Advisors can be an important part of any startup as they build their service, make decisions, and decide what to focus their time and energy on.
One thing to mention before getting into this post is that folks I spoke with about their advisors were generally split down the middle; sometimes they chose their advisors, but sometimes their advisors chose them.
It was interesting to learn that one common thread throughout everyone I spoke with is that most, if not all interest was drummed up by sharing their idea and information openly without any mention of secrecy, an NDA, or private information. Some did however mention a FrieNDA. Unless otherwise stated, everyone had either the decency to mention a potential commercial conflict or they simply listened further then got involved.
The role of an advisor can be different depending on what stage a company is in. It seems that most folks I spoke with have an informal advisory board where they can bounce ideas off of a group and get honest feedback.
One of the common themes was the ability to get negative comments from a trusted source. Nobody wants a yes man on their guiding committee as they need real actionable feedback that can sometimes mean coming down on an idea that has had a lot of work put into it.
An advisory board can be friends, family, people with core competency to what you are doing, or thought leaders that can lend a completely opposite perspective so that you don’t get trapped in the bubble of your idea.
My limited role as an advisor has been been brainstorming with friends – but formality does play a role. Equity conversations usually occur instead of financial compensation so that the interests are aligned between founder and advisor. I have heard that financial compensation can sometimes get in the way of interests being aligned correctly and have also never heard of this situation going well. This is not to say it is impossible, just an observation about the universe I play within.
I have also observed that the most likely advisor or mentor type of roles come from people that did not have these roles filled for them in the past. Mentors offer help where they did not get it personally. Again, there are exceptions to this rule but it is worth sharing as it was a common occurrence across the people I spoke with.
Having a trusted advisor can be very important. It can open doors, give you truthful much needed advice, and be a good sounding board for both new ideas and encouragement when it is needed. I would really love to hear from readers of this blog on their opinions of advisors both good and bad if they are willing to share openly – or privately.