Building an Advisory Board

Since becoming part of the Founder Institute I have been really fortunate to have met and interacted with some of the best, smartest and knowledgable entrepreneurs I have ever had the good fortune to meet. We have been advised to put together a formal advisory board to assist us in our journey to reach product/market fit. I have always been a big fan of having mentors, mentors are vital to give advice and help keep your business from making expensive and avoidable mistakes. Building an advisory board however, needs to be given a lot of thought and is not another line item on your to-do list. Some advice I am following and steps I am taking are:

1. Recruit advisors with specific objectives: You need to research and spend a considerable amount of time up front to determine critical objectives that need achieving early in your venture. To accelerate reaching these milestones, search for advisors who have specific domain knowledge in specific areas and who will act as catalysts. This provides the advisor with a specific area to concentrate on and will be mutually beneficial.

2. Compensation: Advisors are usually given anywhere between 0.25% to 5% equity stakes depending on their involvement and stature. On the flip side, some advisors may not be interested in equity and a prior agreement about a small settlement in cash or a deferred payment plan can be established. Some advisors do not expect anything and for such a situation, you should be the one picking up the cheque during meals and showing gestures of gratitude for the time the advisor spends with you.

3. Small Groups: It is best to keep your roster of advisors limited to a group of 3. There are several reasons for this; for example, when organizing a communal meeting it is usually challenging to manage a larger size group due to calendar conflicts etc. Too many advisors could result in “too much advice” which could in turn paralyze you, instead of helping you to move forward.

4. Legal Agreements: When taking someone on as a formal advisor, it is best to get your law firm to draft an agreement. It is suggested that formal advisory role positions be kept to a maximum of 2 years, after which they could be renewed. This gives the entrepreneur a way out if things are not working well. If equity is involved, be sure to vest it over the period of the agreement and lastly, if required, get the advisor to sign an NDA if you think he/she may be interacting with other companies where there might be a conflict of interest.

Will keep everyone updated on how I go about structuring this process, will also post the specifics when completed.

Two Peas in a Pod

two peas in a pod

There is no better feeling than working with team members who are in unison. A team where everyone knows where they are going, and how they are going to get there. Business becomes easier, simpler and a lot more fun. Even when the going gets tough, everyone is there to support each other and get through the rough patches. It becomes an even greater joy to do what you do, and this pushes you to push yourself even harder and faster.

Do places like this even exist in this world?

I truly believe they do. It is also true that harmony within teams does not appear magically one day. It is the result of a series of ongoing acts and events. It begins with picking the right partners and team members, followed by developing a vision that is supported by everyone involved, and lastly, a continuous effort to sacrifice personal desires and needs for the benefit of the entire team and greater good. It is all about team spirit and fervor. I have had partners in the past who could not make these personal sacrifices for the team and the greater good, no matter how well we got along with each other. This led to massive gaps in our relationships, and jeopardized the ability to move forward.

Harmony in the workplace is the common responsibility of everyone on the team. The leaders must however continue working towards re-inforcing the vision and values of the business. They do not however have the ability to solely create the desired level of harmony. If you are not happy with and within your team, think of ways to start making a difference today.

We Can’t Work Together


I had an interesting discussion yesterday regarding friction within a team, and how it sometimes reaches a level where it becomes difficult to work with each other. This happens in many group settings. There will always be a greater level of friction among certain individuals in a group, which will in turn impact the rest adversely. It is simple to identify this level of friction, dealing with it appropriately and diplomatically is where the real challenge lies.

If you have not read my 5 Steps to Manage Conflict article series, I do recommend it. This provides a good foundation on how to approach such matters and helps develop a good framework to deal with them. Conflict is an area which involves great deal of emotions, these often lead us to saying and doing things in the heat of the moment, which we may not mean or do ordinarily. This is fairly common and natural behavior, and all we need to do is focus on clearing our minds about the options we have, and decide how we would ideally like to resolve the conflict.

If we do not think in terms of options about closure, we are treading a dangerous path, which will only make matters worse, as well as negatively impact the morale of the entire team. Once a decision is made regarding how to proceed, it is important to stick to it, and aim to reach a conclusion as soon as possible. This could entail having to let a team member go, or leaving yourself, either way it is an emotionally draining experience. Given that a lot of work is put into building and bringing a venture upto a certain stage, having to give it up is tough.

However bigger and better things may await you, and the lessons learned from this experience will inevitably enable you to make better decisions in the future.

Designations & Startups


Image by svenwerk

This conversation comes into play as soon as a start-up is writing up their business plan or printing name cards. It is an exciting and confusing time, specially for first time entrepreneurs who are keen to get their ‘designations’ just right. I remember my first designation, it was, “Strategic Marketing Director”. A mouthful for sure, and one which raised a lot of eyebrows and questions about my actual role. The truth of the matter is, at a start-up, everyone needs to be be doing pretty much… everything! Externally however, I do feel your role must communicate something substantial about your responsibility at the startup. Choosing roles such as CEO, Strategic Marketing Director or Managing Director may sound good, but do not really communicate what you have taken responsibility for. If your startup comprises of 3 people, CEO is really overkill.

I much rather prefer designated roles such as Lead Platform Developer, Customer Liaison, Product Marketing Head, Research & Development Director etc. These help your customers understand whom to call when they have a certain problem or question. If a person on the team has technical expertise regarding the hardware component of your product, their role should reflect that. If another person handles finances, then that is who investors need to call when they want information about cash flow situations etc.

My mantra for start-up designation is simple. Choose an area where you see yourself taking responsibility for a particular function. This communicates both internally and externally what role you would like to play in the company, as well as helping you to steadily enhance your expertise in that particular area. This is not a conversation where founders should dispute who should be CEO and who should not. It is, on the other hand, a first step in the direction you want to grow with the company.

Small Teams


I like working with small close knit teams, where each member is strong in a particular skill set. When brought together, such a team becomes a strong cohesive force. Decisions are made faster, delegating work is simpler and everyone has specific responsibilities which they cannot shy away from. When a certain team member is not performing at par with other members, it becomes clearly apparent, and brings a much greater degree of transparency to the team.

It is within these small teams that company cultures, ethics and vision is created. The original group of founders will always have a special bond with the company as compared to others who join later on. That bond should be displayed through the passion and dedication that each one of the founders brings to the business and what they do. In essence, they should become role models for all future members who join the team at a later stage.

For businesses to scale, teams have to become bigger. However, it is important that we retain the agility, flexibility and speed that we had with a smaller team. This is not so simple to acheive, however, with a strong set of values and a clear path about the company’s direction, it becomes easier than it actually appears to be. We should never really underestimate the value and strength of a strong foundational core. It is one of the things I feel a lot of start-ups lose, way too quickly, as they move up the ranks.

The Importance of Friction


Sometimes to break the status quo we need to ask each other uncomfortable questions, qestions which put us outside our comfort zones. Shaking up the house or breaking a rut is necessary for the evolvement of a relationship or business. Confrontation is not something that people enjoy getting themselves into. It sparks a flurry of emotions which have the potential to temporarily blindside us from saying or doing things we would not have done under normal circumstances. In a way, it surfaces our inner thoughts and desires, and has the potential to put us into vulnerable positions. Having worked with many teams, I have come to realize that without a certain amount of friction, a team doesn not move forward. There is too much brown nosing and very little candor. Both of these breakdown communication and ultimately lead teams in the wrong direction.

I have talked about the importance of candor in many of my prior blog posts as being a critical component of a well functioning team. A great team is one where everyone speaks their mind in context to the discussion, and challenges pre-requisites without blindly following them. Team members can then push each other to be better and to ask more of themselves. There is no doubt that there will be unpleasant times when you will get fed up with the flurry of critical statements. It is important that in this situation both the person who is asking the questions, as well as the person who is answering them, remains on topic.

When we are forced to challenge beliefs we follow blindly follow, or plans that we don not fully agree with, we cause the team to think bigger and broader thoughts. Without this friction we become stale, the competition catches up on your complacency, and soon enough you find yourself on the sidelines. Re-evaluate the presence of candor and friction within your team. Does it need shaking up? Are you the one who is going to take the first step, and wake everyone up before it is too late?

No Man is an Island


Image by murplej@ne – brutally architortured

Life is never a static journey. It is constantly in motion, a state of flux, with all of us experiencing a series of highs and lows. There are definitely periods when we appear to plateau and get stuck in any one particular state. I find human psychology absolutely fascinating. If it is possible to put a little time and effort into understanding why they behave or act the way they do, or why others act or behave in a certain way, you open up a realm of infinite possibilities. If we remain islands and cut ourselves off from everyone else, this isolation distorts our image of the real world.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..” John Donnne

Even though this phrase from the the poem is nearly 500 years old, there is a truth in the phrase that transcends time when you truly make an effort to understand what the author was saying. When you relate this phrase to entrepreneurship, you ultimately end up at the topic of teams and partnership. Going at something alone, may appear to be the best short term strategy, it is not however the optimal long term one. We have to understand that to achieve great things, we must be willing to partner with others, with complementing skill sets to achieve something extraordinary.

Getting partnerships right is usually not an easy step. It requires both individuals to get to know why they are collaborating on this opportunity. They must share core values and be extremely passionate about what they do. There will always be an element of risk when you partner with someone. People behave very differently when working in isolation and as a team. Mistakes will be made, yet, at the same time these are necessary mistakes that need to made in order for one to move forward.