Glen Hellman is an active member of the Dingman Center Angels investor network and an expert on startups. Mr. Hellman is frequently quoted on corporate governance and entrepreneurship issues in print and broadcast media. In print he’s been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Week, The Washington Post and USA Today. He has been featured on radio programs including NPR Marketplace and Voice of America. Television appearances include NBC and FOX news.
Keep reading for Center Stage with Glen Hellman.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I work with experienced CEOs to improve their businesses. Essentially, I’m a coach and I help them learn from their experiences. We work together in groups, we hold each other accountable, and we try to avoid big mistakes. In addition, I’m an Angel Investor and an advocate for DC regional entrepreneurship, primarily focused on working with startups and small businesses that have a desire for growth.
As someone who provides guidance to entrepreneurs, what are the biggest mistakes they make?
The primary thing that causes a company to go bad is a lack of focus or casual, frequent changes in focus. One of the most common ways entrepreneurs do this is by chasing nonstrategic cash. Being too opportunistic by chasing a deal out of one’s chosen niche distracts from the mission and for a small company to be effective, they need to make a lot of noise in a very small time. You do that by sticking to your chosen niche.
Once you start chasing cash that doesn’t help your core business, then there’s an opportunity cost. And if you have to chase cash outside of your strategic goals, then you need to change your strategic goals because you either don’t have the wherewithal to execute or your strategy is flawed.
What do you think of the DC startup scene right now?
It’s as hot as it’s ever been in terms of numbers. There’s a hot, very healthy startup scene particularly in technology and software. It’s because there is strong momentum in companies that already exist, such as Living Social. There’s also the government scene which brings tech expertise. We’ve got a well-educated workforce and a tech-savvy population. The whole downtown scene for young entrepreneurs is a nice environment for people who want to start a business. DC has the quirky, hipster, SoHo feel. It’s happening in NYC and it’s happening here.
You maintain a blog, http://blog.drivenforward.com/wordpress/. How important are social media outlets for today’s entrepreneurs?
Social media has shifted the power from the marketers and providers of product and service to the consumer. Advertising and marketing are less effective than they were 10 years ago. Reputation is no longer managed by press releases, its managed by being a good corporate actor, delivering good product.
Companies must engage in social media. They must monitor social media to understand what’s happening in their field. Social media is the new source for market research on the market, competitors and the market perception of a company’s products. Companies must monitor conversations, engage in the conversations honestly and transparently and fix product flaws based on feedback. You must build a better product, you can no longer PR your way out of having a crappy solution.
How did you get involved with the Dingman Center and why is it a special place?
For me, the Dingman Center is one of the few places that’s not set up around making somebody rich and famous. It’s about doing good work for the entrepreneurial community. It’s truly the unselfish pursuit of promoting entrepreneurship.
When I decided I wanted to get out of corporate turnarounds, I decided I wanted to create employment and because of that I was naturally attracted to the Dingman Center. I got very active in the Dingman Angels and we have developed a healthy community that funds startups in DC. I think we’re the most active angel group in the city and we do as many deals in DC as the most active venture capital firms.
Glen is a Principal at Driven Forward LLC, a firm that supports entrepreneurs and venture investors by providing strategic guidance, interim executive leadership services, and executive coaching. In addition he is a Chair for Vistage International where he serves as a professional facilitator for CEO advisory boards. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Driven Forward and on the Board of Advisors for the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. He is an active member of the Dingman Center Angels investor network where he is responsible for deal flow, deal selection and coaching corporate executives seeking capital and in his spare time he writes for Tech Cocktail. Mr. Hellman has experience running operations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Australia.