Why You Need a Personal Advisory Board for Your Dream Startup

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Diversity in the startup and venture capital spaces is always an issue. A recent report from PitchBook shows that companies founded solely by women received just 2.3% of the capital invested in venture capital-backed startups in 2021. Another from Crunchbase revealed that the founders of Black and Latinx accounted for just 2.6% of funding between 2015 and August 2020.

In her new book, “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy,” Kathryn Finney, founder and CEO of venture capital fund Genius Guild, brings together her experiences navigating the startup industry as a founder of color.

“It all led to the book and everything I learned and put into that book. He’s the mentor I wish I had,” Finney told Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams in an interview.

The following is an excerpt from the book.


Create a Personal Advisory Board (PAB)

When most people think of creating an advisory board or a board of directors, they think of it in the context of their business. You’re looking for Consultants whose experience and LinkedIn connections can help your business grow. But your personal advisory board, the group of people you turn to when you need advice, is a little different. It should be people who want to see you win – not just your business – and they should feel open enough to be honest with you. This group should not necessarily be your best friends. Although a few close friends or family members may be part of this informal advice, those closest to us can often struggle to tell us what we really need to hear in difficult situations.

Features of your personal advisory board

The first step is to review your personal SWOT analysis, specifically your weaknesses and threats. Do you know someone who can help you overcome these challenges?

For example, one of my threats is about my estranged family members popping up whenever I do something very public, like winning thousands of dollars on a game show. as much Oscar-level drama as humanly possible. Therefore, my mother, who is an excellent peekaboo family member blocker, is an essential part of my personal advisory board. She blocks these challenges before they even reach me. And she is clear about her role as a drama blocker. She has, to adapt the lines of the film Taken, “a very particular set of skills, skills that she acquired over a very long career. Skills that make her a nightmare” for the dramatic family members.

Book cover "Build the damn thing" by Kathryn Finney

The best board members have the same qualities as a good executive coach. They are people you can trust to support you and tell you what you need to hear, and they should be willing to go through every step of the journey of building your business with you.

Here are some roles your advisory board can play for you:

  • A BS counter. This person should have the ability to assess when you are not only being dishonest with them, but also when you are being dishonest with yourself. It’s easy to delude yourself and keep moving forward with something that clearly isn’t working. You need someone with insight who isn’t afraid to call you on your blind spots and wishful thinking.
  • Motivator. Building this fucking thing is HARD. There will be at least a time (or two) where you want to throw in the towel, the laptop and the adjustable desk and reclaim your free time (remember that?). You need someone in your corner who will give you the little nudges you need to keep moving forward.
  • Listener. There will be times in your entrepreneurial journey when you need to vent (and vent…and vent). Having a good listener in your corner is important. Unlike your BS Meter and your Motivator, your Listener is not there to signal your delusions or inflate you. Their job is to sympathize with you and say that you are doing a great job. He’s the kind of person who pats you on the back or gives you a hug and makes you feel better.
  • Your personal comedian. Laughter is so important to our emotional well-being. You need to make sure you have a personal comedian on your team. Note: This person does not need to be of legal age. It could be a child in your life who just makes you smile, or even a beloved pet (go ahead and put Fido on your board). For me, he’s my kindergarten son, whose questions (“Why do we have toenails”) and original songs (with rap breaks), often on the toilet, never fail to crack me up.

Be sure to be clear with each member of your PAB – okay, maybe not your dog – about their role for you so they know how best to help you. Is their role to listen to you or to help you move forward? Do you need it to bring a little levity or to help you be true to yourself?

Extract of “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business if You’re Not a Rich White Man” by Kathryn Finney courtesy of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Finney.

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