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How to be a great advisory board member to a startup



Have you made it into the C-suite yet yearn for the excitement of a startup? Serving as an advisory board member for a startup might be a great fit for your passion and talents. Take a look at some of the key ingredients every founder needs on their startup’s advisory board. Think about what you might get out of the experience while simultaneously supporting the founders. If it makes sense, let’s get you connected to a local startup.


Who should be on a startup board?

Gray hair and wrinkles are not only desirable, they are an advantage. Board members who have skinned their knees plenty and gotten back into the game over and over again have the grit to help you get through challenges. They also have the perspective to know when something is actually big versus when something feels big.


What’s in it for board members?

When considering board service, consider your career stage. Midcareer candidates can expand their networks, learn a lot about the startup process and gain valuable experience for their resume. Senior-level candidates with more free time can build friendships, use the skills they’ve been honing for decades, have a shot at making money, help to grow the local economy and—most important—have fun.


While startup advisory board members do not have fiduciary responsibility and are seldom compensated, they might have the opportunity to invest should the founder raise money. Once the company sells, ideally, investors will receive a return on their investment.


Determine your personal mission on the board.

This is an easy task for high achievers. What do you want to get out of your experience while on the board? How do you specifically want to help the company achieve its goals during your tenure? Be clear about what you want for yourself, and clearly define your goals.


Mind the time of the founder.

Once you are on the board, you will be so tempted to enthusiastically say, “We should do X!” or, “It takes no time to do Y.” However, it does when founders have a finite amount of time to complete an infinite number of tasks with due dates. When there are no full-time employees to support the founder, they are perpetually busy.


Rather than add more to their to-do list, help founders identify efficiencies and automations to reduce their workload and increase productivity. If you can, assist with some minor tasks so they have more time to focus on their top priorities, which probably include fundraising and/or sales.


Be a paying customer.

Being a customer is the highest form of market validation. When possible, purchase the product or service of the company on whose board you serve. This allows you to have your own customer experience and helps you see what does and doesn’t work. When you can talk with peers about your connection as both a board member and customer, you and the company gain greater credibility.


Boost the company!

Always like and share good news, posts and opportunities on social media. Remember, the more likes a post gets, the more eyeballs see the post. You never know who might see something and decide to take a positive action to support the company because they saw information you boosted.

When attending a dinner party, be ready to succinctly explain the following: company mission, a few accomplishments or a success story, and why you decided to serve on the board. Pro tip: Type out the answers in a conversational way and practice them while driving. It’s what we founders do when we’re prepping for a fundraising or sales pitch.


Boost the founder!

The founder’s responsibilities include: everything. They are the one-person sales/fundraising, marketing, HR, accounting, tech, etc., machine. Over time, they might hire contractors to complete some projects. An important part of a board member’s job is to check in on the founder. Compliment them on a successful meeting or event, send them a “Happy birthday!” text, recognize their work and accomplishments on social media. They get 100% of the criticism, so it’s nice to consistently hear positive feedback from people close to them.


Make meaningful introductions.

This skill set is most valuable to most founders. Whenever possible, invite the founder into new rooms where they wouldn’t otherwise get to be. For example, I was recently invited to an event and was introduced to 30 people I had never met. I’ve already been able to follow up with some of them and can already see the benefits for my company.


Write thoughtful email introductions to potential investors and customers. Help the founder save time by leveraging your network and platform to connect with someone you and the founder might not know yet.


Show up with rigorous consistency.

This one is simple. Show up to meetings and important events and be fully present. Initiate conversation with fellow board members, potential investors and prospective customers. If you must take a phone call or text, step out of the room to take it. Otherwise, devote 100% of your attention to the people in the physical and/or virtual room with you.


If you would like to learn more about becoming an advisory board member to a woman-owned startup, email Kristen@TheStartupLadies.org.


*This article was originally published in the Indianapolis Business Journal on March 8, 2024.

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