Mentor Spotlight: David Powell, Principle, DLPIBC, LLC

David Powell has more than 25 years of experience helping telecommunications companies increase revenue share and promote new products. We caught up with David for a quick Q&A.

Q: What gets you excited about working with tech startups and entrepreneurs?

Powell: “Tech startups and entrepreneurs have vision, enthusiasm, energy and the desire to create something unique. However, they sometimes lack the critical ingredient of wisdom. As mentors we have been down the same road earlier in our careers, gaining wisdom along the way. Together with the entrepreneurs, the team has unique qualities that complement each other, with the common goal to succeed.”

Q: What was the one lesson you learned from your entrepreneurial experience?

Powell: “No individual alone can build a success business; it requires a strong team. Setting goals are critical for success; both individual goals (which must be mutually agreed upon), and overarching company goals (targeted to meet customers and stakeholders’ expectations).The key is to stay focused and organized, avoiding distractions. Results are what are noticed, rewarded and appreciated.”

Q: Tell us about your most successful venture. Why do you think it succeeded?

Powell: “I joined Coherent Communications as Managing Director of EMEA, when the company was near bankruptcy. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the resulting lack of a modern telecom infrastructure, provided a huge opportunity for the company. We partnered with large telecom operators and manufacturers who included our telecom products in their solutions. Under my leadership we established partnerships with Alcatel, Nortel, TRT Philips and Nokia. These companies had a significant presence in Europe and Asia, on a scale we could never have achieved with a direct sales force.

Revenue and profitability grew quarter on quarter. Four years later Coherent went through a successful IPO. I was then asked to move to the USA with my family to become President and COO of the worldwide operation. I put the same passion into my new role and in the process, I replaced some of my new management team who did not share my goals.

We established a JV in China and continued to develop our partner base (NEC Japan, Motorola). As a result  we became a large dot on the radar of  our largest competitor, Tellabs, who after 4 years made an offer to acquire our company (10x revenue), an offer that in the interest of our shareholders we could not refuse. I was asked to run the combined division (Coherent and Tellabs) for 2 years, however, I ran it  for 5 years, before moving on to run a new startup.

Coherent Communications Systems succeeded because everyone in the company shared a common passion/goal, which was obvious to our customers. Failure was never a considered option. During my time at Coherent I was blessed for 8 years to have a senior mentor (Charles Root) at the holding company Safeguard Scientifics. He was available to me at any time, never interfered, or micromanaged. His solid advice and my strong faith in God guided me through the many challenges that we faced.”

Q: If you could give just one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Powell: “Don’t only be subjective in your thought process; also be objective. Take time to clearly understand and define your product and your customers, so you don’t fall into the common trap of investing valuable time and resource in assumptions. This is why the DC I-Corp Workshops are such an invaluable resource, with a rigorous market assessment and validation program, and open at no cost to aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Q: Why did you get involved with AccelerateDC?

Powell: “During my 8 years at Coherent, we were one of around 30 companies (public and private) that were part of Safeguard Scientifics (holding company) family of companies. Pete Musser, Safeguards Chairman, held Senior Leadership meetings 3 times a year for 3 days, to share our experiences and challenges with each other. It was both inspirational and fun.

I now realize I took these leadership meetings almost as a given, thinking most companies had access to the same resources. This made me initially ponder what benefits I could bring to start-ups as a mentor. Since I was fortunate to have been surrounded by incredible mentors, I now feel passionately that I have a responsibility to share what I have learned with aspiring entrepreneurs, and honored to be able to do so through AccelerateDC.”

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