Orbica’s Kurt Janssen shares the three mentors who’ve helped shape Orbica.

Read here for what Kurt's learned from his mentors!

Getting the right advice
Orbica has been a wild ride.
Eighteen months, 20 staff, expanding into international markets – that's head-spinning stuff if I actually had time to stop and contemplate it.

Sometimes it's unreal to think that I'm the one at the wheel keeping this whole thing on track. The truth is that I couldn't do it without a good navigator in the front seat pointing out what's coming and how to adjust course to come out of the corners winning.

That's what mentorship is.
Mentors, like navigators, are almost always the unsung heroes. But I can't overstate how important mentorship has been to Orbica's success. What I do know is that it put the right mindset in me to think about growth and scale from early on. You know, you see a lot in the start-up culture that are "solopreneurs" - a forever start-up. Four years in and it's still them and a co-founder, or a couple at the most. And it's hard to break through that mindset. It's hard to hire the first person, to sign the first lease. But I guess that reassurance and instilling the right attitude in me early on meant that I went for it. I just trusted in the advice and examples I was getting from my mentors and I backed myself and my fellow Orbicans.


A good fit
That said, you can get too much advice.

There are lots of people in the wider network that I talk to and there are a lot out there with different sets of experience, but you could spend all your time talking to potential advisers, get overwhelmed and actually never get anything done. It will slow you down. I mean, there's a lot of cool people out there but as a business, you can't operate with all of them at once.

So, it's a matter of finding out who resounds with you and at the right time.

It's important to have a connection because it's person-to-person and there's a high level of trust involved. Some of the stuff you are sharing is "warts and all" so you need to be able to have that real open and honest dialogue.

There are three mentors who stand out that have helped me navigate Orbica to where it is today. Here's what I've learned from them:

The business strategist
Leigh Paulden was there from the very early days of Orbica, when it was just a couple of us kicking around in a shared office space in BizDojo. He focuses very much on business design, strategic thinking, business expansion and setting yourself up for growth. He's ultimately the reason why we hired roles like a chief operations operator and a communications manager early on – the sorts of roles that new organisations don't employ or get into much later.

That meant we were focused to grow from the start.
What I've learned from Leigh is to be bold. Seriously. Be bold and commit to building the right team early on so that you're not fixing things later. It's meant that we've been able to scale quickly and operate with a lot of maturity for a business of our age. We've got good systems, good processes, good people.

The sale guru
When it comes to sales, Paul Claridge has really helped Orbica stay the course. He's helped us to build a sales culture, a sales pipeline and a sales strategy. That's been so important for us, especially when it comes to working with large-scale enterprises and complex sales with lots of moving parts.


What that's done, really, is put some structure around what we do and made us realise that sales are so much more than just having a chat. It's about how to scale and bring in a repeatable process, how to build structures to determine when to say no without burning bridges. How to build lasting relationships. How to pick winners and not be distracted by the shiny toys or big cool opportunity that can easily see you sink in $10k before you've even qualified it. Is it even a "real" opportunity?

The entrepreneur
Lots of companies are co-founded and the founders can talk to each about what's going on. As a solo founder – even with an amazing team – it's harder. That's why John Holt has been great.

BNZ Supersize SME teed up John as my mentor throughout the programme and we've gotten on famously. We did the whole amazing trip to San Francisco together and that's really helped to solidify things I'm thinking about for expansion: what we're doing, what the opportunities are and wider markets.

But more than that, what's been immensely valuable is that John's been a good sounding board. Just bashing ideas around with someone who has been there, done that, learnt lots and has the wisdom to say, "don't fall into that trap," has been awesome.

John is like-minded in that he thinks big. Plus, he knows heaps about operating overseas. He's helped me think about pitching Orbica from an investment perspective and what the options are. Do we need investment, what would the right investment structure be, who would the right investors be and would they be Kiwi, Aussie, American or otherwise?

In the end, the big decisions still fall to me and I have to choose how to steer Orbica. But it's great to know that those decisions aren't based solely on gut feel, but on the wisdom, knowledge and experience of mentors who have Orbica's best interests at heart.