Only 1 in 10 start-ups survive in the long run. Less than 50% turn a profit. As stated by global surveys, major failure reasons include lack of market understanding, inexperienced founders, and poor advice from family/friends.
Can a start-upper reverse this pre-determined, terrifying end-up of her big, innovative idea? Can she change the usual flow of her efforts in the business world? Can she obtain deep market knowledge when she needs it – that is before the total disaster? Can she “borrow” useful experience from those who passed years building and collecting it? Can she replace poor advice with wise, informed guidance from those who really know how to help her?
· A good idea and adequate funding are not enough.
Some start-ups will fail due to inadequately bright and undifferentiated initial ideas, some others will die due to lack of sufficient funding. There are start-ups, however, which deserve to survive and thrive, but they miss a very crucial component to achieve that. They miss the senior perspective, the experienced approach, the capability of distinguishing between right and wrong, useful and inappropriate, good and incompetent, promising and unfortunate. They miss the knowledge, skill, and sharp view resulting from years and years in strategic and operational business engagements.
· A senior leader’s view is irreplaceable.
Who has got this knowledge and experience and sharp view? Some senior executives (active or not) do. Some leaders who have served in senior positions, leading teams and companies to successfully surpass challenging market conditions, do. Some long-term successful entrepreneurs, do. Whether they have been in the same (as the start-up) sector or not, is of secondary importance. Sector-identity is only one parameter among dozens. What is mostly needed for a start-up is wide market experience, proven operational capability, workforce alignment, management savviness, strategic prominence.
· Start-ups do not have inherent business experience.
A start-up will need years to build a solid base of business knowledge, skills, and experience within the organization. It needs to find all those outside, in the market, and bring them in.
But how is this possible? By hiring a senior executive? That is not affordable for a start-up, plus no senior executive (present or ex) is willing to dedicate her professional time 100% in a no-safe-future start-up. In addition, one only senior executive might not be enough. Most probably the start-up needs a couple of diverse profiles and experiences to ensure seizing the whole picture and making decisions with a high probability of success.
· Is the Board of Directors (BoD) a solution?
So, what should a start-up do? What about setting up a Board of Directors for the newly established company? A Board of Directors that except the co-founders – leave out mums, dads, and cousins – will also include one-two senior executives and/or entrepreneurs with proven capability and efficiency, and, most of all, with relative style. Because a similar style is the top criterion to start prosperous cooperation.
· Are BoDs appropriate for start-ups?
Boards of Directors are not only essential for big corporates or for listed companies.
BoDs are vital for any organized business scheme that has passed over mum’s—and dad’s little shop stage. Independent members of BoDs can add valuable input. Senior executives and/or entrepreneurs (of relevant style) can offer exactly the skills, knowledge, and experience that are missing without being involved in daily operations – you do not want that if you are a start-up! But you do want someone to challenge your ideas, someone to offer diverse perspectives, someone to save you from profound mistakes, someone to guide you through the fast lane.
· Could an Advisory Board (AB) also work?
In case that having a BoD seems too much, infeasible, or very complicated, then a poorer but still effective solution is that of an Advisory Board comprising of senior executives and entrepreneurs. AB members will not exercise their duties with the same discipline and interest as the BoD members, but still, they are given some space to express their opinions, share some good practices, question some decisions, propose some alternatives. An Advisory Board is based on a volunteer basis; therefore, absences and lack of attention should not be unexpected even by members with the best of intentions. It is a matter of priority. However, it can offer some benefits for a start-up, too.
· How can a start-up identify suitable profiles of senior executives/ entrepreneurs to include them in their BoD or AB?
Social media can always be a source to encapsulate interesting profiles, lots of info can also be found through a simple search on the internet, and finally, market data is available upon request – just remember to ask people of trust, not anybody.
· After finding the appropriate people, how do you convince them?
In any case, the info is there. So, a start-up only needs to decide who is the right fit. And then, step No2 is contacting the identified person(s) and selling your start-up story to convince them that it is worth their while and time.
This is the most important part of the whole process!
People with quite some senior experiences do not have time to lose! They need to be given a clear and coherent presentation of the core idea, the purpose, the vision, the targets of the start-up, for them to decide whether they “buy” the concept or not. If yes, they will be willing to join your effort asap!
· Is there cost included?
Senior executives are cautious with their “signature”, with their pockets, as well! They would not connect their name with a disastrous business endeavor; they will choose carefully. Besides, they will not come for free, they do not have time to spend here and there, they work for a fee (even the pensioners). But most of them, at least the most compassionate ones, will dare lower their fee significantly to help a promising start-up thrive. The magic word here is “promising” because after all, they will be happy to include another success in their full-of-achievements CV. Needless to mention that it is very beneficial for a senior executive who wants to be kept “business-active” to connect their name with a newly established, dynamic business project.
· Why not partnering with a Consultant?
Business Consultants can also offer significant advice, for a fee, too. But even without a fee, they are not the best choice. A start-up needs advice from someone who has done it, who has seen it, who has real operational experience, hands-on experience. If the “consultant” is someone with a good amount of previous operational experience (hands-on) then she can be trusted; if not, consulting experience alone is not suitable for a start-up to operate efficiently.
· Are there chances for such a plan to succeed?
The proposal might seem extraordinary, but it can definitely work for a start-up. Bringing close the innovative ideas and passion of a serious start-upper with the rich experience and composure of a senior business executive can result in an undoubtedly win-win partnership for both! Of course, both parties need to make some compromises (start-ups to be willing to pay, senior executives to be willing to lower their fee). The chances for such a cooperation to succeed are many more than the chances of a brilliant start-up idea to succeed just by itself!
· Why will the cooperation of a start-up with a senior business executive fail?
Chemistry is above all! If you are a start-upper, you might have found the most suitable business executive in the world looking at her CV, achievements, previous positions, experience, etc., but if chemistries do not match, you should stop it there. No cooperation between people with different values and different perspectives can ever work.
· Conclusively, can the situation of most start-ups failing be reversed?
The fact is that the vast majority of start-ups fail. One of the reasons is lack of adequate business experience. People who have successfully run a business themselves (being entrepreneurs or senior executives) can fill this gap of lacking experience. Their participation in the start-up’s Board of Directors (as Independent members) can ensure that the start-up will bring in some profit, that it will survive long term, that it will be successful in the future. Start-ups need senior businesspeople, appropriate business people who know, who are willing to help, who suit.
Their experience is valuable, their business view is sharp and thorough, their guidance can prove safeguarding, their feedback is crucial, their help is more than a eulogy for the start-up.
· A proposal to both parties to combine their splendor:
Start-ups do need advice, guidance, hints, inspiration from those with substantial senior experience. Senior executives ought to share their experience and best practices with young entrepreneurs who have all the rest except what they could not have anyway (experience). The combination can prove magic.
I would urge both sides to work passionately in this direction.