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What is a Startup Advisor?

A startup advisor is a person who provides guidance to founders and other members of early-stage companies’ leadership teams.

Good startup advisors should act as an extension of your operating team, using their experience and industry knowledge to help identify business opportunities, bring your product to market and communicate your brand messaging effectively. Typically, they are people who have been through the process of building the kind of company you want to build, several times over, with both successes and failures along the way. As a result, they can provide advice on what it takes for your business to reach the next level.

The startup advisor role varies significantly from company to company and from person to person. One company may rely strictly on informal relationships and ad hoc discussions, while another may have a more formalized startup advisory board.

What Does a Startup Advisor Do?

There is no standard startup advisor job description, but in general, advisors help founders understand and navigate the market landscape.

Their areas of expertise include:

  • understanding current and future opportunities through market and competitive intelligence;
  • go-to-market and business growth strategy;
  • marketing and communications strategy to help break through the noise and build a clear and compelling brand voice;
  • improving customer perception, retention and how to recruit and keep the best talent; and
  • ensuring financial models drive continued success for the business.

A startup advisor should not simply sit on a board and have their headshot on a company’s website. The best advisors mentor founders with no strings attached. They’re available, accessible and empathetic, and they may even write a few angel checks along the way to show they have skin in the game.

Perhaps most importantly, they open up their networks for key introductions — a Rolodex of potential customers, partners, employees and investors.

Do I Need a Startup Advisor?

The answer to this question is going to be different depending on the startup and its circumstances. Generally speaking, you’ll want to seek out an advisor when there is a specific reason.

Maybe your product collects certain types of data, and so you need help understanding compliance issues. Perhaps you’re facing product development problems, or you need council on early-stage fundraising.

You must be able to devote time to communicating and building relationships with your startup advisors. If you think you’re too busy to do so, but then you need their urgent advice when something goes wrong, it may be too late. Advisors are for big-picture guidance and addressing a specific issue, but not crisis management.

Why They Matter

Startup advisors can be pivotal in ushering in a new era of growth for your company.

If you’re looking to raise capital, investors will look at not only your business plan but the people behind it. That includes leadership, all employees and any advisors behind the scenes.

When looking for a startup advisor, search for qualities that matter, in the same way you’d look for those qualities in a co-founder: someone who compensates for a weakness you have and delivers specific abilities, skills and advantages you need for the business. Advisors round out the strengths of a founding team with their deep knowledge and outside perspectives.

No founding team is capable of solving all of the problems a startup will face. The best teams will be honest about what they don’t know and ask for help. Take the time to find someone willing to commit to help your startup — an invaluable pillar of expertise, a sounding board for ideas and a channel for key introductions.

If it’s time to seek out the right resources to take your early-stage company to the next level, check out York IE’s startup services.

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