In the latest in our continuing series of profiles of CTNext mentors, Rob Wengel explains how he intends to leverage his analytics expertise to support Connecticut’s early-stage companies and why he sees mentoring as being beneficial to both company and mentor.
Tell us about yourself and your experience.
I lead “Experience Innovation,” helping companies bring differentiated new products to market by understanding emerging and latent customer needs. We’re affiliated with The Re-Wired Group, working with strategists and developers, applying best practices in innovation, such as “Jobs to Be Done” and design thinking. In addition, we work with TrueVoice, a leading firm that creates digital audience intelligence centers, putting the on-demand voice of the customer at the heart of strategy and activation decision making.
I spent the early part of my career in marketing and sales executive jobs in the consumer package goods industry, such as Procter & Gamble. More recently, I held executive roles in big data, insights and analytics firms, such as Nielsen. In these roles, my teams and I worked with Fortune 500 companies to use big data to better understand market opportunities and develop growth strategies.
What strengths and areas of expertise do you bring to Connecticut startups as a mentor?
I have deep experience understanding people, their motives and unmet needs, and then applying that to develop differentiated strategies and the marketing activation to drive successful new products and services. Early-stage companies have a variety of needs, and they typically don’t have the money or resources. Prioritizing what is going to matter most as it relates to moving the business forward is of utmost importance. The role I will play is helping startups uncover the strategy that has the highest likelihood of success and put that strategy into practice.
What inspired you to join the CTNext Mentoring Network?
I’ve been a Connecticut resident for 30 years and believe that, along with its share of challenges, Connecticut has extraordinary resources. I’d like to help a company or two accelerate their growth, and thereby make a small contribution to helping Connecticut grow. Second, I’ve had the good fortune to work with Fortune 500s. The opportunity to share those experiences with entrepreneurs, who are putting their heart and soul, and maybe all their money, into their ideas and passions, is exciting to me. Finally, and a little bit selfishly, working with smaller companies that exhibit passion and new ways of thinking will help me stay fresh and be a more dynamic consultant to my larger clients, many of which struggle to find a balance between maintaining a successful business and understanding what is needed to grow.
Do you have a particular approach or style as it relates to mentoring?
I do a lot of listening, trying to serve as a sounding board while asking the right questions. I want to help startups to make sure they are asking the right questions themselves. The spirit of an entrepreneur, at times, can create blinders from the logic and rationale that is essential when prioritizing business strategies and go-to-market game plans. When people think of mentoring, they tend to view it as a one-way street, but I really do think it benefits both the company and the mentor. As I have worked with larger organizations, there are so many things that might be second nature to me but are incredibly valuable to startups. The opportunity to share those things that I sometimes don’t even realize have value is exciting. On the flip side, I’m given the opportunity to be exposed to the passion and spirit of a startup.
Why do you think Connecticut is well suited for a startup ecosystem?
The word is “access.” Connecticut offers so many things that startups need, including educational assets, urban centers and a well-educated population of experienced and successful business executives. With the diversity of people and ideas in the state, along with connections to New York and the rest of New England, Connecticut has a unique geographic location that gives startups access to thinking, resources, capital and professional networks in ways not always found in other parts of the country.