How to Build an Standout Team of Startup Advisors

You don’t have to go it alone. A well-rounded team of individuals will help your company grow. By Lauren Tucker (CEO, Cooler Heads Intelligence) It’s been an interesting year. Six months into owning my own business, and I’m still ambivalent about this gig. I’m passionate about what we do. I’m a crusader for data science and its ability to transform business; but, as I recently told my very supportive mother, “Owning a business wasn’t one of the things I wanted to do when I grew up.” I worked hard in the corporate world, and I admit, I liked the security and the ready advisors it offered. At some point, though, I began growing beyond the bounds of the company. That security began to feel more like handcuffs. Breaking free meant going on one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever faced. I knew needed some help.    Since I wasn’t looking for investors, a professional board of directors wasn’t in the picture, so I put together a network of experienced advisors I call my “kitchen cabinet.” First, I set out to find like-minded souls – entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, data aficionados who understood my company’s mission.

I was delighted to discover such a supportive community, not only in Richmond, Virginia, but also around the country. My still growing network of advisors includes lawyers, local proprietors, serial entrepreneurs, even executives at my larger competitors, who believe our boutique offering in the analytics industry improves the opportunity for all of us.

My kitchen cabinet doesn’t get compensated in the traditional sense. They see their advice and counsel as a long-term investment that will pay off by either enhancing the prosperity of the local community or as one of the lawyers said, “We’ll make money when you make money.” So, what’s my advice for building your kitchen cabinet?

Be Your Own Champion

This is probably why you started your own gig to begin with. So don’t be shy about asking for help early and often. If you have a business partner like I do, you both should seek worthy counsel. You’ll double your network and your access to expert advice.

Tune In and Turn On

Social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook can give you access to local and national sources of experience and advice. My cabinet also includes business and analytics bloggers who have given generously of their time on more than one occasion and continue to check in regularly to see how we’re doing.

Make like 7-11

Be open to everything, all the time — suggestions, criticism and introductions. You don’t need to act on all the advice. Just don’t get your hackles up when someone tells you something that’s hard to hear or suggests something you may have dismissed earlier. There’s really nothing that is written in stone, and your business model will always be evolving. Your cabinet can help you avoid some time wasters along the way.

Embrace Free Advice

The old adage, “Advice is only worth what you pay for it” is B.S. There are nuggets of gold in that kitchen cabinet. To be sure, the advice you receive will vary in relevance, but you’re in charge of your business. Use your experience, knowledge and data (you know I’d say this somewhere) to determine what will work for you.  

Embrace the Agenda of Your Advisors

OK, if they aren’t getting paid, they must have some kind of agenda or interest. Of course they do! So do you! Put your big girl panties on and couple that ruthless optimism with some healthy discernment. The agenda of your kitchen cabinet members can be your best source of referrals and business if your agenda aligns with theirs. If fact, this merging of agendas gave us our first client and paid for those expensive insurances data analytics firms need to operate.

Tell It Like It Is

I find it most helpful if you tell your cabinet members the good, the bad and the ugly of what’s going on. If it helps you sleep at night to get a non-disclosure agreement, go ahead. But most of these folks, if you choose the right people, know how to keep confidences. I’ve found playing it close to the vest leaves me thin on the advice and counsel I find most worthy. So, let me be one of those gems you pull out of your kitchen cabinet by recommending start building one of your own.


About the guest blogger: Lauren Tucker is Co-founder and CEO of Cooler Heads Intelligence, an analytics and marketing intelligence consultancy. The consultancy was designed as a crusade to make the power of data science accessible to a wider array of marketers. Lauren has more than 25 years of strategic marketing communication and branding experience. Follow on Twitter at @BeACoolerHead.