To make effective use of your advisory board you have to provide them written material in advance that offers context on your situation and the questions you want to explore with them.

Making Effective Use Of Your Advisory Board

Q: I see you are on several advisory boards for startups do you have any advice for how to form them and how to make effective use of them?

An advisory board is a formal or informal group of advisers who give advise, contacts, and feedback. Unlike the board of directors they do not have a formal fiduciary responsibility but are critical for start-ups.

Half of the value is in the preparation that you and your team make in advance of the meeting: the act of organizing your thoughts about the situation and getting the team more or less on the same page about challenges, constraints, and options is at least half the value. Don’t push for a consensus in the meeting, it’s OK that people may strongly disagree, your goal is to get a variety of perspectives on the table including perhaps some you had not considered.

Q: We are in customer discovery and as I go through conversations with prospects I am finding that we need a way to disseminate what we think we have learned, our current hypotheses, and our plans and experiments to my advisors in a controlled way. How do you see others addressing this?

This is a real challenge especially in the early market exploration phase. Could you give me a little more context: what are you doing now and what are the challenges with it?

Present Numbers and Narrative In Advance

Q: We communicate with them sporadically, writing a “newsletter” twice per year and having phone conversations and other email communications with a handful who are more involved than others. We spend too much time describing what we have learned and not enough discussing the implications. How can we organize our communication with our advisors to get more value out of it?

You need to present not only numbers and metrics–e.g. basic financials, sales pipeline metrics, activity and customer success metrics–but also narrative and stories.  You don’t want a face to face meeting or phone conference to be consumed with “what happened” and a detailed look in rear view mirror. This means you need to present written information in advance.

We have found that a wiki can be used to define an agenda for a meeting, link to other content for context, and allow advisors to update pages with questions or comments in advance of the meeting. This can also be done via e-mail but it’s often useful to update the agenda or context pages with the remarks and questions from your advisors.

We use IMeetCentral (what used to be CentralDesktop) and put all of the work in progress into it. It then sends out notifications of new material as you update. The challenge is to get comfortable providing early information. We also use it create agenda pages for calls/meetings that are ready before the meeting and then are updated with notes from the meeting. There are several other good systems that do this (e.g. wikispaces and PBWorks; we have not found Basecamp or GoogleDocs as useful).

This complements your newsletter approach, which is also a good idea, and the pages can be updated after the meeting as well by you or any of your advisors.

There may be two or three levels of involvement or advisors working at different tempos. But I think you should communicate early and offer links to additional context with folks in the core and active rings. If you talk to someone only once a quarter or twice a year they may be better served by a refined summary / agenda that goes out to structure the conversation.

Related Blog Posts

VentureHacks has three relevant posts that are more focused on VC related issues than bootstrapping but still worth reviewing: