To quote Confucius, “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know”. Taking that napkin idea and turning it into a successful venture, requires multiple disciplines, especially in this highly technical and challenging social media landscapes. The most successful entrepreneurs know what they know and surround themselves with people who know what they don’t know. Building your Startup Board of Advisers allows you to draw on your expertise and tap into the skills of others.
Think of a Board of Advisers as an ATM of experience and ideas.
Does it really matter? One startup failed because they didn’t know how to deal with a surge in sales that bankrupted them. Their trajectory was so fast they didn’t have the time or the experience to deal the resulting crisis. Their story might have had a different ending had they been able to tap into a team of advisers who had traveled this road before.
I can hear the objections: “I don’t have the time”, “they will steal my idea” and “I don’t have these connections”. Make the time, they won’t and you do. Time is irrelevant when starting a new venture; you will never have enough but will find a way to get everything done. Don’t be afraid of telling your story to the right people. Even if they turn your invitation down, you are on their radar and these connections often pay off in the long run. And your network is larger than you realize. Start by looking at your LinkedIn network and than your networks network. People are flattered when they are asked for their expertise and those who have reached a level of success are all too happy to ‘pay it forward’.
I’ve outlines 5 steps that will guide you in building your Board*
THE 5 STEPS IN BUILDING A BOARD OF ADVISERS..
#1: Know what you know and what you don’t know: Build a board of complementary skills and experience that balance yours and your team. A chef opening a restaurant might look for expertise in finance, marketing, design and construction. A software developer would benefit from people in finance, design, business strategy and sales. Its your dream team.
#2: Be prepared: Outline what you expect from these advisors: In Silicon Valley land, advisers agree to participate 8 hours a month. I tend to structure these agreements as quarterly meetings, not necessarily in person. I always ask my Board’s permission to call them when I need their advice- and never take advantage of their time. Know what you are prepared to give up in equity to build this brain trust. My agreements typically called for .5% vested over 3 years. You can checkout a free template agreement by the Founder Institute. One point to remember: this isn’t a networking group where your objective is to help each other with introductions. Build confidence in yourself, your team and your progress and the introductions will come in time.
#3: Start Building Your Board: LinkedIn is the greatest untapped resource that will become your best friend. Take a look at your network then look at your networks network. Create a master spreadsheet of all the skills you are looking for and fill in connections, direct or to use LinkedIn language, your Number 2s. You can reach out to your direct connections via email or InMail; The Balance has an excellent template you can use as your guide. For 2nd degree connections, you need to write an InMail to your direct connection asking for the introduction. This is not the time for cold calls, or emails; if your connection is valid they will help you. (Which is not true when making a sales pitch!)
Once the Board is established:
#4: Communicate: There is no end of demands on your time, but make communicating with your Board a priority. Send monthly updates, on your development progress, sales, contracts, high level hires, updates that will impact your progress. Keep them updated and informed and don’t try to sugar coat reality. They’ve done this before and they will see warning signs or point out opportunities.
#5: Listen: Entrepreneurs have egos, guts and passion, best described by Reid Hoffman: “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” The very traits that got you here are often the ones that get in the way of listening to others.
“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”
— Peter Nulty, Fortune Magazine
A BONUS 6TH STEP: SETTING UP A CUSTOMER ADVISORY BOARD
If you are fortunate to be surrounded by people smarter and more experienced than you, your chances of success will increase exponentially.
And, as an aside, that holds true for employees.