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Ignorance isn’t bliss: Why startups need an advisory board

Finding the right talent is one of the biggest challenges any startup faces – and can be the subject of numerous blog posts – but once you get the right talent in the door, then what? Whether hiring a specialist for a targeted skill set or (more often the case in earlier stage companies) generalists who play “athlete” / versatile roles, it’s essential for Founders to make sure their talent is set up for success – and to deliver real business value. One of the most effective – and cost-effective – way of doing this is through an advisory board.

Ad advisor is someone who has deep industry expertise in a specific area – for example, PR, design, sales, and more. Oftentimes advisors can be source through the personal and professional networks of the founders, investors, and employees. For cash-strapped startups, offering a nominal amount of equity can serve as adequate compensation for advisors. Willing advisors often cite the excitement of getting to apply their knowledge to an exciting, early-stage venture, while staying fresh on the latest in the industry.

For example, when I first joined an e-commerce mobile startup to do marketing, I very quickly realized my background in marketing strategy and brand marketing were a far cry from the complex world of mobile ad networks. Within a few weeks of joining, my CEO introduced me two experts – one from a top mobile ad network, and one who headed mobile marketing at one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies. When my responsibilities expanded to include PR, another introduction quickly followed, to a corporate communications executive at one of the largest US retailers.

In practice, engaging with my advisors usually took the form of a coffee or lunch meeting once a month. I would provide a brief update on where we are as a business, big milestones / goals over the next quarter, and outline specific open questions. Generally advisors provided high level advice, reactions to my campaign plans, and most often introductions to relevant people. I was incredibly lucky to have an engaged, enthusiastic set of advisors who taught me everything I know – whom I’m still in touch with to this day.

Advisors provide technical knowledge, warm introductions, but perhaps most importantly an impartial set of eyes and fresh perspective on tactical as well as strategic issues that are critical to a start-ups early success.

─ January 13, 2015