Updated: May 5
When we started Flux7 we did not have much of an understanding on how to start a business. We learned by trial and error. In the process we built our network and learned from many people. We are extremely grateful for the in-depth discussions we’ve had with these seasoned people and in some cases we also learnt by bringing in advisors and subject matter experts officially on board. However, all these were accidental in most cases. It took us time and several experiments to realize the need for us to be intentional about this and what it actually means to have an advisor on board formally.
We wanted to share some of our pain points in this journey to get the right guidance and mentoring from experienced founders.
Why you want to formalize advice
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One of the earliest discoveries you have as an entrepreneur is how willing people are to be helpful. Seasoned entrepreneurs understand the value of having a powerful network and cherish the opportunity to talk in detail about their passion with other passionate people so you’ll find many accomplished people willing to help. With the ease of getting unstructured advice it’s a reasonable question on why do we need to formalize these relationships? In an informal relationship you have to be very wary of the time you are demanding. Once you formalize the relationship, you are able to go deeper and meet more regularly. This brings a few advantages which we’ll discuss below:
The devil is in the details
To get to the issues that need to be solved you need to go deep. You need to understand the assumptions and data rather than a high level description. Because the high-level description would gloss over significant details. Formalizing the relationship means you’d be able to provide actual data and ask your advisor to review in detail before meetings. This way, the advisor is able to get an objective look into your business.
You don’t know what you don’t know
There are many things that experienced people have turned into processes except the budding entrepreneur doesn’t know. For example, when we were creating our financial models, we didn't start off by knowing all the KPIs and metrics we needed to keep track of; things that experienced business leaders would have known like calculating next quarter revenue from pipeline, backlog, ACV, TCV. Once we started sharing our data with our advisors, they were able to give us the guidance to mature our thinking by educating us on industry standard metrics to monitor.
Wisdom vs actionable advice
As an entrepreneur you pursue many sources of knowledge to help you achieve your goals including podcasts, books, blogs. The advice you find in these places is somewhat generic but still useful. It is usually what we would consider wisdom. It is something you can apply as a principle in multiple places but not as useful to solve the exact problem you are facing today. The difference is better illustrated through an example. For wisdom, one of the most useful pieces of advice we received in the early days of Flux7 was to remember the quote of the Cheshire cat to Alice: when Alice asked which path to take but she didn’t care about where ended up. The Cheshire cat advised her that it doesn’t matter what path Alice takes if she doesn’t care about the destination. In other words, to have a path and a strategy you need to have a focus. On the flip side in guiding a member of our cohort, we were able to take their current vision and iterate over it with the underlying test of when you’re presenting to your channel partners, how are you different from the thousand other people that are hitting up that channel partner. While the wisdom advice taught the underlying principle, internalizing such advice takes time. But actionable advice helps you understand the principles of the advice with real examples.
An accountability partner
When you meet the advisors on a recurring basis you develop an accountability partner. The advisor is inevitably someone you hold in high esteem and you want to be sure you are making forward progress on the agreed upon plan. As you continue to meet not only will you have a chance to realign on the plan, but you’ll also need to make sure you are holding yourself accountable properly.
With these points in mind we’d highly recommend developing a formal, ongoing relationship with seasoned founders and experts that have built companies similar to yours. In fact, a major part of Vixul's value proposition is that we build that relationship with a group of founders and experts so you can benefit from the unique experiences of multiple accomplished leaders. As we continue to explore this topic further, please check out our next post about the different kinds of advisors you can have, and how to make the most of the distinct perspective each of them has to offer.