How Coaching Is Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship

View original article: Tory Burch Foundation

We all need career development help from time to time­­–even the most self-sufficient entrepreneurs can’t go it alone. That’s where our 2018 Fellow Christine Tao comes in.

In 2016, with the help of her own coach, she created Sounding Board, the first cloud-based leadership development program that democratized coaching access to employees at all levels of an organization. The demand for coaching has skyrocketed since then and Sounding Board has benefited, raising $13.1 million in Series A funding in January.

“It used to be, if you were a low-performing exec that had a bad attitude, you’d get a coach to help you shift your behavior before the company kind of pushed you out the door,” Tao explained in a recent Zoom interview. “Now, what we see is that most forward-thinking companies, people-first companies, and the employees themselves are clamoring for it because it’s seen as a signal of high potential, something that really helps them achieve their goals and success.” In fact, Tao created Sounding Board based on her own experience, where, at a previous startup, she moved very quickly from being a salesperson to leading an entire sales team as part of the executive team. “When I was becoming a manager for the first time is probably when I personally wanted it the most,” Tao reflected. “It’s such a big shift in your skillset.”

Development at more levels of an organization may very well become the norm. In addition to general attitudes to the practice-changing, Tao also said the sudden switch to remote work due to the COVID-19 crisis accelerated an already growing trend. Companies and managers struggled to lead in this new landscape and started to look to outside support.

Tao sees a future where just about everyone will have coaches to help them with different aspects of their professional and personal lives. We asked her about what potential clients should know when trying to find the right coaching fit. While Sounding Board primarily works with large enterprises, many of Tao’s insights on coaching are also applicable to founders and small business owners.

How do you find the right coach?

As with any other product or service, coaching isn’t one size fits all, and some coaches are more reputable than others. Career coaching as a field is relatively new and isn’t regulated by state or federal governments the way, say, behavioral therapy is. Though the industry has governing bodies, there are no laws that penalize someone who claims to be a coach but isn’t certified. “To be honest, anybody can kind of hang up a shingle and call themselves a coach,” Tao said. “So for companies, the challenge becomes, how do you identify a high-quality coach?”

Determining the right coach for you begins with having a sense of the changes you want to make. “Different coaches will focus on different things, but people don’t always understand that, so they end up hiring the wrong coach for what their actual needs and goals are,” Tao observed. Rather than look for a coach who has done exactly what you’ve done–that better describes a mentor–entrepreneurs and companies should find a coach who specializes in their area of need. For example, don’t opt for a coach who works primarily on work-life balance when what you really need is someone to help you become a better manager to the first few people you hire.

A good coach will be interested in collaborating, rather than handing down solutions. “It’s about understanding and asking the right questions to be able to push your development forward,” explained Tao. They’ll also help you identify measures of success that support your overall business goals.

How can I make the most of my coach?

Consider finding a coach at key transitional moments in your business’ life or leadership. Guidance and an outside perspective will help during big changes, though those milestone moments aren’t the only times to think about small business coaching. “Not to sound completely self-serving, but we obviously have the belief that it’s never too early,” Tao advised.

No matter when you decide to begin working with a coach, having the right mindset is key. “What we find is that the people that are the most open-minded, who embrace the experience and realize they actually have to commit as well are the ones that see transformational success.” Be honest with your coach about your challenges–they’ll be most effective if they have a full picture of your and your business’ needs.

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Sounding Board offers virtual and scalable enterprise learning solutions that are flexible enough to adapt to rapidly changing work environments. Powered by behavioral science and core leadership capabilities, our proven coaching methodology drives measurable business impact.

Niall MacGearailt

SVP of Finance
Niall MacGearailt leads Sounding Board’s finance division as the SVP of Finance and Operations. Niall earned a solid track record of improving P&L and operational expense management for leading companies such as Whirlpool, Logitech, Avaya and most recently Soraa, where he prepared the business for acquisition by leading hi-tech lighting company, Ecosense. In his role, he is responsible for building and leading the finance & relevant operations functions for the company.

Ron Buell

VP of Engineering
Ron Buell is the VP of Engineering at Sounding Board and an accomplished software professional with extensive experience in leadership, software engineering, project management, and product management. Ron has led the development of highly scalable systems and applications across a variety of technologies for companies including OpenFeint (acquired by GREE), Rdio (acquired by Pandora), Lyris Technologies, and Lotus/IBM Software Group. In his role at Sounding Board, Buell is responsible for all engineering efforts in developing, deploying, and maintaining the enterprise software platform and team for the company.
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Piyush Gupta

Chief Product Officer

Piyush Gupta is Chief Product Officer at Sounding Board and champions the voice of customers and users with deep empathy. Piyush envisions Sounding Board to be the first window of coaching experience for professionals and leaders worldwide. His approach is deeply rooted in proven scientific research, modeling human behaviors, and data-informed insights to deliver mindset shifts and desired business outcomes for organizations at scale. He believes that a world-class UX is key to drive simplicity that will lead to millions of professionals to access coaching for their development.

Piyush co-invented the world’s first ‘landmark intelligent driving directions’ technology that led Google to redesign their routing algorithms for the Asian markets. For the next decade, he led two disruptive FinTech companies to the market leadership positions and delivered two award-winning products that serve more than 70 million users worldwide. His teams filed 20+ patents while he himself authored three patents. He is an active startup investor and advises selected AI-driven startups on business and product strategy. He is the recipient of the World Summit Award, one of the most prestigious international honors for product innovators. In addition, he is a James Swartz fellow, the most prestigious fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University funded by the founder of the iconic venture firm, Accel Partners.

Piyush holds an MS in Software Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Tommy Perkins


Tommy is at his best helping clients think through complex challenges in order to create a positive impact on their organizations. He thrives when interacting with others whether helping his team succeed or working with clients to build long-term partnerships. He has extensive experience consulting with organizations on driving their employee experience, guiding organizations through change, and working to ensure organizations are moving the needle when it comes to their results.

Most recently, Tommy was a Client Services Leader overseeing some of GP’s most prized accounts on a global level. His responsibilities included overall client growth strategy, retention, and satisfaction. He represented all of GP Strategies’ major business lines including leadership, coaching, and engagement, digital transformation, outsourced services, and technology implementation solutions.

Before GP Strategies, Tommy spent several years with TTEC Digital (formerly rogenSI) where he led the sales team,  eventually becoming the regional Learning & Performance practice leader for North America. While managing the P&L and sales team he also led the largest global relationship for the firm (Deloitte Globally). During his time at TTEC, he focused on delivering blended learning solutions that incorporate technology and hands-on training. Before TTEC Digital, he spent several years dedicated to strength-based leadership disrupting the business landscape regarding performance management and employee engagement with thought leader Marcus Buckingham at The Marcus Buckingham Company / TMBC (now ADP).

Tommy has had the privilege of working with some of the most well-known global brands in professional services, retail, technology, and healthcare including Deloitte, Facebook, Microsoft, Bank of America, Novartis, Gap Inc., lululemon, and Intel. Several projects he led for Deloitte were Global GNPS, New Partner Pivot, NextGen Partner Program Deloitte China, Present to Win, the RPM project on performance management, and Unconscious Bias.

Tommy holds a BS in Health Sciences from Texas A&M University, and an MBA from Universidad del CEMA.

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Lori Mazan

Co-Founder & CCO Sounding Board, Inc.
Lori Mazan is the Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer of Sounding Board, the preeminent global leadership development enterprise platform changing the face of leadership development through innovative technology for leaders at all levels of an organization. Lori is a seasoned executive coach who has guided hundreds of corporate executives through 1:1 coaching focused on business outcomes and developing critical leadership skills. Client companies advanced by Lori’s expertise include Fortune titans such as Chevron and Sprint as well as high growth and public companies like Intellikine, and Tapjoy, plus 10XGenomics, which became a public company in 2019 while top executives worked with Lori and the Sounding Board team.
Lori has spent the last 25 years coaching C-Suite executives to leadership excellence. Many of those public and private company CEO’s expressed that they would have liked this caliber of coaching earlier in their careers. Inspired by these experiences, Lori joined with Christine to launch Sounding Board as a feedback-driven, cloud-based leadership coaching platform that could maintain best-in-class leadership coaching while lowering costs to make it affordable and scalable for leaders at every level of their careers.
Before founding Sounding Board, Lori received her Masters’ in Adult Educational Psychology/Counseling from the University of San Francisco and a Bachelors’ in Psychology from the University of Virginia. Lori is an educator and has spent over 10 years as a professor of social psychology and group dynamics while acting as the interim Dean of Students at Holy Names University, She is certified by the industry’s gold standard, the Coaches Training Institute, and is a founding member of the Genentech Preferred Network of Coaches. Sounding Board is one of <3% of sole female founded startups receiving venture funding. In 2019 Sounding Board was selected as 1 of 7 startups (out of 100+ applicants) as part of SAP’s HR tech cohort, a group that represents the rising stars of the next-gen HR ecosystem.

Christine Tao

Co-Founder & CEO Sounding Board, Inc.
Christine Tao is the co-founder & CEO at Sounding Board, a Silicon Valley startup redefining how organizations are developing their leaders. Her extraordinarily rapid career growth to executive management in the media, mobile and tech sectors of Silicon Valley became her inspiration for founding Sounding Board. As she began to manage larger teams and be responsible for growing revenues, it became clear that she needed a “sounding board” to coach her on the development of her leadership skills. That’s where her Sounding Board co-founder, Lori Mazan came on the scene. A seasoned executive coach focused on leadership development, Lori coached Christine on real-world leadership skills that had a direct impact on business outcomes. Based on her positive and impactful experience with leadership development, Christine was driven to make leadership development coaching accessible to people at all levels of the organization.
Christine advises several startups, is a budding angel investor and is also a Tory Burch Foundation Fellow, a foundation dedicated to investing in the success and sustainability of women entrepreneurs.
Prior to co-founding Sounding Board, Christine was a Senior Vice President of Developer Relations at Tapjoy, a venture-backed, leading mobile advertising & publishing network. She led the growth of Tapjoy’s publisher advertising business from 0 to over $100 million in revenues in less than 3 years. Prior to that she led e-commerce partnerships and strategy at YouTube. Christine holds an MBA in Marketing & Operations from Wharton and a BA in Business Administration from UC Berkeley.

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