In today's startup environment, a company's goals and business model can change in the blink of an eye. What you need to successfully navigate the constantly changing tides of the technology industry are people who've been through the waters before, and it's more important than ever to keep a team of highly-qualified advisors on hand to ensure you're making the proper decision you need to stay afloat and be successful.
Advisory boards, when properly selected, will optimize company performance as it pertains to internal talent, as well as general success of the product. At its worst, they can lead a company down an uncharted course, and the business could eventually outgrow the expertise of the board members.
While building a superstar advisory board is easier said than done, here are a few things to keep in mind as you sift through the sea of resumes.
Look for well-rounded skill-sets
The first thing to consider when creating an efficient advisory board is a clear understanding of what you want each adviser to deliver, and to a certain degree, how long you want him or her to deliver it.
As your start-up evolves and business needs change over time, it will be important to select individuals that have a comprehensive dexterity. A certain skill set might be necessary for say the first 12 months, but other skills might be required in order to supplement the changes your business will eventually undergo.
Take some time to research an adviser and evaluate not only their skill set, but also the quality of their connections. An adviser with a great Rolodex deck can be a huge win for your company, but make sure the person has the right contacts, and that those contacts are still actively involved in ways that could you could potentially leverage.
Know your objectives and what you want to accomplish
While it's important that all advisers boast a well-rounded set of skills, it's important to assess your company's objectives, and how each adviser you choose to bring on board can assist in meeting -- or surpassing -- these goals. Set specific objectives for your advisory board and specify what success looks like. A clearly-defined plan for success will ensure that everyone is on the same page and agree on the destination to your target.
As you're hiring your board, be sure to keep these objectives and defined success track in mind. This will guarantee your advisory board is staffed with people who not only know what needs to be done, but how it could be done more effectively. For instance, if you have a specific strategy that is key -- like a product that calls for a simple design -- then zero in on someone who boasts a successful track record for building simple and efficient design interfaces. Or if you need help with an international launch, you need someone who has experience in successfully rolling out a product quickly and on a pre-determined budget.
By clearly defining what obstacles, challenges or opportunities lay in front of you, you will have an advantage over competitors in being able to implement and create a strategy for long-term success and sustainability.
Now that you've hired your advisers. How do you keep them motivated?
If you want to get the most out of your advisory board, ensure they are correctly compensated for the work they do. It's likely that if you have scored a great advisory board member, other companies are after the individual as well. To keep your advisers motivated and content with your company, you have to provide appropriate compensation or skin in the game. It's especially important that those you select will be honest with you, and who are free of any conflicts of interest that may influence their quality of work they do at your company.
Another key factor in motivation is ensuring your advisory board is kept in the loop on all critical decisions. If you have gone to the trouble of hiring an advisory board, make sure they're up to date on developments, progress, product launches, etc. The more involved they feel they are in the business, the more they will contribute. Create a process for information sharing, and ensure you meet on a regular basis.
Move quickly if things don't work out
The right advisory board member can have a very influential and positive role to play in a start-up, but keep in mind that unlike a board member, who has invested in your company, you're allowed to fire an advisory board member. And you shouldn't be afraid to do so if it isn't working out.
If you are not getting what you expect from your advisory board member, then remove them or replace them without hesitation. It isn't always a fun process, and in all honesty can be downright stressful, but selecting the right advisers is key to your company's upward mobility -- regardless of industry transformations and obstacles your company may face in the coming months or years.
Andreas is the CEO at Rebtel, the world's largest mobile VoIP company after Skype. Prior to Rebtel, the Goldman Sachs alum was COO of Taptu, a leading UK-based mobile search engine, and TradeDoubler, Europe's leading performance based marketing company.