Startup advisors: What they do, where to meet them and how to get them interested

Published Sept. 24, 2020

Startup advisors can open doors and make your most annoying issues go away. Advisors have been through it all and most likely know what it takes for your business to reach the next level, so how can you get one?

Startup advisors: What they do, where to meet them and how to get them interested

Advisors are the bloodline of many modern startups. Not only do they often add fancy names to your team page, but they can help your business with their connections and network, help you work through issues, bring in their inputs and open doors with partners and investors that would usually be closed.

That doesn’t come from nothing, of course. Companies must prove their worth, show progress every week and the traction an advisor expects for them to stay on board. That often also means that the advisor is compensated or has a stake in the company.

What does a startup advisor do?

Startup advisors are chosen and utilized on a varying range of topics. The most common startup advisors are professors, founders and serial founders themselves, with deep expertise of the niche that a company acts in.

Apart from that, they may be growth advisors, with deep expertise in marketing, sales and growing products from nothing to millions of users. Growth is often the number one priority at startups and bringing on independent and new ideas can work wonders.

There are also technical advisors, commonly seen in industries where deep technical expertise is needed or where founders need extra support to push through the challenges.

No matter the nature of the advisors, an advisory board is usually a formal group and often the first place that startup founders can go to talk through issues.

How do I compensate a startup advisor?

Startup advisors don’t work for free. For the value they provide, they are looking for a return.

Most commonly, advisors have an equity stake in the company and are paid $1,000 upwards, plus expenses, for each meeting to reimburse their time.

Other advisors will not take a meeting fee and rely on a more generous equity package instead, while a monetary meeting and retainer fee may be preferred by others.

The compensation and service plan is usually tightly set in an advisory agreement, like this one by the Founder Institute.

Where can I find a startup advisor?

So, you’re sold on the idea of getting an advisor for your startup, where can you get one? Good advisors aren’t sold on the street, so you need to go to the right places to find one.

1. Startup networking events

Be it meetups, demo days or startup groups. If you want to make the right connections, startup network events are usually where investors and advisors are looking to hear your ideas.

If you work in a specific industry and visit those events, you will also get the added benefit of finding people experienced and well-connected in those industries.

When it comes to signing up an advisor to your team, it’s always good to show others what you can do. Participate in presentations and demo days or directly pick out who you want to talk with and give it your best.

2. Partners

It wouldn’t be the first time that someone signed a business partner, customer or supplier to come on board as an advisor or even an investor.

Exploring the business partners you are close with is a great way to get an introduction to advisors in your industry. Even better, there’s no need to make things formal right away. You can start by asking a few questions, meeting once in a while to get some advice, before moving on to the next stage.

This is an approach we value and exercise at MentorCruise religiously. Just yesterday, I’ve signed up for another session with a marketer, right here on the platform. In the past, I’ve booked sessions to push through scalability issues and gain new ideas in marketing. Talk about scratching our itch!

3. Cold emailing startup advisors

A good cold email can open a ton of doors! Writing a good cold email is an art in itself, but if you master it, there’s no limit to what you can achieve and who you can reach.

The great thing about this is that you can pick anyone on the world and see whether they can help you. The not-so-great thing is that great advisors get a ton of cold emails and most of them land in spam right away. As someone receiving a fair share of cold emails myself, not many are getting the response you’d like.

Therefore, a few short tips to make your cold email feel a lot less cold.

  • Do not, never, automate your cold emails. Keep things personal and human.

  • Don’t ask them to become an advisor or whether you will be able to send them a question – lead with your question and be direct

  • Offer something in return. Support a project or cause that they are passionate about or feedback to something they’ve written/built/talked about.

In short: be human and natural, don’t ask for commitment or even a reply, just pay it forward and see whether it can lead to a relationship.

4. Online Communities

Especially nowadays, startup events and networking increasingly happen online. There are online communities out there, where super-smart engineering students share the same space with 8-figure business owners. The possibilities are endless.

Even better – people in the right communities love to interact with others. Whereas with cold emailing your biggest challenge is to even get a reply, in communities you will find a lot of people with the same mindset as you.

In many cases, what you will find in these places is peer-to-peer advisors: Folks in the trenches together, trying to help each other out. That’s not something bad though! In many cases, you will find long-lasting and valuable contacts in communities like this.

Our top picks for this are IndieHackers, MegaMaker and Startup School, but there are many others!

5. Mentorship Platforms

Mentorship platforms are popping up left and right and indeed, they are one of the easiest ways to connect with an expert for advice.

Besides ourselves offering sessions and longterm mentorships with experts all around the tech industry, there are plenty of other players in the market that can help you.

On one side, you have apps like GrowthMentor, helping you to connect casually to growth and marketing experts that can help you get unstuck in a few sessions you can book through the platform.

GrowthMentor

Then, you have programs like Mentorpass that allow you to get access to a range of great advisors for as long as you need them, to push through issues and problems in a few calls as well.

While not the cheapest option, it’s probably the most comfortable and accessible way to get access to real experts in their topic and your industry.

6. Incubators and accelerators

Finally, if you want to go the full way, you can get very close 1-to-1 mentorships and advisors if you join a renowned incubator program. For example, the well-known YCombinator and Techstars programs each give you a personal advisor when you join their program.

Of course, incubators and accelerators also come with the most baggage out of all of them. It’s not uncommon for these programs to have rigid investing rules, long presence programs and is usually bound to them taking a free equity stake, so make sure you know what you are getting into!