Founder Insights: The Power of an Executive Coach
Five things to know about executive coaching as a startup founder
Recently, Next Coast Ventures discussed the power of an executive coach with Julia Cheek, CEO and Founder of Everly Health, and Mike Smerklo, Next Coast Ventures Co-Founder & Managing Director. This blog post summarizes the discussion and offers best practices for working with an executive coach as a startup founder.
We all know the myriad of challenges start-up executives face – and Julia and Mike have not been exempt from this. Early in her entrepreneurial journey, Julia hired an executive coach and continues to use one today as Everly Health has grown into a multi-brand, multi-billion-dollar business. Mike is a strong believer in executive coaching, as he has used one himself as an entrepreneur and often sees some top entrepreneurs using them. Research from PwC and the Association Resource Center1 concluded that the average ROI for companies investing in executive coaching was seven times the initial investment – a statistic that’s hard to ignore.
There were five key points that came up throughout their discussion, which we will dig into, covering best practices when working with an executive coach as a startup founder.
- Get to know your coach before committing
A diligently thorough process of getting to know each other to discover the best-matched coach for your personality and your professional journey is required when finding an executive coach. Nowadays, there are platforms that help to facilitate finding a coach, but Julia recommends asking fellow founders and board members for their executive coach recommendations.
Meet with your coach a few times to ensure you work well together. Julia recalls that when she first met Christina (name changed for privacy), Christina made it clear that it was important for them to get to know each other first before they committed to a coaching relationship. She wanted to ensure that the relationship would be the right fit for both of them and ultimately bring high value.
- If you’re a solo founder, leveraging an executive coach is even more important
Being a solo founder has a lot of benefits, but it will also leave you facing a lot of struggles alone. Julia recognized this early on and said that she was honest with herself about being a first-time founder and knew she needed support along her journey. Alongside coaching, she needed a sounding board and someone to help provide entrepreneurial guidance (a role that is oftentimes filled by having a co-founder). Julia was lucky to have found her executive coach, Christina, who has been a successful operator in the past and understands the entrepreneurial journey.
The reality is that it can be difficult to be a solo founder. Leveraging an executive coach is a great way to overcome that by gaining the support you are missing from having co-founders.
- Feedback, reflections, and prioritizations
Julia leverages Christina in helping her gather feedback, reflect on it, and implement new strategies going forward. Additionally, on an annual basis, Julia and Christina work together to gather 360-degree feedback from Julia’s executive team and board members. Christina and Julia work together on the feedback to prioritize the three key things that will make the biggest impact to both the business and Julia’s leadership abilities.
Julia shares the feedback and her key initiatives with her leadership team. This fosters a culture that is both receptive to feedback and encourages personal growth, which is one of the things that impressed Mike most about Everly Health early on. Mike has worked with dozens of executives during his time at Next Coast and is a big supporter of 360-degree feedback for every founder and executive.
- You may not have the same coach for each stage of your journey; matching stage to coaching expertise really matters.
There are two important points to keep in mind when evaluating executive coaches. One, your executive coach doesn’t necessarily need a founder background or specific-industry experience, and two, you may not have the same coach throughout your entrepreneurial journey. It’s up to you to decide what characteristics are important to you in a coach and when.
Just like in any relationship, it’s normal that you can outgrow each other. Realizing that this can happen will save you from wasting your time in a dynamic that no longer brings value to you.
- Yes, your executive coaching session is always the best use of your time
Mike and Julia both stress that no matter how busy you are, make time for your executive coaching session. It’s a bit like therapy. When you are deep in the trenches and very stressed, that is when you will benefit most from your coaching sessions. Your coach can help you work your way through and gain perspective. It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but Mike and Julia both expressed their gratitude for having coaching sessions during those moments. Don’t postpone your sessions.
It should be self-explanatory, but it’s a good reminder: you get value from your coaching sessions only if you are willing to put in the work. You need to be in the right mental framework, so recognize that getting into that headspace may be half the battle. Prepare adequately when needed, stay open-minded, and commit. You will see growth.
Note: Coaching should not be seen as a replacement to therapy. There are different resources to support founder mental health.
Speaking with Julia and Mike, you can see their passion for the subject and how big of a role it has played in shaping them as executives throughout their careers. No matter how early or far along you are in your career, hiring a coach can be game changing.
We hope that these best practices have given you perspective for your own executive coaching journey as a founder. Follow us on social media (LinkedIn and Twitter) and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated with our latest content.
ABOUT JULIA CHEEK
Julia Cheek is the Founder and CEO of Everly Health, the digital health company at the forefront of the virtual diagnostics-driven care industry. Julia founded Everlywell, the consumer brand of Everly Health, in 2015 to provide consumers access to affordable at-home lab tests that include insightful, easy-to-understand results. Everly Health and its consumer and enterprise brands have served tens of millions of people and support dozens of major health plans to close gaps in care.
ABOUT MIKE SMERKLO
Mike Smerklo is an experienced entrepreneur, investor and business leader driven by the desire to turn ideas into reality. Having bought and scaled a small business into a publicly traded company worth nearly a billion dollars in value, he has a deep understanding of the hard work, dedication and grit that truly powers successful entrepreneurship. Today, as the co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures, Smerklo is a champion for a new generation of entrepreneurs building disruptive companies in big markets.
1. “Coaching: It’s Not Just for Executives Anymore”, SHRM, April 30 2021. Author: Andrew Deichler. Access: