4 Steps to Securing a Rock-Star Advisory Board
Startups are launched every day but only a select few will ultimately be huge hits in their industries.
To help accelerate and increase the probability of success, startups need to seek other industry leaders to support and evangelize their efforts. Enter the advisory board. From ongoing product feedback to investor due diligence to media interviews to customer prospects and more, a strong advisory board can completely change the course of a new company in ways it can’t accomplish through any other method.
For those looking to get a stellar advisory board to join your startup, here are a few steps to get you started.
1. Target leaders in your industry.
The first step to building out an advisory board is determining who should be part of it and why. Focus on the most strategic needs of your business – third party validation and evangelism.
For instance, many tech startups erroneously assume they should seek an advisory board of technologists to assist in shaping product development. However, a more strategic approach is to target top customer executives who might ultimately purchase the product, can articulately speak with investors, can provide access to their teams, and will serve as references for the media and other customers.
For example, in IT, the perfect candidate is a chief information officer (CIO), the ultimate decision maker for strategic IT purchases with a full grasp of both the business and technology. As your company grows and your product line expands, you might later add a technical advisory board, but initially, focus on the business side and resources who can help you attract customers, media, analysts, partners and investors.
2. Tap your network and beyond.
When approaching these individuals to join your advisory board, avoid the cold call. This is a 100 percent networking process. Ideally, you will want to have approximately six to eight members, since you will have only a small amount of time from each one.
Once you make contact with potential members, ask for introductions to their peers. The onus will be on you to pitch your company and team and to persuade potential advisory board members that your startup is going to be a winner.
Keep in mind, these CIOs and top executives are being approached often to participate on other boards, and you will need to make your company stand out from the rest. A coherent value proposition, a passion for your company and technology is mandatory, as is being highly knowledgeable about the market.
Related: How to Build an Advisory Board
3. Realize time is money.
The question you may be asking is why these busy executives would take time out of their hectic schedules to be a part of your startup. Many top industry executives are fascinated with startups and the entire process of innovation. Most marquis executives you will target have spent their careers at Fortune 500 companies and will be drawn to the raw potential of your business and your team’s unbridled commitment to creating something great. However, you should also be prepared to offer advisors a small number of stock options.
4. Be efficient and strategic.
Once you have the advisory board in place, make sure you use its time -- and yours -- wisely. These executives will only provide a few hours per quarter, so be sure to focus on the most strategic matters you face -- whether it be fundraising, lead generation, pricing and packaging or media.
Don’t look to these executives for detailed feedback on the features and functions of your product, use them instead as a gateway for input from their teams on these items. Learn about how they spend their budgets and their big-picture priorities, as these will be similar to those of your customers once your product is launched.
If you recruit the right advisory board and leverage them strategically, this will be one of the best investment you will make. Wise companies that have these industry ambassadors have a better chance of raising investment capital, attracting customers and employees, making a big splash when your startup is ready for prime time and ultimately jumpstarting your success.
Lynn LeBlanc is the CEO and founder of HotLink Corporation, a company focused on providing solutions for hybrid-visualization managment. LeBlan has more than 25 years of enterprise software and technology experience at both Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley startups. Prior to founding HotLink, LeBlanc was founder and CEO of FastScale Technology, an enterprise software company acquired by VMware, Inc.