Ask an Investor: Should I hire an executive coach?

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Welcome to a BetaKit weekly series designed to help startups and entrepreneurs. Each week, investors Roger Chabra and Katherine Hague tackle the tough questions facing founders today. Have a question you would like answered? Tweet them with the #askaninvestor hashtag, or email them here.


This week in #AskAnInvestor we’ll discuss executive coaching. What does it mean to hire an executive coach? How do you find one? And how do you pick the best coach for you?

First off, let’s talk about the role of an executive coach. While executive coaches are used by leaders in companies of all stages, they can be particularly important for leaders of fast-growth startups. When a company is going from one employee to possibly hundreds of employees in just a matter of just a few years, the company’s leaders have to grow too. Executive coaches are not there to tell you what to do or how to run your business.

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Executive coaches are generally hired to help you grow as a leader. They help you set goals and stay accountable. Coaches also lend an objective eye, often helping you reframe situations that can be hard to see clearly from the weeds of running your startup. Many VCs will recommend that their founders hire executive coaches, and some even have coached on staff to work with their founders.

I had an executive coach for two years after selling my company ShopLocket, while transitioning into my role at the acquiring company. I met with my executive coach over the phone once a week for one hour.

If you are hiring an executive coach for yourself, you may want to consider who else in your organization would benefit from an executive coach.

I learned a couple of the lessons I learned from my time with an executive coach. First off, I really came to appreciate the value of having someone to talk to. As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. Often founders have to deal with a lot of challenges on their own; things they know they can’t share with employees, co-founders, or even family. An executive coach becomes the safe place to share what’s on your mind. Simply sharing can bring huge benefits to your mental health, and in turn, huge benefits to the team.

I also found out that what you get out of executive coaching is largely dependant on what you are willing to put into it. If you are committing to weekly meetings, those meetings need to be a priority. In order to get the most out of it, you need to come prepared, and you need to be willing to do the work to implement that which comes out of your meetings.

Not all executive coaches are made equal, and the best executive coaches come at a price. When deciding which executive coach to hire, there are a number of factors to consider:

  • Personality Fit: Is this a person you want to work with on a regular basis? Do you agree with their coaching methodology?
  • Stage/Expertise: Does the coach have experience with companies at your stage? Have they worked with companies in your industry? Do they have experience type of challenges you face as an individual and a company?
  • Trust: Is this someone that you can trust implicitly?
  • Price/Commitment: How much will it cost to work with the coach? What type of time commitment will it require of you? Top executive coaches can cost as much as a full-time employee, for just a few hours a month.

Most executive coaches are hired through referrals. Ask for recommendations from founders you know and from your investors. By getting contacts through referrals, it is more likely that you will find someone with experience in your industry, and someone that you can trust.

If an executive coach has been hired by anyone other than the individual being coached (ie; the coach is being paid for by company’s investors or the company’s board etc), it is particularly important that the individual being coached and the executive coach clearly define what information is confidential, and what might be shared. I know a number of founders who have access to an executive coach through their VCs. These founders tend to be uncomfortable being fully transparent with the coach as there is some worry what they say might get back to the VC. Without full trust, an effective coaching relationship can be very hard to maintain.

If you are hiring an executive coach for yourself, you may want to consider who else in your organization would benefit from an executive coach. Shared coaches can be a great way to elevate your executive team as a whole.

If you can’t afford an executive coach or can’t get access to one through your investors, a great alternative is a forum group. Organizations like Founder City Toronto, ACE Tech and the Entrepreneur’s organization are examples of organizations that run on a forum group model. Forum groups are small peer to peer mentoring groups that meet on a regular basis. I’ve found that forum groups can be a great substitute or supplement to executive coaching.

Got a question for the investors? Email them here.

Photo via Unsplash

Katherine Homuth

Katherine Homuth

Katherine Homuth is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and the founder of Female Funders, an online destination dedicated to inspiring and educating the next generation of female angels. She is the author of O’Reilly’s upcoming book, “Funded: The Entrepreneur’s Guide toRaising Your First Round”. Prior to leading Female Funders, Katherine founded ShopLocket —acquired in 2014 by PCH. Katherine has been named one of the Women to Watch in Wearables, one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and one of Flare’s Sixty Under 30. She has been quoted in the New York Times on fashion tech and was recently interviewed for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Find Katherine online at katherinehague.com.

  • Why a coach for a start up?
    The coach need not be a subject matter expert, but curious and not knowing, and comfortable with that.
    Take the effort & responsibility to identify the right coach. Apart from the background, credentials (ICF, EMCC), experience and continued learning, look for humility, trust, authenticity, vulnerability…

  • Grace Thomas

    Thank you, Katherine, for your insight piece. Great advice for leaders – whether start-up, entrepreneurs, in corporate or ??? While it is true what CV Subash said that the coach does not have to be a subject matter expert, I believe if coaches are fully serving the needs of the leader, it is about the leader being coached and not about the coach. If the leader prefers someone who has had a similar experience then that is fine as long a the temptation is not to stray into mentoring versus coaching. I have been thinking a lot about what unconscious bias can creep into coaching and one of the situations is where the coach is from the industry or position the leader is in.