The fun, yet scary part of starting a company is that the future is unknown. You have a lot to learn and a long way to go. You’ll have to find the answers to many, many questions: How do you build a minimal viable product? When should you launch? How do you hire that first engineer? How do you negotiate with a major vendor?
As an entrepreneur, you should acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. After that? Find some great advisors who can help fill the gaps. Of course, there’s a catch. That “perfect” advisor is extremely busy doing her own work and helping other entrepreneurs. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of your advisory relationships.
- Use the 10x rule. Just because a mutual investor made a warm introduction to a potential advisor doesn’t mean you should take the meeting. Find advisors who will generate a 10x return on your time. For every hour you spend with them, you should save ten hours of time. The advisor will be more satisfied knowing that there is big leverage on their time.
- Find a warm introduction. Most advisors get hundreds of emails a day. So after you identify your 10x investor, use tools like LinkedIn to find a mutual contact who can make the introduction. It will not only help you score the meeting, but also provide the foundation for a longer term relationship.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Before the meeting, research the advisor on their own site, Twitter, Quora, etc. so that you know the basics about them. There is nothing more frustrating than someone asking us how we started our companies. We’ve written about that on our blogs and in published articles. Asking one of us the “basics” is a big indication that you didn’t prepare; it also means that you’re losing a chunk of time that could be spent on your challenges!
- Send questions ahead of time. Let the advisor know what you intend to ask. This will allow them to give more thoughtful answers. It also might prevent the need for a meeting (saving both of you time while still delivering value) or mean that you can focus on more detailed questions during your meeting.
- Travel to them. You want to minimize friction and make it as easy as possible for your prospective advisor to give you their time. In one extreme example, Aaron recently had the opportunity to meet the CEO and VP of Business Development from CustomInk, one of the leaders in the customization space. He flew to Washington, D.C. to make that happen. Sure, it’s an extreme example, but remember that the next time you’re hesitant to drive 30 minutes.
- Show up early and buy the coffee. Just because you a traveling to an advisor doesn’t mean you can be late. Respect the their time by arriving early. It will also give you the chance to find a quiet place in the cafe, get settled, and mentally prepare so that you can make the most of the meeting. And despite their insistence on treating, do the small act of buying the coffee. They’ll appreciate it!
- Respect time constraints. At the beginning of the meeting, confirm how much time you have, and then watch the clock. Ask your last question with a few minutes to spare. Bhavin recently met with the CEO of ThriveOn, Alejandro Foung. Alejandro managed their time perfectly. It sounds small, but that sort of consideration lets Bhavin know that when Alenjandro emails in the future and asks if Bhavin has five minutes, he will be more willing to take the call. He knows that he won’t be dragged into a 30-minute advising session.
- Follow up. A big reason people agree to help you and your business is because they feel good when they have a positive impact. So follow up! Thank them again for their time. Let them know what you learned. And if you do see results from changes you make, keep them updated on how much they helped.
- And keep following up with a newsletter. We each send a monthly or quarterly newsletter to a select group of advisors (importantly, only to advisors who have agreed to receive it). This is a low friction way for people who care about your success to follow it. We rarely include an “ask” in the newsletter, just a few sections about recent results and what’s next. You’ll stay top of mind, so when you have an ask in the future, they’ll be more likely to help out.
- Bring them on formally. Most advisors are happy to take a few meetings with you just because they want to give back to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. But if you’ve found an advisor who consistently delivers great advice, offer some equity and ask them become a formal advisor. If they’re truly 10x, you’ll get a great return on your equity. Rachel Wolan, CEO of YadaZing, recently asked Bhavin to become a formal advisor because he consistently delivered 10x value, and she wanted to make sure he would prioritize time with her over time with others. Here’s a general framework on how much equity to offer advisors.
Finding great advisors is critical to your success as an entrepreneur – you can save hours and hours of time, and build a great network of people who are invested in your success. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know, so use these tips to maximize value for you and your advisor.
Bhavin Parikh is the founder/CEO of Magoosh, which provides a convenient, enjoyable, and effective way for students to prepare for standardized tests; co-author Aaron Schwartz is the founder/CEO at Modify Industries, Inc., which designs interchangeable custom watches known as Modify Watches.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.