Updated: Feb 15, 2021
In a startup, the role of the advisor is perhaps the most underestimated, and very often misunderstood. An advisor can be perceived to be this highly paid outsider offering unsolicited opinions on anything and everything, ever-present and interfering as if pushing a separate agenda, even as their core contributions seem both mysterious and fleeting. Those do exist, but it is actually easy to spot great advisors among the not so good ones. The how-to is on a surprisingly basic gut level.
Great advisors bring expertise to the startup, acquired over many years of walking in the shoes of founders, CEO’s and C-Suite members. They’ve been there before. That's the obvious part. Great advisors additionally and equally importantly, are great human beings, that instinctually give more than they receive. And their signature ability is to be good listeners. Great advisors' personalities therefore embody the opposite of a need for ego-boost, self-glorification and personal gain, but rather understand their role to be about contributing to company leaders, adding value and simply being there when needed. They are past the point of needing to prove anything to anyone, and personify a great balance between emotional intelligence and nuts and bolts knowledge IQ. The greatest compliment an advisor can get is to be the one founders call upon after hours, about thoughts keeping them up at night, or just to have a conversation and bounce ideas off with someone they trust, and knows where they are coming from.
For founders, the startup journey can be very lonely, intellectually as well as emotionally, and things can occur that are complex and consequential, needing well thought out navigation and resolution. All consumed by the daily detail of making their startup succeed, for founders, those moments can be difficult to foresee. Having someone who can hover up above, detached from the daily grind, someone who can see the detail against the big picture and the moment in context of the long-term goal, that’s where the presence of a great advisor, ever so quietly and invisibly, can truly mean the difference between failure and success.