Building a company is not something that should be done alone; it’s also something that shouldn’t be done without guidance. While many entrepreneurs are busy finding the right co-founders and hiring the right employees for their team, first-time entrepreneurs often forget to put in effort to bring in great advisors and board members.
Having a strong advisory board and/or board of directors can provide immeasurable value to your startup; I think few would dispute that. The bigger trouble often comes in finding the right people that will fill the role of advisor.
Having your best buddy on the board will probably teach you nothing and do you no good. Having a technology luminary that never answers your calls is even worse. So how do you find the right people, and more importantly, how do you find people who will have passion for what you are doing?
1. First dig into your current network and bring on someone you know and trust. Your mentors almost always make great advisors because they care about you and your success.
2. After you bring on mentors, reach! Build relationships with the people you really want to be your advisors. Network, chat with them, tell them that you want to pick their brains on entrepreneurship. You’d be surprised how often people are willing to help.
3. Advisors aren’t just for advice; they are also for connections and recognition. Mark Zuckerberg had a lot of leverage when he could say that Peter Thiel (Co-founder of PayPal) sat on Facebook's board during the early years. These are the types of people that get others interested and make key introductions that can push the company forward.
4. Diversify: bring on technology, business, media, venture capital, and other leaders so that you have a diverse array of advice and insight to rely upon.
5. Make sure to bring on people who will challenge you: many employees won’t challenge your higher-level strategy, so it’s often up to your board to give you a reality check.
6. Consider giving advisors a small piece of your company. Here’s the reason: without equity, your advisors have no stake in your success. Unless they’re emotionally invested in you, they have little incentive to return your calls, even if they’re your advisors. Now with a small piece of the company (maybe ¼ of a percent), they are tied to the success of your company. In a way, it makes them employees that are there for you.
If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea, another alternative is to bring in more people during an angel funding round – bring in people who you want to be advisors and board members and convince them to invest, even a small amount, and give them equity in return. This is essentially what 37signals did to bring Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on board as an advisor.
7. Just ask. I sit on a few boards, and every time it was them who approached me. Don’t wait for the right moment; just go for it. Again, you’ll be surprised by who will say “yes!”