How to Find an Advisor for Your Startup
POV: You’re the founder of a startup that is looking for an advisor. It feels like shouting into the void, and you aren’t sure what you should even be shouting in the first place. Why do you need startup advisors? And how can you successfully find the right one for your startup?
We’ve been there. It can be intimidating to seek out an advisor, Here is a detailed list of steps to find an advisor for your startup, as well as what are the various channels for finding startup advisors.
Startup advisors are kind of like the Kickstarter to your startup, except instead of raising capital and interest, they can help you with much more than that. Networking, entrepreneurship, experience, and problem-solving are just the tip of the iceberg of benefits.
1. Identify advisor profile
An advisor is someone who knows the ins and outs of creating and leading a startup to success. As Forbes notes, having a good startup advisor can make or break a startup.
However, it is very important to find the right advisor for you and your startup. Knocking on the wrong door can be a waste of time and effort for both you and the other party.
That is why the first step to finding an advisor for your startup is to identify an advisor profile. Who is in a position to help your startup the most? What are the traits that you should look for in your potential advisor?
A big part of this step is knowing what you want and need in an advisor. That way, it is easier to find the right match.
Accessibility is key
In this day and age, you can be thousands of miles away from your advisor and still meet up over Zoom. Accessibility is no longer about whether you live close enough to grab a coffee, but whether they want to help you. If the advisor you are seeking does not seem interested in a business-friendly relationship where they can give you advice, they are not adequately accessible.
Someone in or familiar with your industry
An advisor relationship is typically a mutually beneficial relationship between the advisor and the person receiving advice. It is often best to find an advisor who is in the same industry, as this can help immensely with how they can help you.
Let’s say you’ve found someone approachable and well-known. They work for a Fortune 500 company in the pharmaceutical field and happen to be open to chatting with you. But if you are in the music industry, a Grammy winner would have more relevant expertise and understand your challenges better.
In short, know what your startup is about, and know what you’re looking for.
2. Formulate a specific ask
Asking someone to be an advisor for you requires both a thoughtful approach and an understanding of what a typical advisor should look like.
It isn’t usually the best idea to go up to someone and ask, “Hey, want to be my advisor and help my startup succeed?” because that would be awkward and seem like you aren’t bothered to build up a mutually beneficial relationship, and only want them to help you. First impressions, as always.
It can be preferable to dress the question up in more appropriate and friendlier clothes, much like starting a friendship. If the process is not forced, it is more likely to succeed. It can be a good idea to keep your and your advisor’s relationship casual and friendly.
For your ask, include who you are, what the favor is you’d like from the other person and be as specific and respectful as possible.
3. Find the right channel of communication
There are several ways to reach out to someone who may be accessible and appropriate as your startup advisor. Here are some of the communication channels that you can use to find startup advisors. Remember to use your target advisor’s preferred method of communication.
This is a classic way of reaching out to other professionals, but not necessarily the best advisor channel. It can be time-consuming to build relationships with target advisors and advisors because some might not be interested in offering guidance to you.
Startup accelerator network
A startup accelerator can offer advisory on top of seed funding.
Y Combinator is of course the top startup accelerator whose program many startup founders want to get accepted into.
If you can get accepted into a startup accelerator network, you will be able to gain access to many potential advisors who might not have considered helping you otherwise.
Startup accelerators are competitive and require a full-time commitment. A local startup incubator might be an easier option since most incubators will allow you into their network of advisors for a simple fee.
School, organization, or community
There are many organizations that may be able to help facilitate the advisor-seeking process or teach you how to find a startup advisor.
For example, Forbes recommends Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It is a member-led peer-sharing program that can give startup founders and entrepreneurs support and advice.
If you have graduated from a school that has a reliable alumni network, it can also be incredibly valuable to reach out to other alumni and see if they are interested in helping you out.
4. Approach the advisor
Once you’ve identified the advisor, formulated the ask, and found a communication channel, it’s time to actually approach the advisor.
Remember to schedule an initial conversation or meeting so neither of you feels rushed. Give them your pre-formulated ask (what help you are seeking), and respect their time and response.
Ask to be introduced by a common connection
A common connection can be invaluable. These often come from a school network, an organization, or a startup accelerator.
Cold emails are not the best approach because they can be seen as impersonal, but sometimes they are the only way to reach out to a larger number of potential startup advisors at once.
Reach out on LinkedIn
If you’re reaching out on LinkedIn, don’t send a vague message saying you would like to chat. Ask the favor you would like, and be as specific as possible without rambling on. Make sure the other person receives enough information to be interested in hearing you out.
Reach out to someone you already know
They might be someone you have conversed with in the past and you’ve found them to be a great potential advisor.
In this case, it could be a good opportunity to send them a respectful email, acknowledge your respect for them and connection with them, and request an advisor relationship. Yale has an example of how to reach out to someone you already know.
The last thing to keep in mind
It is important to keep in mind that your target advisors are likely very successful in their careers, meaning that they are very busy. No matter which method of approach you use, make sure that you can gracefully accept being declined or even ignored.