This past summer, my Co-Founder, Jinesh, and I were accepted into the Venture For America accelerator in order to go full-time on our company, Arthur. Beyond giving us an opportunity to go heads-down on our venture, the accelerator gave us access to the entire VFA network, whose board includes people like the CEO of LinkedIn, and a Co-Founder of Warby Parker.
Despite the prominence of the network we had access to, we also found that one’s level of success had no bearing on whether he or she made a good advisor — in fact, hearing from entrepreneurs who had failed was equally as helpful as hearing from those who had made it big. What mattered more was their expertise on a specific area of our business, their willingness to engage with us, and their ability to offer tangible, actionable advice.
If finding a Co-Founder is like finding a date or a potential spouse, then putting together your group of advisors is like making friends in college — albeit a bit more strategic and high-pressured. Just like college friends, advisors can come at all different levels of proximity. The best thing you can do is understand the other person’s position, what their priorities and goals are, and what type of relationship makes the most sense for you.
Your go-to crew
When you think about the various groups of friends you made in college, you probably have your core crew. You’d go to them with anything, and they know about every hardship you’ve faced. It’s a little bit less likely to achieve such unconditional loyalty with advisors, but in the realm of networking, a core still exists. These advisors are the ones who respond to e-mails in minutes, know about every pivot and every iteration, press you on why you made those decisions, and in the end are on your side, no matter how much they critique what you do.
While it would be great to have very high-profile people as part of this crew, their fame and reputation really won’t help when it comes to how this core should support you. Yes, their name will potentially bring investment and it’s fun to drop, but if they’re not able to meet with you as often as you need them to, they’re going to fill a different need. These folks can still be incredibly helpful when they do have time to spare.
Hanging with the cool kids
We had recently heard a very successful female founder speak at an event, and we reached out to see if she’d be open to chatting with us in person. She got back to us and said that she held regular meetings with early-stage founders once a month. When we met, she shared stories of her own struggles and drew parallels to our business to explain how we could replicate key elements of what drove her success. The biggest lesson I took from that meeting was that anyone can make time to be an advisor, as long as its something they care about.
With that in mind, I think of her and others of similar prominence as the cooler, older kids in college who were untraditionally nice. The most important thing to remember is that you want their help, and they actually enjoy being a resource so always keep them in the loop.
Friends with benefits
I’d like to think of the next batch of people as the friends you have that are really in a different clique or group, but you respect each other — maybe you have a class together and so you always team up for projects.
These are the “advisors” who are in industries tangentially related to yours, or founders a few stages ahead of you. They’re happy to hop on a call and share their knowledge base with you when you need a quick briefing — and you would do the same for them. The most important thing to remember when chatting with these people, whether they are in your specific industry or another is why you approached them in the first place. We also found that the more we came prepared with direct questions about their area of expertise, the less the conversation veered off course.
To this day, we make it a priority to send an advisor update that goes out to about 25 people. The responses vary across the board, but we consider managing these relationships as important as managing our relationships with customers. While we know that some will fade, we’re also conscious that others may convert into formal business partnerships or investor relationships. What has been most important to remember though is that we are, first and foremost, in a relationship, which means taking the time to hear about what’s going on in their lives, with their jobs or their families, and making sure they know our bond is not entirely based on what they can do for us.
Building genuine relationships with your network will ensure that they go the extra mile on your behalf.
This article was written by Venture for America from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
The information in this article is presented as-is and does not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.