Entrepreneurs' Organization

Entrepreneurs' Organization - For the man on a company payroll, the expression “It’s lonely at the top” evokes an image of a sad, solitary billionaire (and usually not much sympathy). For the man who is a self-employed entrepreneur, the phrase speaks to a simple reality of working life: When you sit at the top of the hierarchy, there’s no one to look up to, to seek advice from, to get criticism and feedback from. When you’re at the top, you make important decisions in a vacuum. And that can be very bad for business.

So where does the young entrepreneur turn to for professional guidance? There’s no better resource than those who have shared in and learned from similar experiences: other young entrepreneurs. Herein lie the origins of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, an invitation-only global network of self-made professionals. "EO" members meet regularly, through local chapters, to talk shop and provide each other with the support that the boss normally would.

AskMen sat down with Stephan Pinheiro of EO’s Montreal chapter to discuss how the organization works. The first topic was EO's newest offering: the Member Exchange service.
Entrepreneurs' Organization

What are the services that EO offers its members?

A service that we just introduced is the Member Exchange, which is our peer referral service. It's not just any peer referral service, as it has been optimized specifically for independent professionals... think of a finely-tuned Facebook for entrepreneurs!

The Member Exchange service is very interesting. You call the service up or write an e-mail where you present the question that you’re looking to have answered. Then that question is broadcast to all those people who may be equipped to provide the answer. We determine who these people are based on their fields of interest or knowledge, which they would have communicated with us when they first joined EO.

I saw the value of the Member Exchange firsthand when I had a business opportunity that was in a completely different field than the one I work in. I wrote in to the service and received three replies: one from Europe and two from the U.S. In response to my question, two of the responses were a resounding “No,” and the third was “Yes, proceed, but only under these conditions.”

The advice I was seeking was regarding an idea to launch a second business. Today I am very glad that I requested this advice and then took it.

The value of the Member Exchange isn’t restricted to professional situations. I have heard stories of people with medical issues in their family that were able to access world-class doctors and treatment through the system -- access that they wouldn't have normally had. In this sense, the Member Exchange is a very natural addition to our organization, in that it brings together the personal and the professional.

Most guys strive to keep their personal and professional lives separate. At EO, just the opposite is encouraged.

This is one of the main reasons that EO is so successful. Beyond offering the value of peer sharing, support and networking, the organization helps entrepreneurs find a way to blend and balance their personal and professional lives. Indeed, the most successful entrepreneurs often let their personality and values permeate their businesses.

And this blending of the professional with the personal is built into the group discussion format...

Yes. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is broken down into regional chapters, and each chapter is broken down into forums. The forums are usually made up of between 6 to 10 people, and your forum becomes, like… well, you could even call it your corporate family. These are the people that you share anything and everything with. And everything you share with them is extremely confidential. This is important, because I believe the context of these discussions needs to make people feel comfortable. It has to be comfortable because in these discussions you don’t give advice, but you share your own experiences.

Where did the idea come from to shape the discussions this way?

Within the Entrepreneurs’ Organization there is something of an “urban myth” origin story about how the forum structure got started. The story is that a group of four entrepreneurs would meet regularly for dinners. At these dinners they would talk shop, and each of them would pick up their own tab. One night, at the conclusion of one of these dinners, one of the four entrepreneurs insisted on paying for the other three. They protested, but he was insistent, and he won out.

The next day they discovered why he had been so determined to pay: it was as a last gesture to them before killing himself later that night. He left a suicide note behind, explaining that the pressures of his business had driven him to do so. The other three suddenly saw all those previous dinners in a new light: as missed opportunities to relate their experiences about managing the lifestyles that they all shared. So the idea of creating a forum like EO emerged from this experience; a forum where entrepreneurs could turn to each other for advice and guidance based on personal experience.

If I go to any business meetings outside of EO, it will be formal. We’ll only talk business and you won’t be able to engage. In our forum you’ll be able to discuss any topic. There’s the opportunity to be able to talk and share with people in a way that you normally wouldn’t have access to.

Have you had new members that weren’t comfortable with this discussion format?

Because this is a core value in the organization, by the time people join they are usually aware of it. We don’t advertise EO in the newspaper; membership is by invitation only or by referral. And we lay the groundwork before officially signing someone up: how we operate and EO’s general values. People who aren’t comfortable will not go through the process.

What value does this kind of personal sharing brings to EO members?

You know the expression, “It’s lonely at the top”? When you have an enterprise and you have 50 employees, there’s an evaluation and feedback process that applies to the whole HR pyramid… except you. There’s nobody above you who can give you advice or guidance. The sharing among EO members provides this advice and guidance.

Another value that EO brings is simply common understanding. When entrepreneurs talk, they tend to talk business -- even when they are engaging on a personal level. When they do so with others that are not entrepreneurs, there’s a lack of understanding, and sometimes even a negative reaction. For example, entrepreneurs tend to travel a lot for their businesses. Talk about it to a non-entrepreneur and it may be misinterpreted as boasting. But it’s just the reality of the lifestyle.

There’s also value in just listening to others. Understanding any challenges or successes that my colleagues are facing is an enrichment for myself. In listening to them, I may discover something that I will be applying in my own business the next week.

Can you give us an example of a way that EO has changed the way you think about your business?

Thanks to EO, a very dramatic idea occurred to me about a year ago. That idea is that if I have a business opportunity, the question is not how am I going to do it, but rather if I want to do it. Before knowing these people and knowing that I could call on them, I didn’t have that confidence. Now I can really focus on the value of what I’m considering, knowing that the execution is no longer a challenge. Because now I have the resources.

For someone who reads this interview, how would they go about joining the organization?

In order to join EO you need to meet our qualifications. Members have to be under 50 years of age, and be the founder, cofounder, owner, or controlling shareholder of a company that grosses more than $1 million (USD) annually. Venture-backed companies must have privately raised funds of $2 million or publicly raised funds of $5 million, as well as at least 10 full-time employees. ( askman.com )

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