The 11 Advisors An Entrepreneur Needs
An Kansas City entrepreneur’s worth is proportionate to three things: their skill-sets, the worth of their network, and their ability to leverage both of these assets. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn calls this concept, ‘I to the we’. The ‘we’ is your network and it’s the exponent of the worth of the founder. In other words, a great founder will have a hard time succeeding with a bad network, and a great network with a bad founder will also struggle. To ensure neither of these two things occur, it’s imperative entrepreneurs constantly add value to both themselves, as well as their network.
One way to add value to your network is to add advisors to it. We don’t mean any ole’ advisor either, we mean entrepreneurship advisors from Kansas City. In other words, they need to be from Kansas City, but almost more importantly, their experience needs to be relevant to entrepreneurship. There are three different types of relationships that you should be building:
This is someone that meets up for beer or coffee on an as-needed basis with no other intention than having fun, helping you, and giving back to the community. These people can be called upon when the times get rough, and help you with a hybrid of therapy/consultation.
A Formal Board Of Advisors
Someone that helps Kansas City entrepreneurs within this capacity is doing so in a substantially more formal capacity than a standard mentor. You still use them for advice, but it’s more organized, formal, and regular. Sometimes these types of advisors take equity (partial ownership) in the company, sometimes they’re doing it to give back, sometimes it’s to pad their thought leadership resume, and sometimes they take structured board seats.
Weaker Ties And Acquaintances
Last, there are people that sit on the far reaches of your network, but are still called upon from time-to-time to help out you out. These can be old college professors, or past vendors you’ve used. Either way, you still maintain a some type of relationship with them. In the aggregate, their value may prove to be worth more than a good mentor or angel investor.
It’s the founder’s job to create an army of these types of people around themselves. You should be seeking 5-to-10 mentors, 2-to-6 board of advisor roles, and hundreds of ‘weaker ties and acquaintances’.
We say this to give you a generic idea of a number, but want to emphasize quality and relevance over quantity. When we say relevance, we mean two variables: industry and stage of business. You want to surround yourself by smart people with experience in the earliest of stages, in combination with people that know your industry.
What types of advisors should Kansas City entrepreneurs be looking for?
What types of people should sit on your board, mentor you, and dwell within your network’s alliance? Below you’ll find a non-exhaustive list. Also note that certain people will (and should) fill multiple roles – especially from a mentor or advisory role.
No matter how obsolete their skills are getting in this fast paced and technological world, some of those skills are never going out of style. Experienced men and women represent a radical amount of pattern recognition; meaning they can spot problems and opportunities a mile away. You won’t use these people for advice on some things, e.g., retargeting ads within a digital marketing funnel; but you will on other things, e.g., navigating the difficulty of having a family while starting a company. See the difference? One is a micro-oriented and specific problem/opportunity that relates to a modern task, the other is a macro-oriented one that relates to a timeless task. Grey hair tends to be way better at the macro-oriented advice.
By definition, ‘marketing’ has a very ambiguous meaning, making it something difficult to fully specialize in all alone. Your sales methods, your branding, your hard copy collateral – these are all aspects of marketing. Even an expert at these things will need people to bounce ideas off of or to get opinions on before doubling down. Marketer’s brains work differently than everyone else’s. If you’re not one of them, go find one.
For some thankful reason, Kansas City entrepreneurs instinctively understand the importance of building bridges in-between us all. Certain leaders just seem to know everyone, and these are the types of people you need in your network. You never know when you’ll need a friendly email referral.
Is your site broken? Are you not sure which mobile developer to hire? Do you need to be pointed towards the newest tech platforms and programming schemas? These are just a few examples depicting when it’d be clutch to have a ‘tech person’ near-and-dear to your startup. No matter what industry you’re in, no matter what stage of business you’re at – more and better technology can always be used to complement the work you’re already doing. Not everyone is building a tech company, and that’s okay. But everyone is most definitely building a tech-enabled company. Get used to that fact, or you’ll be hanging out with Blockbuster and Kodak.
Business consultation isn’t always about crunching numbers, connecting entrepreneurs, defining strategies, and all that other stuff you see in the movies. Although this stuff happens, a good advisor’s job description should partially be therapy. As the leader of a new organization it’s your job to have an open line of communication with your team. But that rule doesn’t apply to absolutely everything. Sometimes you just need to vent a little about how hard your job is; that your wife is leaving you due to your lackluster work/life balance; co-founder squabbles; or any number of other things that should be shielded from your team, yet deserve some attention. Ironically, we witness our paid consultants acting like therapists more than stereotypical consultants. This is okay. All that matters is value is being transferred, and companies are growing.
Every startup needs to have a couple of hardcore fans. Hopefully these people come from your customer base, sometimes from your vendors, and hopefully are represented in your network of friends and family. Regardless, they are the types of people that are passionate about either you, or your mission, and want to help in whatever way they can. Never underestimate the importance of a few fans and the power that they possess. Don’t have these types of people? Keep working, you’ll get them.
Financial projections, tax issues, company valuation, and a heap of numbers-oriented data will start to pile up. You can’t improve what you don’t measure; but if you can’t read/understand/interpret the data, it doesn’t matter whether you’re measuring or not. Having someone that can help with the numbers side of the business will prove to be priceless.
Navigating the Kansas City angel investment scene isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. For entrepreneurs raising capital in Kansas City, it’s is all about relationship building. Thus, you need a rainmaker that has already paved a lot of these roads for you. The rainmaker might be an investor themselves, or sometimes just as important – a connector to the investors. Their job will be more than to just introduce you to investors, but also to help you prep for the inevitable gauntlet of meetings. You will pitch to them and get feedback; you will spitball potential valuations and rationale; you will creatively build clauses into your contracts that are good for both parties; and the list goes on.
Who is going to edit your blogs, executive summaries, or investor proposals? Who is going to help you write the copy that converts the most people from your landing page to your bank account? Never underestimate the importance of a writer to a startup. If you don’t believe us on this one, watch and wait as this decade turns into the age of content. Marketing is at a tipping point: blogs, SnapChat, search engine rankings – all of it is contingent on content. Content requires a story, and stories are told by writers.
Much like raising angel investment capital is a relationship game, so is PR. Getting press is an art, and not a science. To navigate these foreign territories you’ll need someone that speaks the language, and has the Rolodex.
The best legal advice for startups is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You need lawyers to help you diagnose legal landmines that you might not have otherwise thought of, and even if you’ve thought of them you need a lawyer to protect you from them. Startup law can get complicated, fast. It involves things like subscription agreements, entity formation, patent law, operating agreements, and the list goes on. Skip putting lawyers on your team at your own peril.