I recently posted about the acquisition of my startup’s product. I have now had a few weeks to decompress and reflect on my journey with NextPrinciples, which was my first foray into entrepreneurship.
This reflection has led to many “Aha” moments – one of those has been around how important it was for me, in retrospect, to have had a couple of advisors/coaches at hand who acted as sounding boards.
Many wiser people than me have written about the fact that the life of a CEO (especially one leading an early stage startup) is a lonely one – this is also supported by studies done by business schools
I can fully attest to the loneliness. Much as I shared my ups and downs with my wife and close friends, I found that the “sounding board advisors” were uniquely suited to not just listen but also provide the right kind of sensible advice that stopped me from going off the rails.
The three characteristics that made these advisors uniquely helpful were:
- Empathy – I would talk to these folks most often during stressful times. If all I had heard were sympathetic grunts but not much else coming back, it would have not just been a waste of my time but would have added to my stress and frustration. This empathy also increased the trust I had in them and this allowed me to increasingly share information with them that I could not with some of my other advisors.
- Experience – Many of the topics I needed help on were closely related to the industry we were operating in (digital marketing), the kind of customers we were selling to (mid and large enterprises) and the type of product that we were building (a ‘design thinking’ led SaaS solution). These advisors had worked in similar spaces before, had sold to similar customers and built similar products; so I knew that their advice came with the backing of relevant experience. While I could have still spoken to person with none of this experience about things such as personnel issues, it was important to get as much relevant advice as possible from one or two sources.
- Availability – There were many times when I needed to be able to call these advisors at a moment’s notice and get their feedback because I had to make a quick decision. While I tried my best to ensure that I did not abuse this flexibility, it helped me tremendously to not have to twiddle my thumbs for 2 or 3 days waiting for them to call me back. Again, I was sensitive (I hope!) about how I used their generosity but it was important that these advisors were generally available to have a short call and help me get over whatever issue I was facing.
At this point, you may ask – how are these folks different from the ‘standard’ advisors to a startup? To me, the main difference was that while I had other advisors who helped with introductions to investors and prospects, there were a only a couple who had all the traits I have described above – in effect, leading to more trusted relationships between me and them.
If you are a startup CEO, especially a first timer, I would gently urge you to find one or two such people to help you weather the turbulence of the daily roller-coaster ride that you have signed up for.
This post originally appeared on Linkedin