Founders often tell me they want to create an advisory board.
I ask this question to see if this would be useful for the founder:
Do you just need more advice, do you also need accountability or just credibility?
95% of founders just need more good advice.
You don’t need an advisory board to get useful advice.
You need mentors.
Mentors are just experienced people who will give you their time to discuss a specific topic.
They don’t call themselves mentors, usually. They call themselves helpful.
Many experienced people would spend a 30-minute call with you if you are serious, focused, and efficient about it. Not all, but many.
These are not mentors as in, “Will you be my forever mentor?”
These are peer founders, former CEOs, service providers, active experienced mentors in your ecosystem, and savvy experts in your network.
You would reach out with a simple ask like this:
“I’m a serious entrepreneur of THIS COMPANY with a big question about THIS TOPIC. Your friend Amy said you know about this. Could I spend 15 or 30 minutes with you to run it by you and get your thoughts? I’ve researched it online and I still have some big questions. I would really appreciate it.”
Please don’t ask people to “pick their brains.” That’s just too vague. Be specific and credible.
The network of experienced and available mentor help is what a startup ecosystem really is.
Silicon Valley has an infinite amount of peer and expert support networking that goes on every day.
Most other big cities have active ecosystem networks too. But some cities not so much.
For those experts who sell their time and advice such as lawyers, consultants, and accountants, your mentor conversation is more like a potential client conversation for them. These are people you should pay for serious advice and ongoing support.
I think most startup founders and early-stage CEOs should be talking to 3-5 experts a week to get high-level feedback and direction on their key issues.
In my view, an advisor is someone with whom you have ongoing conversations and who knows you and your business.
Most advisors get paid in some way since their advice is much more valuable to the founder and there is more commitment required on their part.
Advisory boards are most useful when you have active advisors AND the founder wants a quarterly meeting to present results, challenges, and questions for serious discussion. This is more about ongoing accountability and oversight.
This is good practice for a formal board of directors if you plan to raise VC funding that will require a professionally-run board.
Advisors and advisory boards are also useful to show that credible experts are endorsing your company. This is often for their named endorsement and not their advice. And these advisors get paid too.
Go build your network and work on getting good advice. And pay for advice when it’s serious.
Your advisory board can probably wait.