January is National Mentoring Month and today we are going to highlight one of our mentors from our RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP), Tom Collopy, CEO and Co-founder of

Learn more about why he spends his time mentoring and the benefits you can receive from working with a mentor while you build your business.

Why did you decide to be a mentor for RAP, and what are your goals for your relationships with startups?

After I sold a company in 2015, I decided I wanted to help entrepreneurs ‘not make mistakes of inexperience’.  I’ve spent the last 8 years helping entrepreneurs through advising, volunteering at accelerators and teaching entrepreneurship. Along the way I have volunteered at six different accelerators with RIoT being one of the five I’m active in today.

My goals have evolved as I’ve learned more about founders and how they think.  Today, I’m focused on helping them better understand the mindset successful founders have around understanding their customers from their customer’s perspective.

How and where do you find inspiration?

I’ve been lucky in my career to have found great people to work with and learn from.  My success has been boosted by their willingness to help me.  I want to do the same for others.

Which leadership skills were the most difficult for you to develop?

The biggest challenge I had was understanding the emotional and social needs of the teams I’ve managed.  I got great coaching from a person who managed human resources at two of the startups I was a part of.  He taught me a lot and guided me.

If you could give an entrepreneur any advice while starting a business what would it be?

I would recommend 3 things to every entrepreneur:

  1. Find successful founder CEOs who are honest about the challenges they faced and are willing to help mentor you through yours
  2. Take the approach of being intellectually honest in trying to prove your idea won’t work
  3. Make learning all you can about your customers, by talking to them one-on-one in an unbiased way, as your top priority.  Do this throughout the life of your business.

If you have experienced people share the mistakes they made you are less likely to make the same mistakes.  If you are intellectually honest you will make better decisions. If you try and prove why people wouldn’t buy your product idea and can’t you are way ahead of the 95% of startups that fail. If you put learning from your customers as job #1 you will minimize the chances you will build a product nobody ends up buying.

What habits have you found to help you to be more productive?

For me to be productive I need to prioritize what is really the most important thing to do today and focus on doing that well.  There are many things as an entrepreneur that can distract you.  A lot of founders spend a lot of their time on things that really aren’t as important as they think.  That takes time away from the most important tasks.

The other thing I do to be more productive is to ask other people for help when I’m not the expert on a topic.  Getting advice from experts on how they did something feels like it takes longer but you end up doing things right the first time.

What are the benefits of being a mentor?

One benefit is feeling good about helping people.  You also get to know a lot of interesting people and learn about a lot of different businesses and products.  I’m wired to enjoy solving complicated problems. How to build a scalable, financially viable business is a very complicated problem. Working with a lot of startups gives me access to those problems.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One of the things I didn’t appreciate or understand when I started mentoring was how much a founder’s mindset plays into their success.

 Some founders start a company because they love the idea of building their vision of a product.  Other founders take the approach of searching for the best problem to solve first and then building the product that best solves the problem.

The second approach has been far more successful in my experience.  The best method I’ve seen is to (1) prove the problem motivates customers to want something different (2) prove there is a large market of those customers that will take action when presented with the opportunity to satisfy that desire for something different and (3) prove that the product the founder envisions building will create enough satisfaction that those customers are likely to buy it.

It’s the mindset of proving what you believe before building that sets apart the best from the rest.

Have you considered becoming a mentor? If you are interested in mentoring startups through RAP (RIoT Accelerator Program) contact Rachael Newberry- rachael@riot.org