Advice on recruiting advisory board members

Advice on recruiting advisory board members

Hardly a week goes by where I don't receive an invitation to join some startup's advisory board. Often from founders with whom I've never had a meaningful interaction. Sometimes they offer me equity, include confidential information in their proposal or send over signed paperwork.


Every time I get one of these emails my ego feasts on it. But every time my brain stops me from doing something stupid and saying yes.

If you've been offering equity to advisors, please change your approach! That's not how you build an advisory board. At least not one whose advice you should heed.

Don't offer equity

Offering equity in exchange for advice doesn't incentivise a potential advisor to join your advisory board. It deters her!

She'll wonder: "Why are you so willing to give away parts of your company?"

If you've been doing this in the past, you should ask yourself that question too.

Don't propose on the first date

It's not yet time to make this a formal arrangement. If you want to get someone to join your advisory board, just ask her a question first. Get on a quick call with her. Have a conversation and see if she actually has valuable advice for you.

Make it easy for her to say yes to you by asking a straightforward question, rather than asking for continuous involvement. Initiate the relationship with a small, non-committal step, rather than formalizing the relationship early on.

Be concise

A great advisor values her time, and so should you. Don't send her a 2000 word email, don't tell her your whole life story.

Express yourself succinctly. Try to provide the relevant information with the least amount of words. If in doubt whether you should include a particular piece of information in your email or not - err on the side of leaving it out.

You can just add a sentence to your email: "I know your time is valuable, so I'm being succinct. If you want more context around any of these points, I'll gladly share it with you."

Got good advice? Share your results!

If you benefited from the advice she gave you - tell her about it. The most rewarding thing for many advisors is seeing people put their advice to use and succeed with it. (Which is a surprisingly rare occurrence - most people never act on the advice they get, but instead do what they already thought was right).

Here's one way how you could send an update and take the next step to building a relationship.

Hey firstname,

thanks again for sharing some advice with me last week/month. I've done X (like you suggested) and it's really improved our Y (e.g. we've increased conversions from trial to customer by x% and gotten a lot of positive feedback).

Now I'm wondering how to ___, would love to chat with you about this Wednesday 4pm or Thursday 2:30pm PT. Let me know if we can put something in our calendar.


Keep it short, use clear language, be positive and appreciative.

The Ask-Get-Use-Share Cycle of Advice

You basically want to run through this cyclus repeatedly, starting small and growing over time:

  • ask for advice
  • get advice and express thanks
  • put the advice to use
  • share the results, and ask for the next piece of advice.

The more often you go through this cycle, the more invested your advisor will become in your success and the more this relationship will grow.

When is the right time to make a formal offer?

After both sides have consistently engaged in and nurtured this relationship for a meaningful period (could be six months, one or two years), then it's a good idea to formalize the relationship and offer equity or other incentives.

Further reading:

How to deal with conflicting advice from investors
It’s great to get advice from smart and experienced people. But what if different people whose opinion you value give you advice that contradicts each other?

How to get in touch with influential people
What if a potential advisor is hard to get to? How do you get her attention convince her to share advice with you? Here’s a simple hack that has never failed me.

How to write subject lines that get your emails opened
Oftentimes email is the best way to reach a potential advisor. Writing effective subject lines substantially increases your chances that she will actually open the email you send her.