Working the board

I recently assisted a start-up company put together an outstanding board of advisers. That it was able to attract a group of remarkably talented and successful individuals speaks highly of its chances for success.

Three of the members are highly successful businessmen who have built significant enterprises. None has deep experience in the start-up’s technology, but their mandate is not to help develop the technology. It is to help to build a world-class business, as they have individually done in the past.

The start-up hopes to add one more member, a world-class technologist. If that happens, the board will be near perfect.

Many start-ups don’t consider a board of advisers until they are forced to by their professionals or potential investors. Even then, they look at it as an unpleasant and probably unnecessary task that will serve little purpose other than to have additional names in their business plan.

It is a shame these firms don’t understand what a board can contribute, and how to go about attracting the talent that is critical to a new company.

This start-up has excellent management, and the members know they need to surround themselves with the best people to help grow the company. They identified successful business executives who have grown companies themselves. They are not theoreticians, but from-the-trenches success stories. Who better to advise than those who have succeeded?

Management presented its business concepts to the prospective members and said, “We have something we think is terrific. If you find this to be as exciting an opportunity as we do, please join us. We don’t want you to work for us, but we want to almost work for you. We want you to be the people we report to.

“We want you to challenge us, make us defend what and why we are doing certain things, offer better ways and warn us if we are about to fall off the edge. Put our feet to the fire, and in so doing, help us build a world-class company.”

If your value proposition, management team and work is strong enough, you have a chance of attracting talent that will be invaluable to the success of your company. Then use your board for the purposes you stated when you asked them to join. If they are not engaged in the growing of the company, you have merely put together a trophy board.

That serves you little good, insults the board members and invites cynicism about your intentions.

If you have the good fortune to emulate the above firm, treat your board of advisers well, but make certain they have to work to move the company forward, for that was what enticed them to begin with. Erwin Bruder ([email protected]) is vice president of Enterprise Capital and Business Development. Reach him at (216) 292-2271 or (330) 374-7828.