Is it worth setting up a Board of Advisors?

QUESTION:

I’m so busy just trying to get my startup off the ground that I’m wondering if it’s really worth the time and effort to set up a Board of Advisors. That’s a huge investment in time that I have to make, plus legal fees. Any guidance would be appreciated.

ANSWER:

Nathan Beckord

Nathan Beckord

by Nathan Beckord at VentureArchetypes

I’m coming at this question from a particular perspective– that of an Advisor to four startups– but my answer is that it’s absolutely worth it, IF you can find the time and be disciplined in actually using your Advisory Board.

Building an Advisory Board can be a fairly cheap way of gaining access to talent, experience and rolodexes without having to actually hire people. In most cases, advisors will participate for 0.25% – 0.75% each, meaning you can build a solid group of 4-5 folks who will contribute for a couple years for just a point or two of total company equity. For most early stage startups, that’s a tremendous bang for the (equity) buck.

Now back to my caveat above– it’s only worth it if you can find the time to actively use your Board. My advice here is to keep it straightforward and exceedingly simple. I suggest having a set, standing meeting– say, once every other month or once a quarter– where you review progress made during the previous period, set new ‘reach’ goals, and brainstorm solutions to problems. In this way, you get into a rhythm with your Board, and you get the most value out of them.

Of course, you should feel free to lean on your advisors to help solve problems or make introductions at other times, too- particularly during a deal phase, such as a fundraising or acquisition. But don’t abuse the privilege (remember, these are “advisors” not employees, so while most will freely open their network, they will stop short of doing the heavy lifting of putting together an investor roadshow, for example).

If you’d like to read a long and rambling essay on Advisory Boards, I wrote a blog post on it awhile ago, found here: http://bit.ly/aTyknB

ADDITIONAL ANSWER:

John Hollier

John Hollier

by John Hollier, Collaborative Xceleration

First, let me say that I agree with everything that Nathan said in his response.

I would just like to make a distinction between paid and unpaid advisors, and also make a comment about the ‘time commitment’ issue.

In Nathan’s response he discusses a formal, paid advisory board.

Another option is an unpaid Advisory Team. These would be people who have expertise and experience that you don’t have but need. You would interact with them when you needed input on an issue in their area of expertise, BUT you would limit the usage of their time to no more than an hour or two a month.

This arrangement can be handled with a simple letter between you and the advisor – it doesn’t have to be a legal (i.e., lawyer drafted and reviewed) document.

The guidance that one of these advisors can offer you in half an hour may save you days or weeks of effort.

Which brings me to the time issue.

Do you think it is worth spending time doing research before starting your business?
Do you think it is worth spending time planning before starting your business?
Would you agree that spending this time up front saves time and resources later?
Using advisors is the same investment – a little time now to save time and resources later.

Good luck.

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Comments & Advice:
  1. Sandra W. says:

    This is really good advice!

  2. RJ says:

    First, I agree with both Nathan and John’s response. Actively engaged advisory board members both paid and unpaid, can and usually will add value to your business.

    Where I can add value to this post is pointing out what may be obvious to some and not so obvious to others – the quality of advisors count.

    Hypothetically let’s say you need someone on your advisory board that has experience with building databases to scale. Let’s also say you have two choices, a friend whose skills are sufficient or the CTO of a venture backed firm who undoubtedly can assist as well. Both are excited to assist, which do you choose?

    Depending on your long-term goals (funding, employment, etc) in most of the scenarios I recommend choosing the CTO. While the friend may assist in the physical implementation and the CTO in planning only, the CTO will bring their name to the table.

    Having an advisor who is well known or holds a high level position within a well known company on your advisory board can mean the difference between landing the investor meeting or not. Additionally that person may have a Rolodex of executives and/or talent that can assist in accomplishing other needs/goals.

    I know, “how can he ignore his friend”, the fact is you may have a job for them sometime in the future because of the executive relationship.

    The point is don’t simply sign “anybody” to your advisory board, sign the “right” people.

    Best

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