Get Help, Get Advisors!

Entrepreneurs – and startup entrepreneurs especially – are really pushing it. They feel confident, even when challenged, and some might even feel that they are in control. You and your team have been developing a product and business for quite some time, and when meeting investors or partners, it seems like a good idea to give a strong, confident feeling. But still, there is an itchy feeling of insecurity. Perhaps most of that confidence and feeling of control is just an illusion.

Where to get help?

Ask a consultant to give business coaching – perhaps, but that might be a costly way to do it, and consultant might also have vested interest to prolong the relationship with you. Or look for opportunities for free coaching – perhaps, but the comments even from a senior and wise person might have more to do with his/her past than your venture as the coach has basically met you once to twice for a meeting. But coaching is a great way to start!

To me, entrepreneurship is a lot about getting people excited about your venture. To involve them more and more, to get them to contribute, and eventually to fall in love with the company. If you are good at involving people you will get more resources at your disposal. From coaching you might identify great people, and get them involved in your venture for a longer term, not only to meet once or twice but to have a recurring contribution. If you are able to do it I’m happy to announce: You’ve scored an advisor!

Advisors are great.

It’s like dating, both parties are excited. Advisors look into startups for inspiration, sense of need and in many cases purely altruistic reasons. Startups get recurring discussions, possibly great advice and introductions, and advisors learning about the startup and startup world from knee deep. But even advisors fall short if they don’t understand the full picture: asking marketing advice from the most brilliant marketing expert might mislead the CEO if the expert doesn’t know the facts about company finances, product maturity, or challenges with the team. Sometimes it really pays off to provide the advisors a complete, 360-degrees view on the company.

How about asking all the advisors to join the meeting at the same time to also learn from each other — if so, congrats! You’ve scored an advisory board!

By asking all the advisors to join the meeting at once and discuss the topics openly, the CEO and founding team gets much more balanced feedback. Instead of getting all the feedback as separate pieces of information, the advisors can discuss the topics and provide unison advice. Instead of talking and being opinionated CEO and the team should take one step back and let the advisors do most of the talking.

Advisorship is great.

It typically bears no significant burden on either side, and it should be seen like a win-win as is. Advisors are just people you talk to, and have no official relationship with the company. Of course, as such, one cannot expect advisors to commit a lot of time or for a longer period, nor can they typically prioritize the startup related activities high.

However, after a while it might be evident – perhaps for both the entrepreneurs and the advisor – that it would make sense to take a step forward in the relationship, perhaps make a more lasting commitment. By then, you should know that the advisor really brings in value, is super interested in the company and its business, and fits well with the team. The advisor would have confidence in the team and its performance. Trust is mutual. Congrats – just perhaps, you’ve scored an actual board member

About the author

Teemu Polo worked with/in startups since ~2004, as a corporate business developer (Nokia), entrepreneur (e.g. Soljuva), consultant (Brightsign), ecosystem developer (Starttaamo) and a service provider (NewCo). Currently he’s developing Board practices for Finnish startups and growth companies in cooperation with Boardman2020, FiBAN, KasvuOpen and others.