Creating An Instant Board Of Advisors

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This is a guest post by Brian Turchin. Brian is CEO/Founder of Cape Horn Strategies, a consultancy devoted to helping software CEOs create vibrant and flourishing businesses. Brian has helped dozens of CEOs successfully proceed from one business life cycle stage to another: he helps start-up CEOs become a growing profitable business; he helps CEOs with a more mature business grow and scale into a much larger business dealing with topics like business strategy, sales, leadership, organization, funding and acquisitions; and he helps CEOs sell their businesses. Complementing this work, Brian Turchin is an Executive Coach helping CEOs and other “C” level executives do what they do better.

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As a bootstrapped founder, your business has been growing at more than 20% per year and doing it profitably. You now have 50 employees. Your recurring revenue is high and you have built an excellent leadership team.

But you have competitors who are bigger than you. And you feel the need to push your business to another level in order to be able to compete.

Should you seek outside investment?

One of the CEOs I met at our last Business of Software conference in October had a problem like this.

He came to the conference like others to learn from the speakers and to network but he took it a step further.

He treated the conference as an extended Board of Advisors.

He made it a point to identify and talk to as many attendees as he could about his challenge. (I was one of the CEOs he met. And we first met like many others just by sitting near each other during the presentations and introducing ourselves to each other. )

How did it work for him? Here is what he said in an e-mail to me after the conference was over.

Thanks for spending time with me in Boston. Our talk was quite helpful to weed out my brain :>)

After also talking to 8 CEOs, 5 VCs and several other people at the conference I am quite confident that bringing a VC into the company is not the right thing for us to do. We simply can’t offer them an appropriate exit (at least not one that is in sync with OUR plans). So it might help us in the beginning but would create turmoil later. So: Don’t do it.

It was interesting that some of the VCs I talked to said exactly that after we talked about our plans and my motivations. While other VCs just wanted to “get in” without actually talking about the exit. :-)

What’s this mean for you? You too can get more value out of the conference by thinking about it as your extended Board of Advisors.

How might you do this?

  1. Identify Business Challenge: Identify a business challenge you have that would be useful to discuss with other CEOs. (These are usually not the topics you can discuss with anyone else other than fellow CEOs.)
  2. Identify Possible Attendees To Speak To: Look at the conference list of attendees before the conference and Identify potential attendees to speak
  3. Develop Your Initial Challenge Statement: Prior to coming prepare a short discussion about your challenge by thinking about these questions:
    1. Give a quick overview of your business situation to give your challenge a context
    2. Concisely state your challenge
    3. Review alternatives considered (Or leave it open so you don’t taint a possible answer.)
  4. Network And Ask About Your Issue: At the conference, seek out others to speak with, but when speaking, listen to see whether others might have the appropriate background or experience that could help you. Then bring up your issue.
  5. Go Beyond Initial Answers: In listening to the answers others give you, don’t just take initial responses at face value. Ask further questions to dig deeper into what others are saying and why.
  6. Meet Outside Conference: For some who seem to have an in-depth knowledge set up to meet outside the conference. In my case, the CEO and I met for breakfast in the hotel itself where we could have a more private conversation.

So at next year’s conference get the kind of value that is “priceless,” as the Mastercard commercial says, treat the conference as your extended Board of Advisors.

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