One of the things you should do when you have a startup is to have a board of advisors. Advisors are people you know who you look up to and go to for advice. They may have previous experience in doing what you are attempting to do or have expertise in an area that you lack. You should also look for advisors who can help you overcome hurdles you may encounter or make the necessary introductions.
Approaching a potential advisor
I would approach an advisor much like I would approach a potential customer or cofounder or even investor. That is, after I have built a minimum viable product. This shows them that you have invested some time and put some skin in the game. If you go to them prematurely with just a scribble on a napkin, its really hard for anyone to first picture it and second to know whether this thing will ever move beyond the daydream stage. Remember that they are investing in you by spending their time and energy. You want to show them that you have potential and that with a little help from them that you can succeed. From the advisor’s perspective they want to help someone with the most potential to succeed.
Having advisors means you are now accountable to more than just yourself. This is especially true if you are a sole founder or have not yet found a cofounder. I find this to be a very good motivator because I do not want to let them down and disappoint them. In my last startup I made the mistake of not having any advisors, not because I didn’t think I needed any but more because I was afraid to ask anyone.
Having a group of advisors to round out your weaknesses will also help with building the team. Someone might be on the fence about joining you, but if they see that you have people who know what they are doing helping you out, they will be more likely to join. Remember that it’s all about mitigating risk.
If you have any momentum in terms of unique visitors, levels of engagement, or press coverage, by all means use that to make your startup more appealing to your potential advisor or cofounder. Nobody wants to pour time and effort into something that won’t amount to anything. Most people would rather be employee number 10000 at Groupon than join a no name startup unless there was a strong team or major traction.
Ask people who are already helping you
You may find that certain people are already going out of your way to help you even though they may not officially be advisors. That was the case of one of my advisors. I wanted to show him my latest project and he spent over an hour looking at it and picking it apart and offering advice. He was advising me before we both knew he was my advisor. These people are already investing in you before you even asked, and it makes sense to approach them.
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