Increasingly, it's the norm for advisers to show up at a board meeting, sit through a three-hour update and then pat the CEO on the back before heading out the door, not to be seen for another month.

That's according to Phin Barnes, who himself is a startup adviser, as well as a partner at venture capital firm First Round Capital. In a recent post on First Round Review, Barnes wrote that this is a waste of time, and discussed at length some actions you can take in order to make the relationship more meaningful for everyone involved. 

It starts with picking the right adviser in the first place. "I would recommend looking for an adviser just like you'd look for a co-founder," Barnes said. "Someone who compensates for a weakness you know you have." Then fill the role like you would fill any other position. Set up an interview.  

Barnes provided a quick cheat sheet of interview techniques designed to really screen your potential advisers. Here are a few he recommends: 

1. Pay attention to the way they answer questions about their previous accomplishments.

Do they simply state what they've done, or do they think critically about how this applies to your situation? "It's important to know if they're going to be able to synthesize what they already know with new situations, or if they are constantly going to be saying, 'Well, this is how we did it before.'" Barnes said.

2. Ask for a specific success story from their past.

When they relate this example, their choice of pronoun matters. "How much do they talk about the founder versus themselves? Do they say they made things happen or that they helped the founder make things happen? If they tell the story through the founder's eyes, that's a good sign." Barnes explained.

3. Find out if they'll be there through thick and thin. 

Be honest and tell them your worst fear when it comes to you business. Then ask them what they'd do if it came true.

Once, you've established a relationship with an adviser, set the stage for the kinds of conversations you'll have. Barnes said it's generally unproductive to get in the habit of asking your adviser for answers to your most pressing questions. In order to provide a meaningful response, your advisers have to know the ins and outs of your company as well as you do, which simply isn't possible. 

Instead try this. "You'll tell them what you're thinking or planning to do, and their job is to back you into a corner and make you fight your way out," Barnes suggested. This way, they have a more narrow focus on helping you to strengthen your own arguments.

Lastly, don't ever underestimate your advisers' willingness to help. If they seem hands-off, it's likely because that's what they think you want. In reality, they are likely hungry for more responsibility, Barnes said.

Published on: Sep 26, 2014