Think finding an advisor or funder is the end of a long and arduous journey? Think again. Just because you’ve figured out how to pitch your company in three sentences or less, have burned up enough miles along Sand Hill Road trying to find an investor, and have finally clicked with someone who “gets” your product or SaaS service, doesn’t mean your work is done. In fact, it’s only beginning.
What should every startup know about working with an advisor?
As part of our new eBook, “59 Tips for Scaling Startup Sales,” we talked with some of Silicon Valley’s leading advisors, investors and sales gurus to find out the one thing they wish every young company they work with knew about managing and maintaining this essential relationship. Even if you’re still figuring out how to get to that magical moment when someone says, “I’m interested” to your pitch, you’d be well advised to know what you’re in for when that day you’ve been dreaming about finally comes. Take it from these guys, they should know. Together, they’ve generated millions of dollars in revenue for their respective companies, been part of the teams that were acquired by enterprise giants like Oracle and Google, and then turned their own profits towards developing companies they believed in.
Arjun Dev Arora, Chairman & Founder of ReTargeter, offers this caution for new mentees: “I think there is a spectrum of mistakes companies make when they first secure an advisor, that tend toward one extreme or the other. Either they think an advisor is there to save their business and they and they can stop doing certain functions. Or, they’re happy to have the advisor’s name on their presentation, and willing to leave it at that.
An advisor is waiting for you to take the lead with specific asks.
“The truth,” he continues, is that, “an advisor is waiting for you to take the lead with specific asks. Yes, we’re busy doing our own things, but it’s your responsibility to check in with us, be proactive and get what you need out of the relationship. The ethos of Silicon Valley was built on giving back, there’s a real commitment to caring and pushing things forward here.”
Include us more.
Andrew Riesenfeld, VP of Field Sales at GuideSpark, agrees. “Include us more,” he says. “It’s great to be called upon when help is needed, but it’s also great to be included more often in the week-to-week updates on what’s happening. Very often, young founders think we’re only there to help them through the most challenging time periods and solve the big problems; then they’ll go away for a while, but if we gave advice, we’ll want to know: Did you follow it? Did it work? Over correspondence is welcomed.” Another benefit of over communication, he says, is, “if we’re in the loop all along, we won’t have as much of a need to catch up on back data when there is a serious problem to be addressed.”
Consider what you really need us for and where you can trust your own gut.
But to Arjun’s first point, Navid Zolfaghari, former Team Leader at Wildfire Interactive, now Co-Founder of Pinpoint Mobile, chimes in. A common mistake he believes young companies make when developing an advisory relationship is “overreliance on an advisor. We’re here to listen to ideas and give advice. But that doesn’t mean you have to run everything by us. Consider what you really need us for and where you can trust your own gut.” Additionally, he encourages the companies he advises to pay it forward. “I always ask the companies I advise to advise others. We’ve all been there, we’ve all needed the help and it’s important to help others as you go forward.”
People in Silicon Valley are very open and transparent.
David Baga, former Sr. Sales Director at Oracle turned SVP of Revenue at Rocket Lawyer, agrees. “Silicon Valley is special,” he says. “People here are very open and transparent sharing their lessons learned so the next wave doesn’t have to repeat their mistakes.” Until you find an official advisor, and even after, he offers this advice: “Be dedicated to lifelong learning. There is an unprecedented amount of high quality content that is available today. Read blogs, tap into the wisdom of Quora, and the mentorship value of Twitter. There’s plenty of advice to be found out there, you just have to know where to look and be open to receiving it in different ways.”
It’s very fulfilling to be a part of this community.
Mark Roberge, the CRO of HubSpot, responsible for developing its phenomenal sales engine, takes it a step further, offering this sentiment: “It’s a little self-serving for us as well, to advise other growing companies. It’s very fulfilling to be a part of this community, see what people are currently doing, and admire the innovations that are happening. It makes you want to find a way to help and learn from them, because by being on the mentor end of advising relationships, you learn a lot yourself.”
You ultimately have to make your own decisions.
When it comes to giving advice about working with an advisor, perhaps there’s no one I talked to that has more to say on subject than David Skok, an investor at Matrix Partners and Founder of the ForEntrepreneurs blog. In short, David believes, you shouldn’t leave everything up to the advisor. “Most investors will give you advice, especially for first time enterprises, but you have to use your own brain as to whether or not that advice makes sense,” he cautions. “Investors aren’t that close to your business and they can’t see everything,” he says. “Especially if it’s an investor who hasn’t run their own business before.
The business school path to investing is different than having come up within the ranks, and there are merits to each. You may get good advice, just keep in mind where it’s coming from. They may not know or understand the full situation. “You ultimately have to make your own decision and use your common sense and judgment to figure out what to do.” Good advice, huh? I think so, too. It’s the kind of advice we distill to the companies participating in our growth stage sales accelerator program every day.
For more tips from David Skok on getting and keeping an investor, see my blog post, 7 Things Every Founder Should Know About Getting Investors.”
And for more tips on scaling your startup business, download our eBook, “59 Tips for Startup Sales Success,” featuring more tips and advice from all of the Advisors quoted here.