Why Every Startup Should Have an Advisory Board

Running a business isn’t easy. Demands from your team and your clients can fill every minute of every day and it can be hard to prioritize the work that’s actually essential to you and your company. So sometimes, it really can help to get feedback at the right time, from the right people—people who understand the intricacies of your business and who allow you to be incredibly open and honest.

For most companies, that means having a board of directors. A board can be great in the right circumstances, but a board can also wield a ton of power over a CEO because they’re often investors who have capital in your company, which usually conveys them some tangible rights to it (like the ability to fire the CEO, to impact budgets, to change the overall direction of the company, etc.).

Still, very few CEOs have a group of people around them who care about and know their business enough to help them make the changes they need to make—and here’s the key part—without feeling like they have to watch what they say for fear of being fired. This is where I believe an advisory board is critical for every startup.

An advisory board usually consists of clients or essential partners of an organization but they don’t have any “official” power over a CEO (except, perhaps, when and because they’re paying customers). A group like this can not only help give you perspective, but they can also guide you through the right moves and changes when you need to make them. And that’s exactly what having an advisory board has done for me over the last eight years of running GAN. They’ve been an absolutely critical support vehicle.

Here’s why.

The Benefits of an Advisory Board

It Sets People Up as Leaders
First, an advisory board made up of paying clients (in part or in whole) can give those individuals—your most essential clients—a leadership role among your other paying customers. It means they get to speak for the rest of your clients and to set the tone for what the company does to support them.

It Opens Healthy Dialogue
Secondly, clients talk to clients. The format of the board gives our members the ability to speak to one another much more than they would have otherwise spoken to one another. And, given that all of GAN’s board members are some of the best accelerators in the world, the conversations they’re able to have with one another are exciting and incredibly productive.

It also gives our non-advisory board clients a way to bring up issues without having to speak directly to a member of the GAN team. Meaning, there’s something extraordinary about one client talking to another client who happens to be a member of the advisory board. The client bringing up the suggestion feels heard by another member, and the advisory board member (again, who happens to be a client) now has a vehicle to share their feedback from other clients via the advisory board.

It Builds Relationships—To People with Better Insights Than Anyone Else
Third, you become close with the members of your advisory board. One of the best things about running GAN is how close we’ve grown with many of our members, especially the advisory board. We talk with them often, send them thoughts on or changes to our products before anyone else, and share when we’re personally struggling. They’ve stayed at our homes, met our kids, and been there in good times and bad. They’ve gone from being clients to being friends.

You also get valuable feedback from people who know your business very well. Because our advisory board members also happen to be our clients, we get incredible feedback from them. They’re users of what we provide, and yet they also get to give fairly immediate feedback on what we’re providing them.

They Become Your Best Brand Ambassadors
Your advisory board gets even more excited and bought into your mission and goals than anyone else. They get to see “behind the curtain” and much more of the “why” behind what you’re doing. Because of that, they are not only empowered with all of the best details about your products and/or services, but they’re more passionate about what you’re up to and want to tell others about it.

It Costs Basically Nothing
It’s “free” to do this. An advisory board usually doesn’t cost anything except for people’s time.

Setting Your Board Up for Success

Speaking of time, I believe there are a few things that have to happen in order to build an active and productive advisory board.

Establish Good Cadences

  1. Talk regularly. Once or twice a year doesn’t cut it. You need to be on regular calls to establish a rapport among the board and also make sure that you’re getting the information you need on an ongoing basis. This is why our advisory board talks every other month.
  2. Meet up once a year. The board usually comes together informally during one of GAN’s annual conferences. It’s an excellent opportunity for everyone to see each other’s faces outside of their screens on Zoom, which builds deeper relationships between everyone on the board.
  3. Meet for 90 minutes. And I mean every time you get on your regular calls.

Build a Productive Agenda
Here’s our high-level agenda. Please steal it, if it works for you.

  • 12:00 to 12:05: Segue
  • 12:05 to 12:20: Board Updates—things like:
    • How are you?
    • Name one problem you’re working through.
    • Name one unique/fun/exciting thing going on.
    • Name a need you have.
    • Name an offer you have.
  • 12:20 to 12:25: GAN Update + Rocks Review
  • 12:25 to 12:35: Review Last Call’s To-Do’s
  • 12:35 to 12:40: Review Issues List + Add Additional Ones + Choose 1-2 Issues
  • 12:40 to 1:20: IDS
  • 1:20 to 1:30: Review Follow-up To-Do’s + Meeting Ranking + Time for Next Call

Note that things like “rocks,” ‘to-do” and issues lists, IDS, and meeting rankings are all based on TractionMore on our own take on it below.

But, here’s what I like about this agenda—

You’ll notice that it’s basically split up into two halves. One half includes our members talking to one another and the second half is our advisory board helping us on things they care about. They’re helping each other, they’re helping you, and they’re helping the company help you do better for your clients (which includes them).

That means that the first 20 minutes are entirely focused on connecting, supporting, and sharing with each other—about interesting things going on in their own spheres, chances to share things they need, or things they want to offer to do to help the group. It’s such a fun dynamic.

Then, the meat of the call is focused on what you need. Primarily, we pick one or two issues to dig into, and then we do an “IDS,” which is where we “Identify” any problems, “Discuss” the solutions for that issue and then “Solve” that issue based on the solutions that were discussed (again, straight from Traction). This portion really takes some time to dig into, and we found that our previous setup, at just 60-minute calls, just didn’t cut it. Issues are often complex and have multiple layers, so we expanded calls to 90 minutes to truly be able to work through what’s necessary.

Get More Personal
Don’t let board calls be the only time you talk to your advisory board members. Between our calls, I usually have a phone call with one or two of the individuals on our board just to catch-up and talk. It keeps a personal relationship going between them and me, and ensures that I have not only a foundation of friendship but a relationship that isn’t solely built on what they provide to us and our company.

Boards Are for Anyone

Finally, I’m a big believer that any organization and anyone at an organization can put together an advisory board. For instance, if you’re in the accounting department of a large organization, bring together five or so of your internal clients to be your board. Or if you’re running sales at a mid-level company, bring along a few people who you’re interested in working with to be your advisory board. The point is, you don’t have to only have one board—the one at the highest level of your company—or be the CEO in order to build a board.

So, go build one. No matter who you are. And good luck as you do. Seriously, it’s been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made.