Ask the CEO: Would You Pay an Executive Coach?

Daina Trout, CEO and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha, AKA the fastest growing kombucha company in the United States, spends her free (ahem, what?) time mentoring younger entrepreneurs. She says it’s an important part of the process that she didn’t have when starting her company in 2012.

Trout explains that often, after speaking with younger entrepreneurs, she'll “discover that they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. The whole thing about being a successful entrepreneur is that there is some major risk you have to take. That’s the price of the game. Whether it’s a financial or personal risk, whatever it is, you’re taking a risk. I don’t think you’ll meet any successful entrepreneur who didn’t have the moment where they thought, ‘Oh shit, everybody is telling me this is stupid, I’m the only one who thinks this way. I have to quit my job. I have no money.’ Everybody has those stories. So when I talk to the entrepreneurs who are trying to mitigate that risk by keeping their job and their apartments, I tell them, ‘We had to live out of our car, what do you think this is?’” 

Not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. “When they talk to me like that, I say, ‘OK, you’re not ready to start a business. Give up your apartment for four years. You can’t live the life you have from a corporate, steady and sturdy job, and also start a business. That’s the whole point.” 

"You can’t live the life you have from a corporate, steady and sturdy job, and also start a business." 

Tweet this. 

You can however, make an investment in people who can help you. Early on Trout made the decision to pay an executive coach to guide her. She says the first two years felt like, “physical labor against all odds." She also felt incredibly alone. "I never knew what the next step was. I didn’t reach out to anyone because I didn't know who to reach out to.” 

But in 2014, when the company got its first investment, Trout shares that they took $15,000 to invest in leadership. There was an understanding she explains, that “If we expected to build this into a billion dollar brand and have hundreds of employees we were going to have to get way better at managing people. We were complete cowboys. So I said, ‘We can each have 5,000 dollars, do what you want with it, but it has to somehow build your leadership.’ I put together a coaching program and I’m with that coach still to this day and talk to her every two weeks. I don’t think I would be where I am today without her.”

Health-Ade now has 100 employees. “Meeting those 100 employees is a personal milestone. It’s one thing to lead five people, 25 and then 50, but 100 feels different and I’m being forced to tap into a stronger version of myself every year. This year especially.” 

Of her coach, Trout says, “She hasn’t ‘taught’ me anything. That’s the thing. She's kind of like a really good therapist. She’s an independent sounding board. By the time you have investment you usually have a Board of Directors, but you can’t share every little thing with them. Also, I don't know if this is a gender thing, but most women I know have to get to their answer. That requires talking it out. And it’s usually right, but you have to get there. So having a coach is awesome. She knows everything that’s happening. She knows about my board members and who my employees are. We’ve talked every two weeks for three years. In that hour that I spend with her I’ll come out with a strong action plan to avoid problems I see coming.” 

You don't have to pay to play. There are free mentors out there she shares (like at Create & Cultivate Seattle-- tix on sale NOW!). “My experience has been that when you ask somebody for help, they almost always say they have time.” Noting that there has only been one instance when someone said no. “You get on the phone, talk to people, they’ll answer all of your questions. They’ll share models, structure, the mistakes they’ve made, they’re happy to talk about it.”

She’s self-reflective on this point. “I probably didn’t have to go through those first two years alone. I would recommend finding people who you think did it right and would define as successful, email them. It’s not that hard to find anybody. Just write info@company and say, ‘I’m trying to get some time on the books with blank,’  it will almost always find the CEO, unless it’s Oprah. That might be hard.” However she laughs, “I haven’t tried.” 

She explains that she made a pact with herself, that if she ever got past that stage, “the worst one to be in,” she admits, that she would go back and help fledgling entrepreneurs. “I really try to offer myself as a mentor to women in the first two years who need a little push. The people who really have it in them, they really only need a little push.” 

Would you pay a coach? Chime in below.