An outside perspective is critical to building the future of any business, big or small.
As we built our business from a bedroom start-up to an Inc. 500 company, our priorities were creating a differentiated offer to our customers, building a world-class team, and managing cash flow to keep us afloat as the business grew.
The last thing on our minds was building an advisory board.
Advisory boards, we reasoned, was something that big, slow-growth companies have. We could get around to creating one after we took care of the more important business at hand.
We were wrong. Every company can benefit from a well-structured advisory board. External advisors bring networking opportunities and much-needed advice, but most importantly they bring something that is priceless to any successful business: an outside perspective.
One of our clients is a large, publicly-traded technology company, with a highly profitable business. They are no stranger to rapid growth, with revenues having risen from less than $100 million in 2002 to more than $1 billion last year. But guess what: they need an advisory board!
They have a business model that will be stable for years to come, but given the evolution of cloud computing, they also have some major opportunities for reinvention. As is true of many fast-growth companies, they are fraught with the innovator’s dilemma and have a strong incentive to stick close to their core business–a strategy that conflicts with the new paradigm and market opportunities offered by the cloud.
This is the problem when management teams that have incentives to maximize the core business are also expected to create a disruptive technology in a new space. For our client, winning in the cloud space will likely require strategic acquisitions and solid R&D investments. But to do this in a new paradigm, they need an outsider’s perspective. Specifically, they need a view that is removed from their core business.
A well-structured advisory board would provide this perspective. An advisory board can make critical contacts with CEOs of potential acquisitions and get real-time market knowledge of the start-ups that are currently working toward disrupting their core business. The right advisors will think about market transition as a start-up rather than an established company.
Our company is in the same boat. Seven years after founding the firm, we are finally getting around to building an advisory board. In fact, when we mentioned it to one client last week, he said, “I thought I was already a member of your advisory board.” That was a sign that we are behind the eight-ball. We need to move our company to the next plateau. And an advisory board will be critical to getting us there.
How have you used an advisory board to help your company achieve growth? Share your thoughts and questions with us at email@example.com.
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KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark