire them.
This was incredibly early in the process, most people working towards a Series B wouldn’t take the time, but this founder proactively decided to make this work a priority, knowing how important it was.
The years went by and one day quite suddenly (as it tends to happen) they had a $200 million acquisition offer on the table. At this point, instead of accepting the first offer, they went out and activated all the relationships in the industry they had been keeping warm for all those years.
Seven days later, they sold the company to a different buyer for $400 million.
There is no way that better fundamentals, product development, or even sales will double the valuation of your company in seven days—the only way that happens is through relationships.
This example is on the extreme end, but this happens on a smaller scale as well. A contact who knows you’re hiring might think of you when they come across a great prospect. That person turns out to be the partner you needed to solve the engineering problems that have been blocking your progress.
David: 100%. And your example is not a foreign story to me. The very first exit out of Techstars portfolio was Social Thing back in the day, and it was a relatively small exit. But a Techstars mentor, Brad Feld, got on the phone, used a relationship at the acquirer and in 24 hours, doubled the exit price. And that was all the relationship, being able to convince them of the value. Without the relationship, you couldn’t have generated that value.
So it works for everyone: investors, exits, business partners. One of the things we coach at Techstars all the time is “always be fundraising.” This is really about relationships. You’re not raising your next round now; you’re building relationships with the right people for your next round.
Free Up Time with an EA (or even better, an EM)
David: So back to freeing up the time, since that’s the perceived barrier to investing in relationships. You advocate for using an EA to help you with this. Do you have some practical tips or advice for folks looking to work with an EA?
Patrick: Absolutely! First, don’t be afraid to hire an EA early—many founders feel that an EA is a “luxury” or a symbol that they are “lazy.” To combat this misconception we actually developed a new role, which we call the Engagement Manager, or EM.
How you should think of an EM is a hybrid between the EA, who is highly tactical, and a Chief of Staff, who helps with more strategic projects. In this huge gap between the two, an EM can:
- Free up as much time as possible so that you can do more proactive work.
- Help you engage with your network in a much deeper and more profound way.
We’ve developed over 50 playbooks for working with an EM. And I’m happy to share one of them:
Nearly every CEO would agree that it is a good practice to send a follow-up email after an hour-long meeting. It feels good for those people to receive an email from you, especially the higher up you become professionally. Despite that general consensus, if you send a follow-up email only 40% of the time, you are considered world class. Because even though we agree it is a valuable practice, we’re so busy we “don’t get around to” writing those emails—the urgency of our lives gets in the way.
But we developed a system that leverages your EM to vastly improve your ability to deliver meaningful emails to the right people. This is based on 3 facts:
- Nobody has ever valued you for writing an email; they only value you for sending it.
- You can talk 4-5x faster than you can type.
- You can talk almost anywhere, but you can only type when you are sitting in front of your computer.
Our system involves a dictation app on your phone that can take your voice memos and automatically turn them into tasks assigned to your EM in your task management system. The flow looks a little something like this:
- The task management solution alerts your EM to the addition of a new task.
- Your EM then listens to the dictation, and instead of mindlessly typing your exact words, they thoughtfully craft it into a text document that reads well.
- Your EM then loads the draft into the drafts folder of your email, all ready for you to click send.
If you dictated follow-up emails from eight meetings, you would open your drafts folder at the end of the day to find eight follow-up emails ready for you to review and send.
All you do is dictate, then read and click “send.” What might have taken ten minutes (or much more) per meeting is reduced to one minute or less per meeting.
If it only takes a minute, there is no reason why you can’t send a follow-up after 100% of your meetings. Even better, because of the time you’ll save with this practice, you can actually send higher quality, more thoughtful follow-ups.
Too often we typically send little more than a minimal two-liner as follow-ups. With the new efficiency, you can take the time to add in something you learned or enjoyed in the meeting. Telling someone that you learned from them is almost certain to be a very positive experience for them. And it’s almost guaranteed you learn something in every meeting. This might sound like small stuff, but I consider this type of improvement the difference between a good leader and a great leader. And it doesn’t stop there, there are a ton of strategies and “small” habits you can build to push your relationships and success to new heights.
David: I can attest that it works because you gave us this playbook and many others, and I use them. At first, for me, they felt a little unnatural. But in reality, they’re very natural. You would do this kind of personalized follow-up if you had all the time in the world because you do learn things about people all the time, and you do want to invest in the relationship and make that person feel good. And you know something’s going to come from that. But you just have to create this habit to do it consistently.
So, ok. Shifting gears: You’ve done this work for folks at Techstars, groups like Sequoia and a16z, you’ve done this with companies like Roblox and tons of big companies. I want to ask you about another phrase I’ve heard you use before: Positive Alacrity. What does this mean?
Positive Alacrity: The Most Powerful Relationship Building Habit
Patrick: This is a perfect segue into the relationship stuff. What I hope everyone will take away from this is “Wow! I can really see a path to first free up time and then, once I have time, I can invest that time in relationships!”
Positive alacrity is an incredibly powerful habit, built around the idea of creating micro-experiences that have a profoundly uplifting impact on the people you deliver them to. In other words, it’s the simplest way you can make other people happy.
Essentially, it’s a simple habit: when you think something positive, and you genuinely believe it, voice it.
It sounds so duh, but what I’m saying is that it’s not about giving compliments for the big obvious stuff. It doesn’t require the positive thought to be huge. In fact, the real power of positive alacrity is that is produces massive value when the thought is something minor, even just “slightly north of neutral.”
All day long, we all have small positive thoughts that we don’t voice or act on:
- That was a smart idea.
- Interesting perspective.
- That is outside the box thinking.
These thoughts arise into our consciousness but only for a second and even though these thoughts could be the biggest relationship asset, people don’t use them.
When you convey them to the people that inspired them, you create an extremely positive micro-experience—you make them feel good.
For example, let’s say your company is in the phase where they’re about to ship product. Everybody is scrambling, working long hours to get the product out. In the middle of this, you see your CFO sits down with an intern, teaching them how to do something basic.
Seeing a senior person giving their time to help a junior person, you undoubtedly think “Wow, that’s really cool.”
Practicing positive alacrity means that your next action is to voice that positive thought, whether you convey it through a Slack message, a Slack Video or a Zoom call:
“I don’t have much time, I have to step into a meeting, but I wanted to let you know that I saw you today helping the intern learn how to work with pivot tables in Google Sheets. Given everything we have going on, I really appreciate that you took the time to help this person out – it matches up with the culture we’re trying to build, and it means a lot to see it. So I wanted to say thanks and now I’ve got to run.” And you hang up.
David: So you didn’t have much time? But you still wanted to give this note?
Patrick: No no! So I wanted to ask you, why do you think I put this time pressure on the comment?
David: It seems like you’re elevating the importance of what you’re doing. You could’ve been doing something else, but you made time for this.
Patrick: Yes! That’s one powerful reason. But also, have you ever noticed when you give someone a compliment, people instinctively deflect and diminish praise. They may say something like “I’m just doing my job. No big deal.”
By taking away any opportunity for them to dilute the positivity, their memory of the experience will be 100% positive.
I call this our “Dump and Run” strategy for positive alacrity. You’ll leave someone sitting at their desk smiling! And better yet, the Dump and Run makes positive alacrity so simple, you have no excuse not to do it all the time.
And then something really interesting happens for you as a leader. You might not notice it happening, but people will start seeing you in a new light. All these positive experiences will compound and make you a leader that your team wants to follow. Something that powers the law of attraction like nothing else is positivity. This makes positive alacrity a major factor in changing your attrition rate. People will want to follow you longer; they will enjoy the experience and see you as a person worth following.
David: Super timely advice with everything going on in the world with so many people moving around between jobs and taking time off. If retention is an issue, this is again about relationships. Like everything, it boils down to: it gets better if your relationships are better.
Many thanks to Patrick for this advice and for giving some of your work away freely. Be sure to check out more of Patrick’s work online. Thanks for taking the time to join us!