From the August 2002 issue of Startups

Do you know a big-time angel investor who can help you assimilate your company into the mainstream market? Do you know how to find a COO for your enterprise? How about the consultant who would give you some of his valuable time if you had an introduction by a current client?

Many start-up business owners cannot envision all the help that an advisory board could offer. Most of these informal groups of advisors can not only offer sound strategic insight and an overall outlook on the business world, but also provide you with one of the most vital aspects of business success: contacts with important individuals and businesses.

Before forming an advisory board, seek advice and counsel from business organizations. A SCORE counselor, for example, may be in a position to become part of your advisory board. And at business events and workshops, network with adults and pass out those business cards. While the people you meet may not be the folks who will end up on your advisory board, they probably will know a good candidate or two.

The best and most effective way to find quality advisory board members is through a friend, neighbor, parent's co-worker, etc. Those with whom you already have a personal relationship are more apt to introduce you to their friends, who could be part of this advice council.

Once you have some names and numbers of potential board members, have an ongoing dialogue via e-mail or phone, exchanging questions and answers. This is a way to milk some of this persons' expertise, but it also builds rapport and trust.

Once you have communicated with each other and the candidate seems willing to give, casually bring up the topic: "I really have appreciated the help you have provided. Would you be willing to become part of my advisory board?" Quickly follow this with a list of what an advisory board member has to do. For starters, instead of saying "The advisory board meets the third Thursday of every month for three hours," make it more general and less demanding. "Occasional dinners to provide business guidance when we come to a fork in the road" is more likely to receive favorable responses.

Advisory boards can provide quality personal advice to you and your company as a whole. It is good to be in contact with a number of people who can offer advice purely through e-mail and occasional phone conversations. Once that list is bulked up you've built a relationship with certain individuals on the list, bring up the advisory board concept. You'll gain not only credibility and contacts, but also a plethora of ideas and solutions that could eventually make or break your company.


Fourteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in over 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.