Motivational speaker Tony Robbins has said that we are defined by the company we keep: “Show me the five people you spend the most time with, and I’ll tell you your destiny.” It is a simple idea: those individuals in our inner circle, the ones who help shape our decisions every day, determine the outcome of our life.
In fact, it is not self-help authors who discovered this contagion of human behavior. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Later, twenty-first century scientific proof came in the form of clinical psychologists, led by University of Michigan’s Dr. Michael Yapko, who observed that mental disorders, such as depression, are contagious.
One may conclude that human behavior is plastic: depressed individuals create more depressed individuals; conversely, mature, successful people beget more mature, successful people. A wise man surrounds himself with other wise men.
The Advisory Board IS YOUR DINNER TABLE
Extending to the contemporary notion of corporate personhood, a founder may ask:
“How can an early-stage company surround itself with mature, successful, and wise companies?”
The answer lies in the company’s advisory board.
The advisory board is an integral and necessary component of a successful enterprise. Advisors are the company’s family. The advisory board is the dinner table around which the decisions that will shape the future of the organization are discussed and take root.
How the Advisory Board Helps
The advisory board…
- builds credibility
- makes introductions
- brokers celebrity endorsements
- prevents a founder from making critical mistake
- recommends strategies based on real-life experience
- recruits strategic partners
- persuades investors
- is a sounding board
- mediates debates
- surveys for issues that have been overlooked
What A ROCK STAR Advisory Board Looks Like
Rather then to describe every facet of a good advisory board, I will show you one. My music start up SoundStore has a superb advisory board. It includes:
- Andrew Dawson, 5-time Grammy Award winner and producer to Kanye West and Fun. Over 11 million records sold and four #1 US albums.
- Ken Lopez, 15 years as Vice President at JBL/Harmon Kardon (NYSE: HAR). Currently the Chair of Music Industry at University of Southern California.
- Chris Struhar, Tech Lead for News Feed at Facebook. Formerly of NextStop. An old friend, and the best software architect you will ever meet.
- Michael Ellis, 2-time Banking Entrepreneur. Exits to NYNEX and SunGard Data Systems. Formerly President of SunGard Banking. Currently an angel investor.
- Scott Metcalfe, Chair of Recording Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Credits include: Civilization V, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Naxos, and NPR.
- Caren Beck, Worldwide Marketing & Research at Sony Pictures. Develops marketing campaigns including Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Men in Black 3.
- Steve Cunningham, co-creator of Audioframe. A frequent columnist for Mix magazine, his client list incudes Stevie Wonder, Toto, Yamaha, Mackie, and Tascam.
- Taylor Williams, Sounds Producer for Disney, Broadway, & National Tours. Credits include: Radio City Music Hall, Newsies, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.
- Chris Moscatiello, Composer for FOX, NBC, MSNBC, BBC. Credits include: Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Human Target, Psych, Caprica, and March of the Penguins.
- Benedict Frederick, III, real estate mogul. Sells the most multi-unit dwellings in Baltimore City. Leader of a 3rd generation family RE business founded in 1904.
- Dr. Paul Mathews, dean at Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. Published author on the history of orchestration, Schoenberg, and Amy Winehouse.
An excellent advisory board is diverse. SoundStore’s board contains celebrities, entrepreneurs, pioneers, educators, popular companies, authors, bankers, angel investors, programmers, and practitioners. When a question or opportunity arises, a friendly expert is reachable by phone or email.
How To Build A ROCK STAR Advisory Board
Investors, industry leaders, and entrepreneurs have complimented SoundStore’s board. Last week, the CEO of a well known California company asked which publicity firm we hired to assemble it. (We did not.)
So… How did we build it?
To build an outstanding advisory board, one must start with a friend. In this case, Dr. Paul Mathews, the last person on the list above, was a former teacher of mine at Johns Hopkins. I knew him to be a smart and independent thinker, with whom I had established a good connection.
I called Dr. Mathews’ secretary to set a meeting, and told her it was regarding a project I was working on. At George’s fine restaurant in Baltimore’s historic Mt. Vernon, I explained the business and enlisted his membership as an advisor.
Before the meeting I had secretly emailed Benedict Frederick and Chris Moscatiello, the penultimate and antepenultimate names listed above. I told Mr. Frederick and Mr. Moscatiello that I was meeting a dean from Johns Hopkins, and the topic of the meeting was to discuss his joining our company’s advisory board. Would Mr. Frederick and Mr. Moscatiello set up a lunch at their convenience?
Meanwhile, at the meeting with Dr. Mathews, I explained that Mr. Frederick, a well-known Baltimore real estate mogul, and Mr. Moscatiello, a prolific TV composer, were already in discussions to join the advisory board. Dr. Mathews was impressed. He agreed to sign the advisory board offer letter provided by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
The next week, I met with Mr. Frederick. The meeting was similar, except I now had a dean from Johns Hopkins, Dr. Mathews, on our team. In addition, I had emailed Taylor Williams, a sounds producer, and asked for a meeting regarding SoundStore. His and Mr. Moscatiello’s interested status as advisors, combined with Dr. Mathews’ signed advisor form, persuaded Mr. Frederick to join in.
The work continued for approximately four months, ending with 5-time Grammy winning producer Andrew Dawson. As a producer and engineer for some of the biggest acts in entertainment, including Kanye West, Fun, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Pet Shop Boys, Destiny’s Child, Common, Big Sean, Nas, and John Legend, we needed advisory board with credentials before approaching him.
After several long discussions, I am proud to announce that Mr. Dawson signed and returned the form this week. He is very excited about SoundStore. We’re proud to have him on our team.
Over dinner, an impressed fellow entrepreneur inquired into our advisory board-building strategy. After relaying the story, I gave this process a name. I’d like to share it with you all: spiraling. Quite simple, you start with those nearest to your social network and spiral outwards through to those furthest away. Not just for advisory boards, spiraling works with investors and customers as well. It is fundamental team-building strategy.
Never Stop Building
As a mid-level marketing scheme capitalizes on the exponential power of compounding rolodexes, so does a well-planned advisory board. Due to successful spiraling, SoundStore is now separated by 1-degree from very powerful and well-known celebrities. We continue to build SoundStore’s advisory board for the great benefits these partners bring to our startup.
As per the Advisor Board Offer Letter, at every Board of Directors meeting you should review each advisor’s contributions and issue Common Stock accordingly. Equity participation motivates even the busiest advisors to assist in the building of your company.
Sending Your Advisory Board Newsletter
Now that you have an advisory board, you must treat it with respect and deference. Every month, you may email all advisors and explain:
- what the company accomplished last month
- what the company plans to accomplish this month
- how advisors can help the company move faster
Your advisory board is full of rock stars, and rock stars are busy; they have no time to hunt you down. It is your responsibility to lead the relationship and drive consensus within the group.