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Mentorship: Unleashing entrepreneurial potential

Castore co-founders Phil and Tom Beahon (left) are pictured as The Rangers Store is officially reopened at Ibrox Stadium Tom Beahon and Phil Beahon [Image credit: Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images]

I am delighted to be writing a regular column for Business Leader, a publication I have always admired. I will bring a direct and honest perspective from my experience of building Castore, a British sportswear brand and one of the UK’s fastest-growing companies, and I hope that readers find my insights interesting and even better, actionable. I will focus each column on a particular topic that hopefully is relevant to all entrepreneurs, wherever they are on their journey.

Starting off, I want to talk about mentors and the importance to any founder of having someone they can turn to for advice and guidance. This idea came to me when I was invited to Downing Street to sit alongside our prime minister on a panel discussion about unlocking the potential of UK scale-ups (not my usual Thursday morning activity). Aside from the palpable positive energy in the room from the fifty or so small business leaders, it was crystal clear that none of us had all the answers and having someone to confide in through good times and bad is a potential superpower.

Starting and growing a company is an endeavour of immense difficulty – only the strongest survive let alone thrive and it is imperative you do everything possible to increase your chances of success. It’s often said that leadership is lonely and this is only magnified for entrepreneurs – people expect you to have all the answers, there is no one else to go to for sign-off, and if you’re delivering bad news, there is nowhere to hide. The mental and emotional toll this takes is huge and it is because of this constant pressure that mentoring is so important.

I never proactively sought out a mentor but have been fortunate to have a number of great ones, the two most important being Mohsin and Zuber Issa, the brothers who founded and built EG Group into a multi-billion pound company and, in my opinion, are two of the most talented entrepreneurs of their generation. What started out as an investor/investee relationship has evolved into something far more valuable.

Tom Beahon, Andy Murray and Phil Beahon attend the Castore and Andy Murray Press Conference at The Queen's Club on March 06, 2019 in London, United Kingdom
Tom Beahon, Andy Murray and Phil Beahon (Image credit: Darren Gerrish/WireImage)

I was looking to raise capital for Castore but we weren’t yet ready for private equity so I’d been meeting high net-worth individuals who I hoped would provide more flexibility which we needed. I remember the first meeting like it was yesterday – I drove over to Blackburn where EG is based. We met in a small windowless room and drank water from plastic cups. I told them about Castore, what we had achieved so far and my vision for the future. Their questions were almost exclusively about my brother and I as people rather than anything financial and we then discussed a potential deal. We negotiated for a while and then shook hands. I walked out of the meeting with my head spinning. 

Our relationship then changed into something deeper. In the period between us agreeing a deal and the lawyers finalising the contract, Castore’s trading was weak (not an uncommon occurrence for even the best small businesses) so I called Mohsin to tell him what was happening. Investors often use a situation like this to get a better deal for themselves. Instead, Mohsin told me they weren’t investing in Castore based on current trading but on what we believe we could build it into. When someone shows that level of faith in you, it’s impossible not to want to do everything you can to repay it.

Since then, not many weeks go by where I don’t speak to one or both Mohsin and Zuber – I can be completely open with them when things are difficult and ask them the toughest questions knowing I’ll get a considered response and perspective beyond my own. On a number of occasions, their advice has been a catalyst for change.  Whilst the content of those discussions will remain private, Castore would not be the brand it is without their guidance.

There’s no such thing as a sure thing in business but finding yourself a great mentor may help take you and your business to a new level.

Tom Beahon is the co-founder and chief executive of Castore

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