(Editor’s note: Unity Stoakes is Co-Founder and President of OrganizedWisdom.com. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
One of the most important things you will do as the founder of a start-up is assemble your board. And if you take the proper time and care to assembled a knockout collection of members to fill those chairs, there’s a lot to gain. The question is: How can you attract world-class board members to your start-up, especially if you’re in the very early stages?
Before my partner Steven Krein and I started the process of searching for investors and board members to join our digital health and wellness company, we set out to build a world-class board of directors with whom we could flourish. This was an important transformation from previous businesses we created that focused entirely on product development and sales.
This time around, we committed to building a world-class board from Day 1 – and challenged ourselves to establish a group of advisers to serve not merely as deep pockets to catalyze our business, but rather as partners working towards our mission. For entrepreneurs currently building your board, consider these key lessons learned that can help you attract world-class board members.
Start early – Identifying the ideal board members may start well before you even begin building your company. We began meeting and nurturing relationships with potential investors early so that we would have a chance to get to know our prospective partners well. Always be on the lookout for great partners, advisers, and mentors.
Define your mission – Record the answer to this question into an audio recorder: Why am I building this company?
You need to be able to clearly and succinctly communicate the purpose of what you are doing and why it matters to you. If your mission is inspiring and can be communicated easily, then you are more likely to attract others to join you.
Ask yourself big questions – Take out a pencil and sheet of paper and ask yourself three big questions:
- Is there someone whom you most admire within your industry or the business world in general?
- What’s your mission, business philosophy, and can you clearly state the key characteristics of a partner most valuable to you and your team?
- Why do you want to add great board members?
Put together your dream list – Write down 10-20 people you would love to join your board and circle the most important one. This list should serve the roadmap for assembling your board. By identifying the people you’d like to work with, you know who you need to meet. For us, we were determined to add someone who was not only passionate about our mission, but who also had previously scaled a company to over a billion dollars in revenue. Ultimately, we landed Jerry Levin, former Chairman and CEO of Time Warner.
Leverage existing connections – After you’ve identified a dream list of board members, it’s time to tap your connections and establish the auspices that will put you in the same room with those people. Look at your list and tap into your network to figure out how you can get within one or two degrees of separation. It may be easier than you think.
Build a relationship first – Most people are not simply won over by an introductory lunch or product demonstration. Assuming you are well-aligned on mission and vision, what matters most are trust and credibility. A great way to foster those is to create a personal connection, getting to know someone before talking business. Rather than asking for something right off the bat, create a meaningful dialogue about your business and let the connection build over time.
Ask questions that matter to you – The interviewing process is not a one way street. You can interview your potential board members too. In initial meetings, seize the opportunity to ask him or her questions, such as:
- Why do you want to advise start-ups?
- What interests you in this company?
- How do your personal interests and other investments align well with this company?
Avoid “No” – It’s easy to get discouraged when your presentation is met with skepticism or an investor that tells you “it’s not the right time”. Don’t give up the first time you hear the word “no”, and use your passion to convince the investor that it is the right time.
Don’t give up – Persistence matters. People are busy. Trust takes time to foster, so make sure to keep in touch with your dream board members after the first and second meetings.