Navigating Advisory Boards: Insights for CEOs and High Growth Ventures
June 27, 2024

In the fast-paced world of startups, growth is the name of the game. Every CEO dreams of scaling their company rapidly, breaking into new markets, and outpacing the competition. But how can this be achieved without burning out or losing focus? The answer lies in an often-underutilized resource: the advisory board.

"A strong chairperson is crucial to the success of an advisory board. The chair acts as a bridge between the advisors and the CEO, ensuring that the board’s activities align with the company’s strategic goals."

Advisory boards, when implemented correctly, can provide the strategic guidance, industry insights, and valuable connections that startups need to thrive. Let’s dive into four key themes on how advisory boards can unlock growth for your business.

1. Clear Mandate: The Foundation of Success
An advisory board’s effectiveness starts with a well-defined mandate. This isn’t about gathering a group of impressive names for show; it’s about identifying the specific areas where your company needs expertise. Whether it's breaking into a new market, refining your product, or scaling operations, a clear mandate ensures that the advisory board’s efforts are aligned with your company’s strategic goals.

For example, when the co-founders of Ometria, a customer data and experience platform for retailers, sought to expand into North America, they knew they needed more than just marketing dollars. They needed credibility and industry connections. By establishing a clear mandate for their advisory board to help build their brand and market presence, they set the stage for their successful expansion.

2. CEO and Company Commitment: The Willingness to Listen and Act
Creating an advisory board is only half the battle. For it to be truly effective, the CEO and the leadership team must be committed to engaging with the board and acting on its advice. This means being open to feedback, even when it’s tough to hear, and dedicating the necessary time and resources to support the board’s initiatives.

Commitment also involves ongoing interaction beyond the quarterly meetings. Regular updates, surveys, and informal check-ins help keep advisors engaged and informed. This continuous dialogue ensures that the advisory board remains a dynamic and integral part of your company’s growth strategy.

3. Engaged and Relevant Advisors: Beyond Friends and Family
The strength of an advisory board lies in its members. This isn’t the time to rely on friends and family; instead, seek out individuals with specific, relevant expertise and networks that align with your company’s goals. The right advisors bring invaluable insights and can open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

For Ometria, this meant recruiting top-flight retail executives who could provide credibility and connections in the North American market. Advisors like Jamie Gersh, the CMO of Rothy’s, and Yup Van Andel, the CTO of NETwell, brought not only their expertise but also their extensive networks, significantly boosting Ometria’s market entry efforts.

4. Strong Advisory Chair: The Catalyst for Effective Operation
A strong chairperson is crucial to the success of an advisory board. The chair acts as a bridge between the advisors and the CEO, ensuring that the board’s activities align with the company’s strategic goals. They keep the board focused, facilitate productive discussions, and help translate advice into actionable plans.

The chair’s role also involves keeping the advisors engaged and informed. This means ensuring that advisory board meetings are not just quarterly check-ins but part of a continuous process of interaction and feedback. For example, regular surveys and communication channels like WhatsApp groups can keep the board connected and responsive to the company’s evolving needs.

Advisory boards, when properly utilized, can be a powerful engine for growth. By starting with a clear mandate, ensuring commitment from the CEO and the leadership team, engaging relevant advisors, and appointing a strong chair, startups can leverage advisory boards to navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and accelerate their growth. In today’s competitive landscape, this strategic resource might just be the edge your startup needs to succeed.

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