The Importance of Good Advisers

Being that CitySquares is my second business I understand how important it is to have advisors – good advisors – and good advisors are hard to come by.

In my first business, which I started with a technician’s mindset (See E-Myth), I brought on some “advisors” and paid the price – in more ways than one. I brought in people who I thought I could learn from, who I thought I could grow my business with and in return provide them with some real interest in the company’s growth. What I ended up with was whiteboard sessions that went nowhere too often, overly complicated product ideas, and more messes to clean up. After giving it a good solid shot for a year I had to end it. It was painful, very painful, and cost a lot of money and time. It was a good decision and I learned some extremely valuable lessons from that experience.

When Bob and I started CitySquares not a day later did we decide to build an advisory board made up of people we could a) trust and b) who didn’t immediately want something from us in return. Those two qualities ruled out a whole bunch of people over the course of a few months. We quite literally interviewed people! I remember some of them read about us in the paper when we were just starting out, and they were very eager to “work with us.” Well, what that really meant was they wanted to do any number/combination of these things:

  1. draw pretty pictures on a whiteboard and show off how smart they are
  2. convince themselves of how valuable that MBA is
  3. carve a notch into their belt – like its another credential
  4. get-in with any board members/investors for their own selfish reasons

And in return they wanted equity, a seat on our board of directors, introductions to investors, even cold hard cash.

When it was all said and done what we ended up with was a small advisory board made up of a few people who came to us in very unexpected ways, and who …

  1. totally bought into our vision
  2. totally bought into our business model
  3. totally bought into our mission for locally owned business and real world community

These advisers wanted nothing in return for their time and for their brainpower – and I’m not exaggerating. I’d press the issue with them over coffee, lunch, whatever, and I’d insist that we put something in writing – and they’d insist “what’s the rush, Ben?” and “there will be plenty of time for that, Ben.” and “let’s just get Citysquares to [milestone] first.”

These folks are my most trusted advisers today. I have the utmost respect for them in so many ways and they continue to provide immense value to me and to the company, from referring us to others/others to us, to attending various meetings, to taking calls from me at various hours and in some instances working with some of my staff on things. The value is immeasurable. And yeah, now they’re all under formal agreements with the company and I sleep better at night because of it.

The point here is …

  1. Finding good advisers is extremely hard
  2. Bad advisers can be costly – even devastating
  3. they likely end up coming to you in unexpected ways
  4. they don’t want anything in return (within reason of course – I do suggest picking up the tab on lunches, coffees, beers, whatever, and going to meet them where it’s convenient for them – always)
  5. when you got one, you’ll know it
  6. when the time is right, be sure you know it!
  7. offer them your best deal
  8. Thank them often – you’ll need them when times are good and when times aren’t good.