Advisors have a 30-day half-life

by Eric Marcoullier

Strontium-90, on the other hand, has a half-life of 28.8 years.

Since we sold MyBlogLog to Yahoo in 2007, I’ve regularly been asked to advise startups. I’ve agreed several times and I’ve brought on advisors to help with the companies I launched after.  I’ve found the experience to be a mixed bag on both sides of the table. If you’re thinking about becoming or bringing on an advisor, maybe you’ll find this series useful.

Advisors usually provide the bulk of their value in the first 30 days 

You’re a young entrepreneur filling out your seed round.  An investor connects you with a friend; you call him up and make the pitch.  He politely declines, then spends a half hour on the phone chatting about your business.  He makes several insightful observations about your business and then offers to connect you to a few more angels he’s friends with, which he does the next day.

If you’re like many new entrepreneurs I know, this is where you send a super-sincere email gushing about the insight you received and how awesome if it would be if he would consider coming on as an advisor.  Don’t be this guy.

It’s really easy to have a great conversation for an hour with just about anyone with an ounce of initiative and a novel idea.  Most seasoned entrepreneurs and businesspeople have a ton of advice that can be broadly applied to any new business idea — most of it now helpfully condensed into the Lean Startup methodology and Brad Feld / Jason Mendelson’s book on venture financing.  We’ve also got enough experience where we can point out some general gotchas and suggest a few people to talk to for additional feedback or investment.

But it’s not an infinite list.  If you come back and talk to me next week, I probably won’t have anyone else for you to talk to; I gave you my list at the end of the first conversation.  I’ve made my introductions and until I meet relevant new people, my Rolodex lies fallow.  And if I don’t have deep relevant domain knowledge and a passion for discussing it, I’m probably not going to be a fount of new ideas for you.

So for now, just send me an email that says you appreciate the time I spent with you and the introductions I made.  Save the advisor request for when we know each other better.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John Minnihan September 20, 2011 at 10:24 am

For me, it’s always been ‘friend first, advisor second’. I don’t know how common this is (I’ve never asked anyone), but I have to trust someone before I’ll ask for his/her advice, let only even consider acting on it. Trust doesn’t come from a single call or meeting.

In this frame, I’m always asking friends for advice, tho my approach is less formal (usually) and more conversational (i.e. ‘what do you think of [x]?’). Recall how during that walk in Boulder a while back (a long while, hey) I asked *you* what you thought abt something I was considering. Very informal, but usual to me.

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Eric Marcoullier September 20, 2011 at 11:04 am

John — funny you mention that idea of “friend first”. It’s actually a core part of my last advisor post on Thursday!

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John Minnihan September 20, 2011 at 11:09 am

Well, I *do* have script approval, so I read ahead.

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