The Single Greatest Key to Founder Success: Surround Yourself With Fantastic People

Written by Tom Fairey

14 March, 2022

Consultant and Coach John Stamler Discusses Challenging Yourself, Picking the Right Investor, and Open Heart Surgery

John Stamler is a fundraising specialist, distressed debt investor, angel investor, and rare disease survivor.


A graduate of Brown University in Rhode Island, he’s been in the U.K. for nearly two decades, and has served high-level roles in a long list of amazing companies, including Citi, BlackRock, ShieldPay, Plenacare, Crowdz, and Attest, among others. He is currently a mentor in residence at Techstars and a mentor to the Barclays Accelerator program in London. He’s also the head of Stamler Advisory, a freelance confidence builder and trusted partner providing advice and support to CEOs, entrepreneurs, and senior management teams across the globe.

That’s a key position, since it gives him clear visibility into what it takes to succeed as a startup and progress as a company. He acts as an authentic sounding board, talks leaders through their most pressing situations, helps them determine their desired outcomes, and assists in the development of a strategy and action plan to move forward successfully.

Stamler’s early success was with distressed companies, where he found solutions to preserve brands, including some major names. But as a rare disease survivor who had open heart surgery a decade ago, he started a nonprofit support group, and that gave him the entrepreneur bug as well as exposure to other founders.

“I’m very lucky and have been through a lot of things,” he told me for a recent episode of my podcast, Back Yourself.

In December of 2009, doctors found a hole in his heart.

“I had no idea,” he said. “I had recently run marathons. I was a ticking time bomb.”

But that’s not all. He also has a blood disorder and a rare skin condition, putting him in a highly limited group of patients.

He had the surgery, was in the gym a month later, and ran a marathon some five months after that. This led to his involvement with Ben’s Friends, a 501(c)3 non-profit that creates online patient-to-patient support communities for those affected by rare diseases, and helped give rise to his exposure to a wide variety of people who have made huge impacts in the business world.

What Makes Some People Stand Out as Successful Entrepreneurs?

There are a handful of common factors that successful entrepreneurs possess, Stamler said:

  • They have boundless energy
  • They have a “can’t be killed” toughness
  • They are not just great business people but also all around great humans
  • They are always challenging themselves and their beliefs

Challenging yourself is key, Stamler said, especially in the world of startups. Those who are able to forge ahead constantly reassess their positions, always challenge their own assumptions, and accept that change is a product of growth and normal business. No company stays the same year in and year out, he said. Successful entrepreneurs constantly reevaluate their mission and what they want to get out of their business.

“You have to be open to change and open to making slight differences and tweaks,” he said. That could include changing your team, because as your business pivots, your team’s makeup may not be positioned to adapt to that pivot. Some people are well-suited to some roles but less so to others.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth,” he said.

Not Sure How to Proceed? Surround Yourself With High-Quality People

It’s inevitable that as an entrepreneur or founder, you will be presented with situations that you cannot solve. That is part of the soul-searching process that a mentor can help with.

A trap is thinking that you do not want to be vulnerable, but as Stamler said, “Vulnerability is good.”

Don’t stress that you don’t know how to handle a particular part of the business. There’s an easy solution: Get someone who does.

“Putting the best people around you makes you look smarter,” Stamler said. “You look like a rock star.”

Leading CEOs, of course, realize that they don’t have to tread on people to get ahead. Instead, you get the right people beneath you who lift you up — you and the entire venture, of course. The best CEOs are the collectors of exceptional people.

Tips for Picking an Investor

How do you know who will be a good investor for your startup? How would a person know if this is the right money to take?

“It’s a balance between micromanaging and how to just get supportive advice, connect you, and open doors,” he said. “Just challenging them in a good way, in a supportive way.”

Naturally,  he said, you also want an investor who is working on the same time frame as you, and who responds to phone calls and emails.

The Takeaway

John Stamler dealt with open heart surgery, a rare blood disorder, and a rare skin condition all while leading or advising top companies and serving as a mentor to CEOs. The recipe for success, he said, is making sure you surround yourself with noteworthy people — people who will challenge you, support you, and help solve the problems you can’t.

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