Building an advisory board for an early-stage tech company means finding people who bring expertise, knowledge and assistance with decision-making — founders should look for advisers with skills and experience they lack themselves.
Start by considering where your team has crucial gaps. It’s your responsibility to ensure that whoever represents you is truly top-notch. To do that, you must consistently evaluate each member’s value. Ensure that candidates understand expected time commitments and responsibilities before they commit.
Identify the key players
Seek board members who offer specific skill sets your current team lacks. The strongest advisers will be seasoned individuals who bring outside perspectives and valuable industry insights.
For a well-rounded and effective board, look for the following key players:
1. The Loyal Customer
As your company progresses, you might grow removed from directly interacting with customers. By adding one to your board, you can gain valuable insights into what prospects are looking for.
This board member should be able to answer: what motivates customers to make their way through your sales funnel? What long-term improvements you can make to create more competitive products? This adviser should be a gateway into the mind of your target audience.
2. The Industry Networker
Don’t forget to consider individuals who are big players in the industry your product serves. If you’re operating a logistics software company, leverage someone from a logistics company that might or might not be a client. It will let you build a favorable reputation through association and gain valuable, industry-specific insights.
3. The Pragmatic Expert
When vetting potential advisers, keep your business plan in mind. Is an IPO in your future? Then seek out a board member who has experience taking a company public. This adviser will be able to use personal experiences to give you practical strategies to move forward.
4. The Global Navigator
Oftentimes, cultural nuances derail what would otherwise be successful international business ventures. If you’re looking to do business abroad, find an adviser who has successfully navigated the subtleties of working in your target area.
5. The Marketing Maverick
Powerful outreach initiatives are crucial, so bring a member with marketing acumen to the table. A seasoned tech specialist will know how to engage your audience, suggest innovative ways to leverage your company’s existing proprietary platforms, or empower your team to use analytics to stay on top of industry trends and market demand.
Make your offers
Once you have your team in place, measure the value of each adviser based on participation, the sales they can bring in, and other important metrics. Then, begin thinking of the type of compensation you offer your advisory board members. Stock options or equity incentives are a great place to start.
A board of advisers should act much like a sports team. Members must meet together consistently to provide leadership, support and constructive feedback. By putting together a strong, diverse team, you’ll ensure that you have the right point person to turn to in any situation.
Mitchell Kopelman is the partner-in-charge of Aprio’s Tax practice as well as the Technology & Biosciences group. He works with companies in the software, gaming, clean tech, fintech, health IT, processing, biosciences, and manufacturing industries.