Cap Treeger | Mentorship Best Practices and Tips for Launching a Successful Business

Cap Treeger 10:42

I’d like to give two to answer that the first one, John, and I think you track with this, but somebody is asking me to boil all of my book down into one quick summary. And it just hit me purposeful intentionality. And the purposeful is important, because if you feel like you’re saving the world, you know, the company in the book, we were helping, I remember crying when I went to a hospital and watched how they were using it, to save babies lives. And, you know, you feel like you’re Johnny, you’ve been an entrepreneur. And you know, when you feel like you’re helping, you know, pay for hospitals and create jobs and pay your taxes and do constructive things, that that’s rewarding. But I will say this, I’m also not afraid to pay my dues. And so the reason I say that is a lot of the younger people, particularly that I guess I’m mentoring, they come to me and they say how do I find a job that I love, and and I absolutely want everybody find a job they love, but I’m okay, with deciding to love what I’m doing for a period of time. You know, if it’s gonna get me to a point where, you know, down the road, I can do the job that, you know, helps save babies lives in a hospital, I’m willing to do things that weren’t my first choice for a period of time. And if you’re going to do this, then decide the level I was the only kid in school that like the school lunches. And John, I think it was just I decided I’m going to eat this every day, I might as well decide to like it. And so all the other kids would pass their food to me.

John Corcoran 12:14

And he would talk to my six year old about easier said

Cap Treeger 12:17

than done. But I had a job digging ditches and I decided to love it. And it was the whole time I’m thinking, My friends are paying money to go to the gym and work out, I’m getting paid to do this. And I wasn’t in it forever. But you know, I decided while I’m doing this, I’m going to decide to love it. And you know it, the ditches needed to be dug somebody, you know, they served a purpose. I could buy that. No politics and it, which I liked. So, you know, I think ultimately, absolutely, let’s find our passion, you’ll do it better if you do what you love. But I’m okay with saying I’ll do X for X period of time and decide to love that, you know if it gets me where I’m going. So I hope that makes sense.

John Corcoran 12:55

You know, last weekend, my toddler and I were doing a coffee and donuts stand kind of like a lemonade stand. But it’s cold right now it’s February as we record this, so we did coffee and doughnuts outside of football game. And, you know, it started raining at one point, we unfortunately had an umbrella that we put there. But I said to him, you know, and he was really enthusiastic and enjoying the process. I said, you know, you can always look up from now the rest of your life, you have to say, well, at least I’m not selling cold, you know, selling coffee in the cold in the rain, right? You know, but I love the way that you put it like just appreciating it, just loving it in the short term. And if you’re stuck, like doing the books for your business, or you’re stuck making cold calls for your business, then maybe that’s a way to kind of approach it and say, Okay, I’m gonna love this now. And hopefully six months from now, I won’t have to do it, I can offload it.

Cap Treeger 13:46

And you know, John, putting a time limit on it, but saying I’m willing to do this for x time, you know, helps. It’s always helped me to do things that weren’t necessarily my first choice.

John Corcoran 13:58

Yeah. You’re an advocate of figuring out what you consider success before you launch that business. So again, if we’re talking to someone who’s starting a business or thinking to start a business, how do you guide them in kind of figuring out what success is for them down the line before they’ve even launched the business?

Cap Treeger 14:17

And, John, you know, it’s, it’s interesting, I pay a lot of attention. I think a lot about doing the forensics on success factors and why people make it why they do. And one of the things I noticed is that successful people use the word success a lot. And it’s surprising how many of them could articulate sometimes it’s a number sometimes it’s, but they can articulate what success looks like. It was some specifics. And as you well know, setting specific goals for for success seems to be you know, a factor in getting there. And so, I do think it’s useful, but I will also say that I can’t tell you how often It becomes a moving target. You know, when let’s say your goal was to create X number of jobs have X number of people accumulate X number of dollars. You know, when you get there, a lot of the most successful people I know don’t want to sit around in their underwear and rest on their laurels, they set a new goal. And so I, you know, for me, I so many of us down like you were, we’re never satisfied with anything. And I like being that way. When I get get in the car, I turn on the radio of my favorite songs on, I’m still checking to see if there’s another song I like almost as much that I haven’t heard as recently. That’s just a personality, whatever’s wrong with us is wrong with all of us. But I think I want to always be driven. I always want to set a new goal. And so you know, so yeah, have that specific one. And then when you get there, set the next one.

John Corcoran 15:50

That’s great. You have a trademarked term in the book way. I don’t know how you say it way away. Zhi Wei Wei Jie, tell us about what that is.

Cap Treeger 15:59

So Huawei extends for who are you? And where are you going, and that acronym, although I’ve got a friend, he’s CEO of a multibillion dollar company. And for some reason, he calls it his way away.

John Corcoran 16:09

And we there’s no ens I don’t know it’s a little weird,

Cap Treeger 16:13

but he’s called me three times talking about redo it His way a week. Basically, my best mentor did this exercise with me 25 years ago, and it starts out like Tony Robbins, and a lot of the self help guys where you design your life and 15 years, but he has your work backwards from that if you’re going to be there in 15. And you need to know where you’re going to be in 10. And where you’re gonna be in five, and then in three years in one year, and so it’s a call to action. And then you do your life. Now you work through your your sort of constraints. And you know, what’s anything that can affect your life, and you also work through what you hate to do, what would you like to do? And I like to do sort of a SWOT analysis where you, it’s helpful to me and understand, you know, how do you leverage your strengths, but also to understand what’s going to get you the weaknesses and threats and stuff. And so you do that, but also you measure it against what’s important to you, John, you know, it may be the environment, your family, whatever, I’m not going to tell you what should be important to you. But I think you shouldn’t measure where your life is going against that. And so, I did that exercise originally with my best mentor, in 1997. I found it in 2015. And my life, it turned out almost exactly like what I wrote down. And so I thought maybe this will work. So I started doing it with business leaders, I did it with my YPO forum and a few YPO chapters and other friends. And I’ve become a big fan of that exercise. And one of my friends who’s who’s a psychologist, or psychiatrist, rather, became a hospital administrator, eventually CEO of a big hospital system. And he said, the more you have an articulated vision of where you’re going, the greater the odds are that it will happen. And so, you know, I tried to one of the first things I do with people, when I’m mentoring is that exercise.

John Corcoran 18:02

Hmm. In the book, there is a pivotal meeting that the character ran has with his mentor. And the mentor says, basically, he doesn’t think he will make it. You know, that’s, I have done so many interviews with founders who had some key pivotal moment in their life that might have been 20 3040 years earlier, but they remember it like it was yesterday, and it really drove them. First, I want to ask you, did you have an experience like that, where that you can remember now where someone said, I don’t think you’ll make it?

Cap Treeger 18:39

What happened in the book is what actually happened, I had lunch. I’m three hours ahead of you on the East Coast. And so I just had lunch with the guy that David is based on at the same restaurant where I met him. And it’s funny I had been, you didn’t hate him forever, then, Oh, I love the guy. He’s, he’s been one of my best friends. I owe him so much. If, as you’re reading the book, he was a great friend to me. But his thing, everybody I met because I had been part of a successful startup. And the timing was good. This was in the late 90s. Everybody wanted to be there. And so everybody kept telling me, you’re great, you’re gonna make all this money, you’re gonna succeed. And so this guy had built two big public companies and helped a lot of people. So I went and had lunch with him. And I remember vividly, same as everybody else, I told him what I was going to do. And he said, you’re going to fail. I changed those words in the book because I liked positive constructive words. So I just said, You’re not gonna make it but he said, You’re gonna fail. And he said, The only thing you would be less qualified to do would be maybe if you wanted to be a brain surgeon. And he just started telling me said you don’t understand about business model and product positioning. You don’t even know how to find the right people in line him up. He said, You were lucky with your first business you were you were good at sales and you had good technology or you were the right place at the right time. But that’s not a sustainable, replicable business. And he just laid into me and of course, in hindsight, he was right about all that stuff. But But he said, Well, if you’re gonna do this anyway, I’ll help you. And so fast forward, I found out later his his thing is, and I do this, by the way, if somebody comes to me and says they want to start a business, the first thing I tried to do is try to scare him out of it. Because John, if I can talk you out of it, you probably shouldn’t do it. You know, this, it’s always a roller coaster is challenging, and it takes a fortitude to build a business. And so the first thing he did, and what I tried to do is if I, if I can’t talk you out of it, the My next question is, how can I help you? But you know, it’s, it’s not for everyone. And so that was a sort of a seminal moment to me. He was the first guy and he was always great, he cared enough to tell me what I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear. I think that was useful. So

John Corcoran 20:49

I must be good at saying it. Because I always feel like if I say something like that, that I’m just gonna piss them off, you know, rather than, you know, inspire them to work harder. But it’s, it’s an interesting tool. Really, if you’re mentoring someone to, you know, say to them, you’re gonna fail. Yeah, and

Cap Treeger 21:10

again, I don’t use the word fail, just because I don’t like but yeah, I usually try to scare him out of it, I tell them. But John, you’re, it’s funny that you said what you did just a minute ago. You’re a nice guy. And it’s easy for people to see that you really want them to succeed. And so, you know, I see. John Coren that’s done businesses helped a lot of people. And if you’re trying to kind of scare me out of it, then I hate that you got my attention. And, and, you know, it makes me realize, Wow, I should take a hard look in the mirror, am I really cut out for this? And if I am you, because you know, this persistence, but I think people can understand that you’re really saying it to help. And, you know, at some point, I’ve never had anybody throw anything at me or swear, or get up and walk out. But a lot of them probably, hopefully, hopefully, they did take that hard look in the mirror. And, you know, if they decide to do it anyway, then then how can I help?

John Corcoran 22:03

Can you think of an example of one where you said, I don’t think you’ll make it or or you know, that’s not going to work? Where legitimately you’re like, no amount of mentorship from me will, you know, something, the equivalent of going to build a rocket to Mars type of thing?

Cap Treeger 22:21

Sure, that happens sometimes. And sometimes I’m wrong about it. I have a company that I Angel invested in, I just liked the entrepreneur, and he was going to do it, whether I tried to help him or not, but I made a small investment, I would have invested more if I thought I could help him. But I did. I did think he was very persistent and very smart. I just thought his business was going to be challenging. And he just did a couple of years ago did an uptrend at a 1.3 billion valuation. And then last year $2.3 billion valuation. Wow. And so I, you know, I’m not always right. But I do think if I can talk you out of it, you know, that’s probably, you know, you might want to look at other things.

John Corcoran 22:59

Now, you’ve invested directly in companies, and indirectly as part of larger funds. And I imagine in those indirect investments, maybe you’re less involved, less likely to be a mentor to that person. Does that change your approach? In other words, if you know you’re going to be actively involved in mentoring the person, are you more likely to go with someone where you’re, you’re less convinced that’s going to work than if you’re indirectly investing, and you have less control over helping to guide the the founder?

Cap Treeger 23:32

Another interesting question, John, and yes, I probably, I’ll say this also. So I, again, I do the forensics on the one, the companies that make it and the ones that don’t, and I’ve noticed that the ones I’m more involved in, are much more likely to make it but I don’t know that it’s my help at all. I think the fact that they’re looking for mentors want to listen, want to improve is probably the most important part of it. And so I think, but yeah, if I’ve invested through a fund, and they’re looking for help, but then the help they need is not my expertise, then, you know, I I still, obviously you want everyone to succeed, and a lot, a lot of people have great ideas, but maybe I’m not a marketing and PR person. And you know, maybe, you know, I see it as something that needs to get to critical mass and then exit to somebody that can make a replicable sustainable business. That’s probably not what I’m strongest at. But I’ll still chip in sometimes. And a lot of times, the best thing I can do is bring them to people that have the expertise they need or to the fun that they would invest in. So I’ve had several that worked out more like that.

John Corcoran 24:43

Yeah, yeah. Now you are in the southeast. You talked about it in the book. Now, it’s not a small city, but it’s also not New York City. It’s not Silicon Valley. How do you think where you live? has shaped your approach to investing if at all,

Cap Treeger 25:05

I think it’s significant. And so I’ve invested in, I think, two deals in California, maybe to New York, one in New Jersey, at least one in Texas, and at least one in Florida. But they those are very different environments in Atlanta.

John Corcoran 25:18

Yeah. And sounds like the majority is Atlanta area? Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Cap Treeger 25:23

On the Southeast, and, you know, the the mentality and investment, certainly different. And I think at one point, I would, I would go out to Sand Hill Road, I’m in some funds out there. And everybody was the focus was how big is the opportunity. And, you know, I think here, we still look at a p&l. And we like to, you know, think in terms of earnings and all that I wouldn’t say there’s a right or wrong, but it has caused me to have a little more discipline. And I do like bright people with big opportunities. I mentioned the guy, that he wasn’t a business model guy that now he is but the friend that had the 2.3 billion valuation, but he Morfitt sort of the kind of companies that you were looking at, and Sand Hill Road, and I think he got a lot of his investment on the west coast. But you know, for me, I almost feel like taking that approach. And that’s not a wrong approach, by the way at all. But I feel like you’re counting on luck and timing. And you know, that you get the investment and that you’re able to exit the company, or that, you know, I’ve seen, I’m thinking of one deal that we were in that was about to get a huge investment in January of 2000. Another one that September 11, kind of hit in a couple of things I was in the COVID Kill. And so I don’t like to depend on timing. So I catch myself focusing on business model building companies on customers money rather than investors money. But again, I wouldn’t say that it’s wrong to look at it otherwise. But I even think some of the things that I do focus on if you do them, right. And again, I’m not opposed to raising money, as you see, I’m an investor. But sometimes those things will also enable you when you raise money to be at the right place at the right time a little better.

John Corcoran 27:04

You mentioned 911 And I was talking with someone recently about this and and you know, people of course famously mentioned that like, you know, Facebook was started in a downturn, Microsoft started in a downturn, a lot of big companies that are started during downturns after 911, that happened, do you think that we’ll look back to this period after COVID? And it’s, it’s strange to speculate now, because we’re recording, we’re putting this in February of 2023. The last six months have been rough economically. But um, do you think that we’ll look back at this three year window, four year window, however long it is after COVID? And some some big successful businesses will be built? What do you think the what would the history chapter be like, written about this period in time?

Cap Treeger 27:53

And, of course, as you said, hindsight, is 2020. It’s easy to say, but absolutely. I don’t have become real contrarian. And my best companies started when when things were bad. And we literally in some cases, said, What’s the worst thing nobody would want to do right now? My favorite company started that way in 2008.

John Corcoran 28:11

What’s the worst thing nobody would want to do? Like people don’t want to do?

Cap Treeger 28:15

Yeah. So a couple of comments, one, my best angel investments probably happened that I made in 2003 2009 2012, when nobody else was investing with and even though the one I told you that, that just got the nice valuation, I think I probably chipped in on that one in about 2016 when there was a little bit of a lull in investment, but I do think it forces you know, you’re forced to prove your market, you’re forced to prove your model, and you get better people in a better position. And so I think, absolutely, but I want to say this, we’re about to see an explosion in innovation, I think was at Tom Friedman, that pointed out all the companies that started in 2007. You know, I don’t know, specifically, where but, you know, I look at ai, 3d printing blockchain, life sciences, I just see just an explosion of opportunities that could happen. And I think, in some ways, having a correction in the economy, in the job market, will afford us an opportunity to set up better businesses to take advantage of those things, if that makes sense.

John Corcoran 29:28

Yeah, definitely. We’re almost out of time. Any final thoughts on you know, inspiration behind the book or anything else? We haven’t covered? Any words of wisdom for the aspiring entrepreneur entrepreneurs and and business builders out there? Oh, gosh.

Cap Treeger 29:43

A custom improvement always, always improve persistence. But John, this is just a treat. I’m glad to be here. If anybody’s interested. Please check out the book and our website. We’re trying to create a free and open an environment for entrepreneurs to go and exchange ideas. So right now the website,, is about the book, but I want to evolve it into more of a community, a free and open community for entrepreneurs and emerging leaders.

John Corcoran 30:14

So great with that. Thanks so much for your time.

Cap Treeger 30:17

Thank you very much.

Outro 30:19

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