Date your advisor before getting married

by Eric Marcoullier

Wait till you see what I have on under this dress!

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.

Try a 90-day informal arrangement before committing long-term

These days, when I’m approached to advise a startup, if I like the team and the product, I propose the following framework:

  • You have unfettered access to me for the next 90 days
    • I’ll answer all your emails promptly
    • I’m happy to schedule a regular meeting every week or two
  • My job is to provide useful feedback and introductions
  • Your job is to keep me involved
  • If, in 90 days, we’re both still excited and engaged
    • I’ll officially come on as an advisor
    • Send me whatever advising agreement you like

In the majority of cases, the entrepreneur drops off after a couple weeks. Almost always after a month or two. Now maybe this is just because I don’t give useful advice, but I’m thinking it also has something to do with the CEO not having the time to keep me involved.

Having the 90-day informal arrangement means that neither of us have to go through the “it’s not you, it’s me” part of the breakup.  And if the entrepreneur occasionally emails me asking for some one-off advice or introductions, I’m still happy to help.

BEST PRACTICE: Don’t call me an advisor, call me a friend.

Moving forward, I’m thinking about changing my approach and strictly limiting the “advisor” title for business arrangements where I have a significant stake and/or salary.  As I said early on, hiring someone is a sure-fire way to keep them focused on your company, even if it’s only a part-time capacity.

For everyone else, I’ll happily provide help at the drop of a hat, but I won’t sign on as an advisor.  Take me out for coffee (or maybe a nice dinner if you have funding).  Better yet, take me to see a show.

Let’s just be two entrepreneurs bonding over the fact that you have a fantastic product or company and I may have some relevant feedback for you.  I promise I’ll give you the same attention whether you call me a “mentor”, “advisor”, “friend” or “awesome dude”.

BEST PRACTICE: Seek out mentors in addition to advisors.

A mentor is different from an advisor in a couple ways:

  • They’re primarily focused on your personal success
  • They extend beyond the lifetime of any single company
  • They don’t ask for remuneration

Mentors are fantastic because they are long-term resources. Over time, they learn your strengths and weaknesses and can assist you in a highly personalized way.  For instance, I tend to take extremely polarized viewpoints to situations and my personal mentors have been instrumental in saving me from myself on numerous occasions.

Because the relationship is personal, you don’t have to worry about gathering new support each time you start a company.  Mentors have your back at all times.  And because it’s a personal relationship, their not looking for payment.  But don’t be stingey — take your mentors out occasionally and show them they’re appreciated.

Otherwise, manage your mentors like advisors. Put them to work for you, respect their time, act on their advice.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rex Dixon September 22, 2011 at 11:04 am

Awesome DUDE! :)

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Jienya May 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Great advice! Thank you! Do I need to send you shares for this post? ;)

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