Welcome to Meet Our Mentors, a monthly series dedicated to shining a well-deserved spotlight on one of our Endeavor Mentors. This month, we’re speaking with John Willmoth, the founder and managing partner of Poplar Ventures, to learn more about his impressive career and life.
Areas of Expertise
Venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, corporate development, finance.
On Endeavor Louisville
We know from experience that a few highly successful companies can create a major positive impact on a city and a region. And that’s what Endeavor is trying to achieve. They identify the companies that can truly scale, support them, and provide them with experience and guidance to help them along the way. If we are successful, there will be tremendous benefits to our community that last well into the future.
On Overcoming His Greatest Challenge
In my early career at Nextel, there were multiple times when it was not altogether clear that we would survive as a company. One year it got so intense that I recall working an entire month without a day off. What did we do to succeed? We didn’t give up! We were creative, resourceful, and relentless in solving whatever issues we faced. It’s amazing how imminent extinction opens up alternative paths.
On His Proudest Moment in Business
My proudest moment as a team member, no question, was working alongside some great people to build Nextel into a $15 billion revenue company, culminating with our merger with Sprint. As an individual, founding Poplar Ventures in my home state of Kentucky and having the opportunity to help advance the technology ecosystem here has been extremely meaningful.
On His Best Advice
Early in my career at Nextel, I was negotiating the acquisition of a business from a small mom-and-pop operator and made a comment to our co-founder, Morgan O’Brien, about how lucky that individual was to be making millions of dollars from the transaction. His advice to me in that moment was to “never begrudge other people’s success.” That has stuck with me. [Always] have the humility to understand that there are many paths to success, that sometimes chance is involved, and that someone else’s success does not preclude my own. It is not a zero-sum game.
On the Most Important Characteristic of a Successful Entrepreneur
I don’t know if it’s the most important, but I would say the most common characteristic, in my personal experience, is bias for action. Leaders of early-stage companies must make difficult decisions, sometimes of significant magnitude, and almost always with imperfect information. You have to have the fortitude to make a decision, act, and quickly course correct if necessary. The best entrepreneurs get things done, plain and simple.
His Fun Fact You Can’t Find in a Google Search
I participated competitively in eleven different sports over my lifetime. Despite my lack of physical stature, I played college football as a defensive back and punter. I once had a punt over 70 yards.