John Fischer | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

John Fischer

Background:  

StickerGiant is a provider of custom product labels and promotional stickers. Based in Longmont, Colorado, the company is 17 years old and has 40 employees.

The Mistake:

I didn’t seek out professional mentor relationships early enough. I tried to learn too much on my own and I did not leverage my network of peers.

Back around 2002, when I was working for Whole Foods, I met a man called Bill Flagg. He was an entrepreneur before I was, and now he’s become something of a prominent figure.

I had gone to art school, and I met Bill just as I was starting to run a business. He taught me key lessons around personalization and customer service. People often forget about those things when they put together a business plan. I know I wasn’t thinking about them; I was trying to sell stickers. But they are so important.

I remember Bill would come over to help me fill orders when I was starting out, and he would make me sign and put a smiley face on every packing slip. It was a personal touch, and that kind of thing means something to people.

When you’re a young entrepreneur, you can get thousands of ideas like that from mentors.

I lost so much time not pursuing relationships like this earlier. We’re all in a race to the finish of some sort. I think relationships like this would have moved me along faster earlier.

Once I figured out the benefits of a good mentor, I became a sponge.

The Lesson:

Once I figured out the benefits of a good mentor, I became a sponge.

Here’s how I think about it now: There are four stages of learning, and the first is unconscious incompetence. That’s like the person standing at the bottom of the ski hill looking up and saying, “Wow, that looks easy.”

A mentor brings you something really important in this first stage. They help pull you into the second stage, which is conscious incompetence. That’s when you are standing at the top of the hill looking down and thinking, “Oh no, I can’t do this.”

In other words, a mentor plays the important role of exposing you to things you don’t even know exist.

The world of business is so rich with knowledge, and people have such varied specialties that just having connections can introduce you to new ideas you can go explore yourself.

StickerGiant is on Twitter at @stickergiant.

Photo courtesy of StickerGiant.

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