Tony Clemendor

Founder Coach

Helping good founders become great founders

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Hi, I’m Tony! If you’re here, you’re probably a founder working on building a new venture. Over the past 25+ years I’ve learned how to launch, fund, and scale companies. As a Founder Coach, I’d love to be your competitive advantage.

My Story

 Hi there and thank you for taking a moment to learn more about Founder Coaching. I’m passionate about helping startup founders build, launch, and fund their companies because when I started my first company a long, long time ago, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I didn’t even know where to look for some of the answers. Over the years I’ve learned enough about startups to fill several books.  But books only cover the generic stuff. I’m passionate about helping unique founders facing unique issues. That’s why I’m a Founder Coach.

“Am I the right coach for you?”

Before I tell you how I got here, I want to start by saying that I’m not the coach for everyone. Many coaches are almost entirely there to reflect and concentrate your thinking.  I do some of that, but the founders that I’ve worked with generally want more. They appreciate how I can reflect their thinking and help them gain clarity, but they also appreciate that I can also empathize with the struggles of building a business from scratch and generally offer guidance on creative and practical solutions.  They also appreciate access to my resource and contact network.

That said, I believe in the old adage “Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they’ll never go hungry”. So while I offer more advice and guidance than most coaches, my goal is to give you a framework for growing and developing as a founder. I also work with you to help you develop tools and strategies that you will use well beyond your first startup.

“Am I an Executive Coach or a Business Coach?”

Business coaches primarily focus on the business, helping you improve the strategy and operations to improve business results.  Executive coaches primarily help you as a person to navigate corporate environments successfully. One focuses on the business and the other on the person. With early stage startups, the line between business and person is usually too blurred to work on one without touching on the other.  Hence “Founder Coaching”.

I got started as a Founder right out of business school 25+ years ago

How did I get here?  My journey to Founder Coaching began when I caught “founder fever” myself back in business school.  At the time, my mom was starting a company that made African American Christmas tree ornaments. She made Santas, elves, carollers, and all varieties of Christmas figures. At the time, all of the tree ornaments in the market were White and she felt that it would be great for Black kids to see themselves represented in a positive, happy, and uplifting light.  She struggled to get retail placement but started to get media attention. She got a fair amount of press and interviews. What was interesting was that she was almost never interviewed alone. She was almost always interviewed as one of a group of Black founders that were all creating products for Black consumers, but who had no efficient way to reach their audience at scale.  

I was in business school at the time and was wondering what to do when I graduated. I was in the first class at Harvard Business School that was offered classes in their inaugural “Entrepreneurial Studies” program. I saw the struggle faced by my mother and the founders she was being interviewed with as a clear opportunity.  Create a central place for people to buy high quality items (art, books, educational games and toys, and yes, Christmas ornaments) created by and for African Americans. Then skip the brick and mortar retail with their limited floor space limitations and sell direct to consumers. So at graduation, I launched my first startup, Hidden Heritage.

While I appreciate the education I got at HBS, I will go on record as saying that for me, it wasn’t enough. And this was all B.t.I. (“Before the Internet”).  So getting help with all of the things that I didn’t know was very difficult. I learned a tremendous amount building and selling that company, but I wished often that I didn’t have to learn so much the hard way. In fact, that seemed to be the only way to learn anything, and by “hard” I often mean wasted time, wasted money, wasted opportunities and more.

I went from “Founder” to “Founder Instructor” to “Founder” (again) to “Advisor” to “Investor” to “Coach

After Hidden Heritage, I worked with EECI, an organization in Los Angeles that taught startup fundamentals to two very different groups. I taught business planning and operations to both of these groups.  Through a project with the City of Los Angeles, the organization provided basic founder training for people on welfare to enable them to start small businesses and earn enough to support themselves and their families.  The other group that we worked with was rocket scientists. The Aerospace industry was laying off a lot of smart talented people and hired us to be a component of their outplacement efforts by teaching laid off aerospace workers how to start and run businesses that leveraged their abilities.

After that, I was not just hooked on startups, but I was hooked on helping other people create and succeed at their own companies.  With that in mind, I still had a lot to learn myself. While working for EECI on nights and weekends, I joined a small, fast growing division of Disney, where I had the opportunity to create and staff a new department along with all of the technology we would need to support our new initiative.  It was all of the benefits of leading a startup, but with almost none of the personal risk. But I learned a lot about recruiting, developing a road map, executing on a strategy, and pitching for resources.

Optionetics was my “School of Hard Knocks”

But I needed to get back to the personal risk and within a few years, that small Disney division had grown to over $4Bn in revenues and my job had shifted primarily to managing instead of building (yuck).  As luck would have it, a classmate of mine from business school was looking for a fourth cofounder for a startup that was based in the Silicon Valley. I originally joined as the “Growth Guy”, but after we grew large enough for me to have teams for Business Development, Operations, IT, Customer Service, and Sales, I became the COO.

The company, Optionetics, grew from a scrappy group of us in 1,000 square feet to a $100+ million international enterprise. That’s where I learned a TON more about running and growing startups.  

After selling the company, I left and decided that it was time to go back to helping other founders. In particular, I wanted to help people with talent and energy to optimize their chances for success. I wanted to help them learn from my failures and my successes.  I wanted to help them learn how to navigate when there isn’t a great roadmap to follow. I wanted to help them learn how to deal with the constant pressure and the constant uncertainty.

I spent a few years on the Accelerator circuit as an advisor to startups, but was frustrated by the limitations of the advisor role.  I taught workshops and held office hours, but didn’t like the fleeting nature of those types of engagements. I started working with some startups on a regular basis in what would be the format for my coaching role and found my product/market fit. The founders that I worked with were amazing, and I had the privilege of helping them accelerate their founder learning curve and execute on their plans.

I was asked by one of my advisee founders if I would formally coach him and I haven’t looked back since.  I should have seen this coming. Even before business school I can see in retrospect that I love this type of work. As part of earning my Psychology degree from Tufts University, I interned as a high school.  EECI was my intro to teaching founders. My non profit board activity was with BizWorld, an organization that teaches entrepreneurship to elementary and middle school kids. And even Optionetics was was primarily an education based company.

“My passion is finding ways to help good founders become great founders”

Today, while coaching is my primary business, I stay connected to the startup ecosystem in a number of ways. I am the Silicon Valley Chair for The Founders Network, a peer-to-peer network of tech founders supporting one another.  I am also on the selection committee for a large Northern California Angel group. When I have time, I also still serve on pitch panels, provide office hours for accelerators, and create content and webinars around the things that are important for founders to know.

You might be able to tell from the above that my calendar is rich, and I can only offer one-on-one coaching to a small number of founders at any given time, which is why founders need to apply.  For those that I can’t take on for 1:1 coaching, there may be room in group coaching.

I realize that I’m privileged to be able to do this kind of work. My experience as a startup founder has given me the freedom to do work I love.  If you are talented and energetic, but think that you would benefit from a boost, let’s set up a free call and see what working together might look and feel like.  I’m happy to spend the time helping you see what’s possible. Just apply below. All applicants will get a free session to let us both see if there is a good fit.

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To learn more about my Founder Coaching Programs, click HERE.