Leadership

Mentors can make or break a startup: Five tips for building a strong advisory board

Mark McDonald /

As most of you may already know, a startup’s success lies in great execution.

A critical part of execution is the people you surround yourself with. If Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t met Sean Parker, who ensured Mark didn’t repeat the same mistakes he did at Napster and Plaxo, Facebook may not exist as we know it today.

Mentors and advisors play a huge role in an entrepreneur’s journey.

Studies of tens of thousands of startups around the world show that founders with helpful mentors scale faster and raise more money.

But building an advisory board is not an easy task, especially if you’re a first-time entrepreneur with no reputation and track record.

Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Choose the right people

As with everything in business, you have to start with a goal in mind. Ask yourself what you expect to gain from your advisory board and what specific skills and experience you need to get you there. In other words, you need to understand the board’s purpose, so you can reach out to the right people with the right skillset.

2. Start with who you know

The best way to find valuable advisors is to start with people you already know. Find the most experienced entrepreneurs and professionals in your social network, then get referrals and ask for introductions.

If you don’t have a social network big enough to start, build one. Find events on meetup.com, local universities, chambers of commerce, business clubs, and associations, or even events designed to match first-time entrepreneurs and mentors.

3. Look for network and credibility

Having an advisor with credibility is significant for your business.

Firstly, you want to avoid getting advice from people with no track record. Secondly, having a recognised advisor on board is practically an endorsement for your business. It will help you attract top investors, business partners, talent, and customers.

But it’s not just the credibility that will bring you all those contacts. Respected entrepreneurs, CEOs, scientists and even celebrities can actively provide introductions and even attract media attention.

4. Have something to offer

Nobody will join your advisory board if all you have is an idea and no work to show. Successful people don’t waste their time, and they expect you to be respectful of that. First, you want to show that you’re 100% committed to making it happen.

Don’t just say it, do it.

Secondly, while a certain amount of equity (1-2%) is a standard compensation, you don’t want to attract people who do it simply because of equity. The right kinds of advisors are the ones who are inspired by your idea and want to be part of it simply because they want to see it become a reality.

5. Establish a level of involvement and keep everyone informed

An advisor isn’t your employee, so before you approach anyone, establish a level of reasonable involvement.

In other words, if you want someone to do your business development for you, hire that person. As stated earlier, good advisors are busy people, so in most cases you’re lucky to get that fraction of their time and tap into their knowledge and experience.

At the same time, to get the best advice and relevant help, you must keep your advisors up-to-date about what’s going on in your company.

Keep them excited, send regular updates and treat them as if they were your team members.

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