Mentors’ Monday: Michael Addison
Hi! I’m Rhea the new social media/PR intern for Four Athens. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Addison for our first Mentors’ Monday. Read on to learn how his experience starting two companies makes him a great mentor for new founders.
RC: What field do you work in?
MA: I have two companies, and they are both IT training companies headquartered out of Alpharetta, GA. One is called ExecuTrain, and the other one is called Next Step Learning. I started ExecuTrain in 1984 with three other partners, and we grew that through franchising around the world. We sold that in 1996 and started Next Step Learning in 1998. In 2002 I bought ExecuTrain back. After seven years I was able to turn it around to be profitable again. It’s much smaller now, but it’s growing. ExecuTrain does desktop application training like Microsoft Office as well as certification training for products like Microsoft, Cisco, and VMWare for the general corporate marketplace. Next Step Learning provides very high-end technical training on new products that come from technology manufacturers. When a new product comes out we train their reseller channel on how to sell it, how to install it, how to configure it, and how to fix it.
RC: What do you enjoy most about your field?
MA: It constantly changes, so there is a constant state of change to stay up with your customers.
RC: How did you get into your business?
MA: When my friends and I started the company we wanted some extra weekend cash. I worked at Southern Company and did IT support for an accounting and tax planning department. We started ExecuTrain as a side-job for about 3 months before I quit my main job and the company took off pretty fast.
RC: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from your experience?
MA: Persistence. Never Give up. If I believed what other people told me, I would have been out of business at least a dozen times.
RC: How do you think starting founders could benefit from your experience?
MA: I enjoy international business. My companies are global. If someone has a business that is scalable and want to go national or global, then I have a lot of experience scaling businesses. I have bought and sold companies a number of times so I have M and A experience. Having run two fairly large companies I have a lot of experience in what it to takes to build the infrastructure behind the scenes and move beyond the “Aha! moment.” I specialize in the junk that goes with the good idea. When I bought back ExecuTrain it was losing about a million dollars a month, so we had to turn it around. Turn-around strategy is something I have a lot of experience with unfortunately. Though all of the companies here are start-ups, I do understand how to squeeze a lot out of a single dollar from operating that business with very little cash which is important in startup mode as well.
RC: What is the first piece of advice you would give someone founding their own company?
MA: You have to really love the idea you have, and you have to really love the work you would do if that were to become successful because you would be doing nothing but that. You can’t be doing a business half-time.
RC: Have you mentored people in the Four Athens space?
MA: Just barely started. My first meeting was about a month ago. I made an introduction for one of the companies I met last month, and they are well on their way toward striking a distribution deal with that new partner.
RC: What interested you in becoming a mentor?
MA: I’ve been involved in two different incubator startups in the past, and I really enjoyed helping people start to achieve their goals. I hope to see them achieving success and benefitting from mistakes I’ve made in the past. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and if someone else can learn from them, why not. I also love the exposure I get to all of these different business ideas that I don’t have a background in.
RC: What is the most important part of a mentor’s role?
MA: It is very important to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re mentoring. You have to understand their perspective. Although I may have quite a bit of experience with business, they can’t see that. Their perspective is always going to be different. I have to put myself back in the shoes of the experience that I had when I was in my early 20s starting ExecuTrain. There are a lot of things people suggested that used to irritate me back then. When I look back on the advice people gave me, a lot of it wasn’t so bad after all. I have to remember that youth and impatience don’t always want to hear someone’s advice.
RC: What makes for a good mentee?
MA: Having an open-mind and the willingness to learn. If someone really wants to succeed in business and is willing to put forth the effort, that makes for an ideal mentee. I’m not here to sell them anything. I’m here to give some free advice and some free guidance, and hopefully it will provide value. If they’re open to that, then that’s great. I want nothing more than to see them succeed.
RC: How do you think we could encourage more mentors like you to visit the space?
MA: I don’t know how many companies you have or how many you need to have, but you don’t want to overwhelm your member companies with too many “experts” giving them advice. I think slow word-of-mouth is a good way to grow the mentor pool.