Startup Surge Mentor – Tom Panaggio

An entrepreneur for over 30 years, Tom Panaggio has a proven track record of creating and leading businesses to the peak of their field. Starting in 1983, Tom and his siblings founded his first company, Direct Mail Express and developed the company to be on the leading edge of marketing technology.  As a lead up to Startup Surge, Tom spoke to us about his mentoring background and a clue into the insight he provides.

For Tom, his father Mauro, was the first major mentor in his life.  He began mentoring Tom even before his business career, as his youth basketball coach.

“I learned a great deal about business success through basketball and sports, the similarities are extremely aligned. Both require setting goals, preparing a game plan to achieve the goal, executing the plan, securing the proper resources, team building, evaluation of performance and willingness to change.  I saw how he achieved success on the court and I just adapted that to business.”

As effective as having a mentor can be, there are many companies that feel they can steer the ship as they chart their own map. That can lead to disaster in the entrepreneurial field.

“If you think you can overcome the challenges of today’s ultra-competitive marketplace through sheer guile and instinct then you are heading toward failure”, said Tom.  He insists that a mentor can make all the difference, “No matter how many books you read on business success or what level of formal schooling you achieve, there is nothing more valuable than real world experience. Having someone who has lived through all the pitfalls, mistakes, successes, and changes that a startup founder will encounter and then can give real world advice is far more valuable than any MBA curriculum.”

As a mentor Panaggio is often asked what he would have done differently in his career, he gave two answers: Everything and Nothing.

“There is a school of thought that says you can’t learn from success, only failure. Success is validation that the plan you crafted is effective, failure will slap you on the side of the head and get your attention. That’s when you recognize it’s time to change course.”

As an entrepreneur over three decades, Panaggio has honed in on two specific points that he wants to pass on to his mentees. The first, “Get to the money, FAST!” It might sound obvious but this is a pitfall that dooms countless startups.

Startups will spend countless hours trying to create the next great thing when they really need to focus on how do I make as much money as possible. And you can only make money if you are selling.”

The second, “What you do is less important than who you are.” By creating more customer value for your product than your competition, than you will dominate.”

In the end what do you benefit from agreeing to mentor these different companies? “Bottom line is, it’s fun. I get to help individuals who so firmly believe in their mission that they give their all to see it succeed. I get to relive a part of my life that was simple, frustrating, confounding, filled with anxiety, yet extremely satisfying.”