How to Build a Rockstar Advisory Board for Your Canadian Startup

Posted by Aaron Nielsen

We’re all familiar with the gloomy odds of finessing a venture from startup to success. But there are actions you can take to improve your chances of survival and accelerate your growth.

One of the most overlooked and under-utilized steps is the careful assembly of a stellar board of advisors. A thoughtfully planned advisory board can deliver a ton of benefits to a startup: input on strategy, network connections, introductions to key accounts, and added credibility, just to name a few.

I’d like to share a particular advisory board strategy that has worked exceptionally well for my most recent venture, ThinkCX. Early on, I was able to secure a rock star group of advisors that includes current and recent leaders from companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Dell, Yahoo and Boston Consulting Group. The value and credibility that they add to our venture has been significant, especially in these early days.

So how does a Canadian startup score a team of advisors representing major US technology giants? A quick web search will generate plenty of general tips; however, our secret (until now!) formula has been to tap into Canadian patriotism.

You see, every member of our advisory team is either a Canadian living in the US (the Bay Area or Seattle), or they’ve joined based on the recommendation of a Canadian ex-pat. The benefit of recruiting Canadian advisors in the US tech sector is that they seem to have a genuine passion for contributing to the success of early stage Canadian companies.

Not surprisingly, in our experience this passion is even stronger among former Vancouverites towards a Vancouver startup. Not only have they been able to connect us into the tech communities in the Bay Area and Seattle, but they seem to be particularly interested in cheering on the underdog, BC-based start-up against the backdrop of the huge Silicon Valley tech industry.

However, locating and connecting with these Canadian advisors is a real challenge. Here’s how ThinkCX tackled it.

The key is LinkedIn. For starters, sign up for a LinkedIn Premium Account (insert commission generating link here) so you can take advantage of LinkedIn’s advanced search capabilities. Now set your search filters to show only executives, living in a key hub for your industry (e.g. Bay Area), who previously worked for a notable Canadian company that aligns with your industry (e.g. RIM, Nortel, Bell, etc.) or that attended a major Canadian University. You’ll be blown away by the impressive list of potential advisors this will generate.

Next, unleash your creative networking skills to establish first contact. Keep in mind that you’ll be contacting busy executives, so keep your introductions concise and be sure to highlight your Canadian connections. My recommendation is to plan a road trip and start booking face-to-face coffee meetings with your candidates about three weeks before you go.

Obviously these are just the first steps in a long courting process, but using this strategy should get you in early discussions with top tier candidates. From that point on, you’ll progress to a discovery process to determine if the opportunity is right for both parties. As you do your diligence, remember that while it’s easy to be seduced by someone’s professional credentials, it’s more important that your advisors fill the gaps in your leadership team, are knowledgeable about your company’s market, and have time and interest to genuinely commit to your venture.

Starting up a new tech venture is a fun, exciting, and rewarding process, but entrepreneurs know how precarious their position is, and how critical it is to seize every opportunity that keeps failure at bay a little while longer.

One of those opportunities is your board of advisors strategy, and if you’re willing to take a little advice from a fellow entrepreneur, I suggest that you thoroughly investigate leveraging the patriotism and goodwill of well-placed Canadian ex-pat advisors for your board.

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Aaron Nielsen

Aaron Nielsen

Aaron has been a technology entrepreneur for the past 12 years, most recently as CEO at ThinkCX.  Prior to ThinkCX, Aaron co-founded and successfully sold BlueRealm (in 2006) and Agentix (in 2004).  Aaron earned his M.B.A. from the University of Victoria.  He is the proud father of two young boys and spends his free time enjoying beautiful British Columbia. more



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