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E262 | Scaling Founders’ Leadership From Startup to Grown Up with Rachel Turner

Does this sound familiar? As a founder or CEO of a venture-backed startup, you’ve likely been told that you need to work harder and longer hours to scale your business. But despite your relentless efforts, you’re still facing challenges and not seeing the desired results. The pain of pouring your heart and soul into your business, only to be met with roadblocks and frustrations, is all too real. It’s time to break free from this ineffective action and discover the strategies that truly empower you to overcome scaling challenges and maximise your potential for success.

This week on The Melting Pot, we learned from Rachel Turner, a seasoned founder coach with over two decades of immersion in the entrepreneurial realm. An early adopter of executive coaching since the ’90s, Rachel’s journey takes a unique path as she leans into applied psychology to optimise business success. Author of the Founder Survival Guide, she translates years of personal experiences and insights to help fellow founders overcome their own hurdles during the transition from startup to scale-up. Once an entrepreneur herself, Rachel’s understanding of founder psychology is unparalleled, making her coaching approach as engaging as it is enlightening.

Download and listen to learn more.

On today’s podcast: 

  • The crucial role of coaching in founder’s success
  • Understanding the concept of minimally viable CEO
  • Coaching venture-backed company’s founders
  • The warrior, the architect and the monarch
  • The future of technology and coaching

Follow Rachel Turner:

VC Talent Lab


The Founder’s Survival Guide

Insights and Strategies for Founders in the Growth Journey

Rachel Turner founded five companies before her 25th birthday, before retraining in psychology and launching her first coaching practice in 1999. After 20 years spent refining her skills, she co-founded VC Talent Lab in August 2020.

As a ‘Founder Whisperer’ and author of The Founder’s Survival Guide, Rachel’s extensive experience as a transformative coach and consultant helps founders and entrepreneurs to cultivate healthy and thriving businesses. She is trusted globally as a provider of exceptional coaching initiatives for individuals and large organisations.

Rachel’s coaching style draws on her understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset and psychology; her superpower is helping her clients scale themselves and break their own glass ceilings to grow their businesses.

Why do founders hire coaches?

Starting and growing a business can be an arduous process. Founders often face a stark reality of stress and isolation, mainly due to the inherent responsibilities they bear. This implies that they often cannot openly share their stress and challenges with their teams or investors to maintain a strong leadership front. This tricky situation is where a professional coach provides immense value. A coach presents a safe and judgment-free arena for founders to share their frustrations, brainstorm solutions, and gain insights from an experienced perspective. 

“I don’t think anyone needs coaching. I think people choose to have coaching because they want to ace their game and because they want to be the best they can be. So I don’t think anyone needs a coach, I think founders choose to have them. So then why do a lot of founders hire coaches? First of all, because starting a business, scaling it, and being who your business needs you to be throughout that journey is incredibly stressful and very isolating. And having someone that you can talk through the challenges that you’re facing and bounce ideas around, who understands that journey can be incredibly beneficial.”

VC Talent Lab specialises in venture-backed founders because they’re on a very specific journey. If you’ve gone to a VC fund and you’ve raised 20,30, 40, 50 million to scale your business, you’re about to go on the sharpest growth trajectory you can imagine, she explains. And you’re going to move from being a wild-eyed warrior entrepreneur into becoming a CEO in record time. The interesting thing is, she adds that four or five years ago the majority of venture-backed founders didn’t hire coaches. 

“We started to see coaching become more and more popular in Silicon Valley about ten years ago. And then, as with so many things, the UK has sort of slowly caught up with that journey. And increasingly the VC firms that are referring partners, do a lot of work to support their founders, and they’re all routinely not all of them, that’s an exaggeration. But an awful lot of them are recommending coaching for every founder that they invest in. So I think the numbers are going up.”

Rachel has been doing this since the late 90s. She now knows that her pipeline will always be full three to six months in advance. And that doesn’t change, she says. At VC Talent Lab, all of the recommendations and referrals come from the VCs they work with. Founders hire them because it’s really important that the founders opt in. They have strong relationships with five or six different VC and PE firms, and they know how many founders they’re going to be investing in over the next twelve months. That means they can practically predict the number of introductions they’ll get, and how many of those that are likely to convert. So the pipeline is never a consideration for them. 

“I learned coaching from a guy called Thomas Leonard, who was the sort of founder of the personal coaching movement in the 1990s. He was really clear that it’s attraction, not promotion. And that if you master your craft and you add extraordinary value, you don’t ever have to worry about the pipeline. If you’re really good at what you do and you add extraordinary value, and you are solving a real-life problem for people, you don’t have to worry about pipeline. Worry about being really good at what you do, adding real value and solving a real problem.”

VC Talent Lab growth journey

If you look at the trajectory of most executive coaches, what happens is they train, work for two years, and then get into the corporate world because that’s where the easy opportunities and the big paychecks are. However, given Rachel’s background as an entrepreneur, her pathway was different. She explains that most of the coaches in her cohort that trained in the 90s, have spent 80% to 90% of the last 20 years in corporate environments. She has spent that same time with founders and self-employed people. 

She was a recovered warrior, and her business partner, a recovered monarch. She helps warriors become more architects, and he helps architects become more monarchs. So they met different parts of the journey and were really fascinated by the venture space. They were worried with the pivotal piece of research by CB Insights – which did a decent-sized post-mortem of  VC-backed failures–. They found that of the top 20 reasons for VC-backed companies, one in four was a failure of leadership which were completely preventable ( leadership team not gelling, relationships between the leadership team and investors not being good burnout, not attracting, retaining and eliciting high performance from talent, loss of focus). 

“We work with clients all the time on that. So the fact that 25% of the reasons for failure are preventable was just horrific to us. So we looked at how much work was being done on leadership development in the VC space, and it was negligible. VCs are spending a lot of time and energy on go-to-market strategy, Ops, systems, and products, but they weren’t providing an awful lot of support for leadership. So we started going to market with the idea, we built the brand, and over the last two, three years, it’s just grown exponentially.”

The minimally viable CEO

Rachel comes from a long line of entrepreneurial founders who’ve never been very good at scaling. Her dad, for example, took his company from his back room to IPO and then was immediately kicked out because he couldn’t play the CEO game. So, this has always been a strong passion for Rachel. She loves founders and believes they are incredible. And if they know a couple of things, they can choose how they land. 

“And what I mean by that is, do you want to stay in IPO? Do you want to build a business and have it be a lifestyle? Do you want to build it and sell it? Do you want to build it, hand it over, become a chairman, and have someone else be the CEO? There are so many options for a founder, but so many of them, if you look at the numbers, only one in four businesses will retain their founder as CEO. And I don’t know the actual numbers for how many of those people who are no longer enrolled, how many of them have been removed. But I would say it’s a lot higher than you’d want it to be.”

However, Rachel adds that the research suggests that maintaining your founder as CEO has a lot of advantages for performance and culture. If you can get them to perform like a CEO or do minimally viable CEO.

This concept means that a founder should not only leverage their strengths but also evolve their leadership style in line with the changing dynamics of their business. Adopting such an approach is not about just settling for mediocrity. It entails acknowledging one’s strengths and delegating tasks that do not align with the founders’ skill sets while focusing on areas where they can make the most significant impact. 

“I’m not suggesting that you should do a bad job as a CEO. I’m not suggesting that you should just put in 10% effort and then let the rest go away. But there’s a big debate. Do you play to your strengths as a founder and then get someone else to do all the bits that you don’t like? Or do you evolve your leadership style? And I think that’s a binary argument and it’s too simple. I think it’s both.”

By embracing this model of leadership, entrepreneurs can ensure their businesses thrive and open up more options for their entrepreneurial journey. Whether it is maintaining their positions until an initial public offering, building a lifestyle business, selling the venture, or moving into a chairman role, this enhanced flexibility can undoubtedly foster business growth and sustainability.

The role of the coach for founders

When you’re coaching a seasoned entrepreneur who has already been through the scale-up process, it’s a different job, says Rachel. But there aren’t that many of them. She argues that one in ten venture-backed companies will get returns, and of those, one in four will retain their founder and CEO at IPO. So the proportion of founders that have gone through that journey successfully is very small. 

“So when you work with one of those, they have more awareness of how the business is going to require them to show up with different energy, different focus, different ways of communicating and leading first-time founders. It’s a tougher journey to get them there, but we do it if they want us to. If they don’t want us to, I’m not the boss of anyone.”

Knowledge doesn’t transform people, says Rachel. Commitment, engagement, and accountability are the things that transform an individual. Great coaches will help a founder not just have self-awareness but also get a sense of how much energy they’re willing to put into this journey. 

“Our job is really I always say to people, if you’ve just raised your first 20 million and you think you’re going to be the next Elon Musk, you’re all piss and vinegar, and success and adrenaline and the sky’s the limit. Don’t hire us. Wait till you’re in pain.”

For Rachel, there’s a difference between being a mentor and being a coach. She doesn’t convince people who don’t want to change to do so. She coaches people who are feeling the pain and helps them get out of it. 

“So I don’t try and convince people who aren’t interested in the value of coaching at the point at which it gets really uncomfortable. We’re one of the options. The other options are alcohol and resigning.”

The Warrior, the Architect and the Monarch

In her book, The Founder’s Survival Guide, Rachel shows founders how to adapt their leadership style and shift from brave warrior, to considered architect, to wise monarch as their business grows.

Rachel argues that archetypes have been a ubiquitous part of leadership development for the last forty years, and probably longer than that. Any psychometric you look at is based on Jungian archetypes, she adds.

“The architect is not an archetype. There is no universal archetype. A warrior is a warrior, whether you’re in a Papua New tribe or on the field of Flanders, and so is a monarch. A monarch is a monarch, whether you’re in a Viking tribe or Monte Carlo. So those are ubiquitous, ever-present. All I’ve really done is given a name to operational leadership.” 

She’s standing on the shoulders of giants and reframing it in language that she knows founders understand and can cleave to. They get that they’re warriors. They get they want to be monarchs. They don’t want to do the architect, but they’ve got to do it in order to become a monarch. And they get that scale-up is going to require them to be an architect. They get that what they’re designing is an engine to scale and that you can’t do that as a warrior, and you can’t do that as a monarch. You’ve got to engineer it. “All I’ve really done is taken traditional Jungian archetypes and then reframed it for founders”, she adds.

But, can you be a founder and not be a warrior?

Rachel says yes, but their journey into it is slightly different. At the moment, she is coaching two great founders who are architects. But they came to be founders in different ways. So the first had a business with her husband, and when they divorced, she bought the going concern from him, and now she’s done a spectacular job of growing it. “Would she have founded a business on her own in the first place? Who knows? But she didn’t have the warrior energy, so it made the scale-up journey. She’s just such a beautiful, beautiful architect. She’s wonderful.”

The second is somebody who had come from being in a large corporate and had gone from that to be a GP in a very specific niche fund and then was exited from that and borrowed Rachel’s warrior energy for a year. Then he very quickly went and found another warrior. So, he surrounded himself with warrior energy just to get the thing off the ground, and then he’s architected the last six years, and it’s a brilliant business. 

The Future Role of Technology in Coaching 

The ever-evolving role of technology in coaching and leadership development is a profound takeaway from the conversation with Rachel. While impressive strides in technology like AI can provide useful tools for the coaching industry, they’re unable to entirely replicate the interpersonal and energetic transfer that lies at the heart of effective coaching. 

As Rachel points out, coaching fundamentally depends on the relational component between the coach and coachee, an aspect that technology is yet to fully align with. Despite the advances in coaching platforms, the human element remains indispensable. She sheds light on the silver lining technology presents, even while acknowledging its limitations. Interestingly, she appreciates technology’s capacity to support and streamline coaching practices, though we’re still in the nascent stages of its constructive exploitation. While she doesn’t envisage technology replacing human coaches entirely, she sees a future where it could supplement and refine coaching practices. 

“I think AI is an interesting add-on. I was researching something yesterday, and I asked Chat GPT, but I think so much coaching, as with leadership, is about the exchange of energy. And I don’t think you can AI that. I might be wrong, but I don’t think you can. So I think it’s relational, it’s energetic. There’s space for technologies to do a better job in coaching. I just haven’t cracked it yet. But then I’m not massively tech curious, I’m human-curious. So I let other people think about the future of AI and coaching.” 

Book recommendations 

The Advantage


The Daily Stoic

How to make friends and influence people

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