How to Recruit a Rockstar Advisor

"I'd love to get some rockstar advisors attached to my startup, but what could I possibly offer them to say "Yes"? Should I shoot for the moon on who I ask or be a bit more tame and look for someone that's closer to my level?"

January 17th, 2024   |    By: Wil Schroter

When I was in high school, there was a saying that "No one ever asks the pretty girl to Prom," which implied that everyone assumes they aren't good enough to make the ask, so no one asks.

Now, no one asked me to Prom in High School, so I've clearly assumed it's because I was so damn pretty, but that's another topic for another day. What I have learned when it comes to recruiting rockstar Advisors is that most people never get their top draft picks because they simply never ask.

Here's a fun fact — most of the Advisors you have in mind unless they are Elon Musk or Sarah Blakely, are probably going to say "yes." Seriously. It's way easier to get Advisors on our Boards, and as Founders, we're typically the only ones stopping ourselves!

Why Would a Rockstar Advisor Say "Yes"?

Because it's flattering. Advisors love the energy from aspiring Founders, the chance to work on something new, and, of course, the opportunity to make a little bit of cash if it works out. There are, of course, some Advisors who are simply too busy, and that's fine. But it's way less of them than you would think.

It's also an ego boost. Advisors love to flaunt impressive companies that they are attached to, as proven by every single VC social profile ever. They attach the promise, prestige, and upside of those companies to their own worth, no different than owning a Lamborghini or a Birkin bag.

Most of it comes down to how much they like us as Founders. Advisors generally love helping people, especially Founders, so the relationships we create and the interactions we have are paramount. In my experience, 90% of them saying "yes" is that they actually like us as people, the other 105 is whether they think the opportunity is great.

Cool, so How do I Ask?

We start by not asking them to be an Advisor, but instead, just asking for advice. There are a few reasons for this, and they are important. First, we don't want to ask someone to be an Advisor who actually isn't very good at it. We want to have a few cycles with them to find out if they really are a treasure trove of wisdom or if they just happened to have one tidbit of knowledge that we didn't. Time will tell.

Second, asking for advice is how we build our relationship with them. Think of it like dating; the rounds of advice are our first few dates. It's a lot easier to ask someone to provide some sage-like advice, especially if we're not super close to them than it is to ask them to join our company.

Once we've had some rounds with them and built some foundation, then it's a good time to ask. It'll allow us to lead with "You've been giving me so much good advice, I'd love to add you to our Advisory team and of course, give you some share of our upside." That's about all it takes.

What Should I Pay Them?

Not a lot. An Advisor can be had anywhere from 0.10% to 1% of stock, and my typical offer is 0.25%. Understand that they typically aren't paying for this stock, it's payment for their time and commitment, so it's not costing them a ton. If anyone is asking for more than 1% of the startup without investing or making a serious commitment, that's usually a red flag.

Fair warning — and no one ever tells you this — most of your Advisors will turn out to be duds. It's not really their fault. Founders rarely do a good job of recruiting and managing their Advisors like they do employees, so many Advisors just sit around waiting for us to call them, and we rarely do. We just need to keep that in mind before we spend all of our early equity on a popular name and logo to add to our pitch deck.

Recruiting great Advisors isn't that hard, and if we're going to spend our valuable equity, we may as well try to grab someone who could truly transform our business to do it. If we're reaching high, the small price we paid is well worth it!

In Case You Missed It

Can I Lead Without Being Liked? (podcast) It’s a Founder’s job to make difficult and unpopular decisions, even unconventional ones, which may merit the team's unfavorable reactions. So, at what point will being likable still, matter?

Why Our Founder Reputation Matters How we represent ourselves as Founders follows us throughout our startup journey. It's more than first impressions, it's how we handle everything from shaking hands — to closing doors.

Am I a Good Manager? What does it take to become a good manager? The truth is, one becomes a good manager when they can push the entire team to transform themselves and become exponentially better at what they do.


About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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