It is no secret that I love the active advisor role: my LinkedIn is rife with them (and let’s just appreciate that we no longer say “my resume”). What is perhaps less evident is exactly how difficult being an active advisor is. Not because of the time demands (although it can be demanding) but because in order to be an active advisor, you need active advisees. And that can be a truly hard lesson for a founder to learn.
Most founders are self-starters; they wouldn’t have formed a company otherwise. At the very least, they are capable of doing a great many things on their own, and I truly believe that most of them take specific pleasure from doing so. The trouble is that makes them prone to a Rambo mentality, a one-man-army approach that means taking on more than you actually need to. Sometimes, the burdens get to feeling good.
As an advisor, that’s hard to watch. In an ideal world, you want them to realize “this is something someone else could do better” and almost immediately outsource it to the correct person. From that view, the best founders are the ones who realize the specific function of each person in their team, including advisors.
Different advisors are good for different things, but overwhelmingly I think they have two strengths: the ability to impart mental paradigm shifting information in short bursts and the ability to connect above and around problems.
By the first, I mean simply that a good advisor can entirely change the way you view your approach over the course of a meal or a drink. It is something you find in good college professors as well, that mind-blowing moment where they totally shift your worldview. Taking advantage of that means introducing your advisor to whatever team member needs a paradigm shift and letting them have it. Too often, the advisor meetings are just with founders: don’t make that mistake. Introduce your advisor to the team and give them the chance to ask the questions they need answers to.
The second is far more standard. Most advisors have a varied network, in part because they have also had to solve the same problems that founders have and thus have developed the networks that allow for those solutions. Need to hire an engineer? Call your advisors. Need a lawyer? Call your advisors. Trying to get a bizdev meeting? Call your advisors. If it involves needing something that you don’t have and requires more than a day to get, your advisors can probably get it more quickly for you.
And here’s the key: your advisors want to help you. That’s the whole reason they are your advisors! Nobody signs up to be any kind of active advisor unless they really do want to be a part of making your company better. By letting them do that, you’re not only making your life easier, you’re making them happy. I’m always reminded of The Offspring lyrics: Now I know I’m being used. That’s okay, man, ’cause I like the abuse.