So you’ve landed a really great advisor for your project. They like you, they like the project, they’re keen to help.
Then… nothing much changes?
Making use of advisors is a skill in itself. Many get it wrong. Here’s how to do it right.
1. Advisors are busy
The first thing to realise is that the more valuable an advisor is, the more likely they are to be busy. You are 100% focused on your project. They’re not. If they’ve been in the space for a while, their fingers are in a lot of pies.
In fact, it’s part of their value that they have that much broader focus. By having this much broader focus, they can bring you useful information from everywhere else, thus enabling you to maintain focus.
But so one of the foundational points to begin with is that advisors are busy, and they’re not focused only on your project, even if they really like you and are totally supportive.
That has several practical consequences in terms of how you use them.
But the first one is:
Don’t assume that a lack of answer is because they don’t want to talk to you. Email and Discord are both really awful communications tools. It’s easy to miss stuff on those. If you ask a question and don’t get an answer… just ask again!
Advisors should be comfortable giving clear feedback, so if they no longer want to advise you, they probably will say so clearly, rather than leaving you guessing by ignoring you.
By default, assume that a silence means nothing: just that the advisor is busy and distracted.
2. Advisors have bias – know their background
Advisors are humans too. They have life experience both in and out of the NFT space. That experience is going to inform their advice.
Good advice is contextualised, but advisors are humans too, sometimes they’ll forget to do that.
So then it is your job as a founder to place the advice they’re giving in the right context, so you can adapt it to your specific circumstances (or dismiss it if it simply doesn’t apply, which can happen).
In order to do that well, you should spend some time getting to know your advisor(s) so you understand their background, and what perspective their advice is coming from.
3. Advisors are not passive tools
Advisors are not like a magic ring of +1 wisdom that automatically makes you better at doing stuff.
They’re more like a spell ring of Commune ( https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Commune#content ). You have to use it and cast the damn spell and listen to the answers.
If you don’t ask your advisors about stuff, they won’t be helping you. They can’t read your mind and figure out what help you need. Once in a blue moon they might notice something about your project, and proactively contact you about it, but that won’t happen often.
You’ll make better use of your advisors if you assume that they are busy, distracted, and following dozens of projects other than yours.
That means you’ll need to contact them yourself when you need help.
Not only that, but when you ask for help, explain the context of the request, and a summary of what’s happened lately on the project, because they almost certainly aren’t following it as closely as you, and their advice will be lower quality if you don’t give them the background.
Who decides whether you need help? You do. There’s nobody else. It’s you, the founder or founding team.
So you should have a running thread in the back of your mind… “is this something X, Y or Z could help with?”
Advisors should be part of your problem-solving toolkit.
4. Have regular calls
But making use of advisors only when you have a problem to solve is still losing out a lot.
One of the difficulties of being a founder, especially a first-time founder, is you are so swamped it’s hard to notice problems early, when they’re easy to solve.
By the time a problem has turned into a crisis, it’s vastly more expensive to solve. Advisors can still help with solving crises, but there’s a better way.
For that, you should contact them and stay in touch with them regularly. That, again, is your job, not theirs.
I have some projects where I’ve been asked to be an advisor, and then never heard anything again from them.
Why? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t need my help? Maybe they’re afraid to ask?
If you want to make good use of your advisors, schedule regular time with them.
Remember the advisors are busy. So if you don’t carve out some time in their schedule to get their attention, you probably won’t get it – instead, the attention will go to those who do make the effort to carve out that time.
What’s a good pattern to follow here? Well, each advisor will have different preferences, so talk to them. Myself, I think scheduling something in every couple of weeks is a good rhythm. But the answer is just to explicitly discuss it with your advisor.
If your advisor prefers ad-hoc meetings, then it’ll be on you to remember to schedule them. They certainly won’t remember. Or if they do, it’ll be far too infrequent.
What do you talk about on those regular meetings that aren’t around a crisis?
Well, it’s pretty simple. You just talk about what you’re doing at the moment and why, and what you intend to do next, what you’re worried about, etc.
Treat it like a coaching session.
If your advisor is more experienced than you (and hopefully they are), the benefit of doing this is they will spot potential problems way before you.
“Oh yeah I did this thing on a project once. It blew up badly. Here’s how to do it better.”
Saves you mountains of headaches.
They can also bring you ideas from other projects, that can help you see easier ways to do something you’d been struggling with.
If you’re busy building a project, you probably don’t have the time to stay up to date on everything in the NFT market.
So that’s the benefit of a regular meeting. It gives you a chance to have a more experienced operator glance over your shoulder and point out things that stand out to them but which you hadn’t even thought about, and save you lots of trouble.
5. Ask for intros
Advisors can bring you connections. Now, different advisors operate differently here – some are constantly making introductions. Others you have to ask. But whichever it is, make sure you are getti
ng that out of your meetings.
Often advisors, by virtue of being connected to so many projects, will know a lot of ppl. They might know ppl who have faced and successfully solved exactly the challenge you’re facing. That person might be themselves, sometimes, but often it’ll be someone in their network.
If you’re already getting useful intros out of your advisor(s), then great. But if you’re not, just ask. Chances are, the intros are not flowing not because there’s no one worth introducing but because the advisor hasn’t thought about it for 10 seconds.
Advisors are humans too, and if their natural inclination isn’t in making introductions, they could use the nudge to remember to help in this way too. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to make those intros and increase the breadth of advice you get.
6. It’s your bed, you’re sleeping in it
Depending on their own life experience and temperament, advisors might be more or less pushy with their advice.
Whichever they are doesn’t make them good or bad, but it’s a feature you need to be aware of.
I started 3 businesses (more if you count some earlier ventures that petered out quickly).
I know how much work it is to actually get something off the ground.
It’s a bajillion times more work than sitting on the sidelines and giving advice.
So I try to be very clear, when giving advice, that ultimately it is the founder’s responsibility to make the actual decisions.
An advisor will be advising, say, a dozen projects. Maybe more. If one fails, well, that sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.
You, on the other hand, are likely working on just one project at a time.
If your project fails after you spend 2 years on it, it’s a big fucking deal.
(I have had that happen to me too! And then I started another, and another. But the failures felt really bad at the time)
So always remember that the advisor has almost no skin in the game compared to you (even if they bought some of your NFTs). It’s your bed, you’ll be the one sleeping in it. You’ll have to live with your decisions every day for months or years.
So make sure they are your decisions. Take advice from your advisor. Hopefully, if it’s a big decision, you have more than one advisor – take advice from several of them.
Then make your own decision, because if it’s wrong, you’re the one paying for it.
Even if the advisor throws a tantrum about you not following their advice – you gotta do what seems right to you.
Of course, if all your advisors tell you you’re about to make a mistake you should probably really think about it… but still. It’s your business, your decision.
Btw, you do have more than one advisor right?
If you don’t, and you don’t know who else you might want to approach as an advisor, please refer to point number 5.
7. Use advisors when emotional
When is it most important to call on advisors for support?
Obviously sometimes you have a big decision coming up, you’ve been agonising about it for weeks, and you know you need some external input. Those cases are obvious.
But the less obvious point where you should definitely ask for advice is: whenever you feel very emotional about something that’s just happened to your project.
Maybe you feel betrayed by one of your team. Maybe some really bad (and ofc false) FUD has just hit twitter.
Whatever it is, if it’s getting you really angry or defensive or depressed – this is a good time to get the calm, external perspective of an advisor.
If your advisor has started projects/businesses before, they eat crises for breakfast.
One of the little known benefits of starting businesses is you get to deal with so many existential “omg the business is finished” crises in the first couple of years that after a while they just don’t even raise the stress meter anymore.
“Oh, ok, so a client is threatening to sue us for more than our entire cash reserves? Hmm, yawn, ok, forward me their complaint, let me see what I can do.”
Non-founders might think that the founders are just insane risk-takers.
The truth is, us founders just have an adjusted panic-o-meter that means it takes a lot more to make us panic.
If you’re a first-time founder, you’re probably not there yet. But hopefully your advisors are.
Not only that, but they’ve likely seen that exact same problem three times before, or small variations of it, and they can hit that ball back to the other side of the court without even raising an eyebrow.
But you can’t – not while you’re panicking.
So when you feel overwhelmed with emotions, be it anger, defensiveness, fear, etc, because something is threatening your project’s existence and this could be it!… reach out to one of your advisors, esp. if they have founding experience. They’ll help ground you.
8. Advisor compensation
Let’s have one more for the road.
And let’s start with: there are no hard and fast rules about advisor compensation. Different people bring different value, and should be rewarded differently.
But one commonality is that, if you’ve signed up an advisor and they are making a difference to your project, then you should probably compensate them in some way.
The best way to figure it out is simply to talk with them about it.
Most advisors should be experienced enough in their careers to be able to ask for what they want. If they’re not, that may be worth finding out early – you definitely need at least some advisors who have already figured out this essential skill.
In the startup world, it is fairly common for advisors to get to vest 0.5-2% of the equity depending on how much impact they have on the startup.
NFTs are different, but a couple of concepts should probably carry over.
The first is the vesting. Unless the whole value the advisor provides is given upfront, the compensation should be progressive over time. Apart from not overpaying for an advisor who turns out to not have the time to help, it also means you can keep the relationship enthusiastic.
What I mean by that is, being an advisor is work of the heart. You have to care. Your caring and attention is what you give to the startup. If it becomes a chore, the quality of advice will almost always drop substantially.
By having a progressive, ongoing reward structure, you make it easier for the advisor to check out, for whatever reason they may have. “You know what, I really liked this project back then but now I just don’t feel it” is better than forcing everyone through the motions.
The reason can also simply be that the project has outgrown the advisor. Personally, I love early stage projects and have a lot of advice to give them. I can also help with structuring organisations up to a few dozen people in size, because I’ve done that and learned from it.
But if, say, @AzukiOfficial honoured me by asking me to advise them – I’d probably say no, because I think they’re way beyond my capacity to help. They’re operating in a realm of success that I haven’t visited yet.
Ideally, your advisor has already done a lot of things very similar to whatever you’re doing now. But at some point you might outgrow them, and that’s not only ok, it’s great news! Well done for getting to that level of success!
A progressive rewards model helps that transition happen more explicitly. The advisor doesn’t feel obligated to keep advising on stuff they don’t know enough about just because they got paid already.
The relationship stays enthusiastically consensual.
The second element to take away is the proportionality. 0.5-2% of equity. In most cases, towards the lower end of this.
And let’s remember, early startup equity is illiquid for years. This is not an immediate payout.
So advisors shouldn’t make out like literal bandits.
When I hear of awful scamfluencers like artichoke asking for 500 NFTs upfront to advise/promote a 10k PFP project, my blood boils. What a douche.
Getting to advise projects is an honour. It should be rewarded with financial incentives too, but it is an honour.
“Advisors” who treat it as a cash cow to get even richer are just scammers preying on founders.
I find that behaviour despicable, and I hope you do too.
This is another good reason to discuss rewards upfront: to filter out the scammers.
Scammers will often be shameless in demanding a pound of flesh for their help, with highly over-inflated perspectives on their own impact on your project.
By discussing this topic upfront, you can detect those overinflated egos and avoid taking their rotten advice at all.
Better to figure that out early rather than after you’ve put yourself in a position where the scamfluencer can blackmail you to demand even more compensation “or else I FUD you”.
This has actually happened; read more about artichoke here:
TLDR of Artchick:
BGLD rug, fame lady squad shilling (team rugged), immediately selling honorary BAYC low, threatening a project, treating cranium team like trash, 2+ known cash grabs
Am I missing anything else?
“I’m on a mental health break”
>after doing something shitty
— ZachXBT (@zachxbt) November 18, 2021
If you’re talking to the right advisor for you, this should be a pretty chilled, relaxed conversation. If it gets tense or awkward or weird… you might want to ask yourself whether this is the right advisor for you. Because the weirdness probably won’t go away with time.
This thread is getting long enough. I could keep going on about advisors for a very long time… but this is probably enough for now.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I consider myself to be an advisor too. And yes, I’d love to hear about your projects.
And, remember: I’m busy, distracted, disorganised. If I don’t get back to you in a structured, timely way, it’s just because I’m human and the NFT space is super-distracting, plus I’m also trying to build something. So please follow up!
The easiest place to get in touch with me is probably my Discord.
Until then: gm & gl!
So you've landed a really great advisor for your project. They like you, they like the project, they're keen to help.
Then… nothing much changes?
Making use of advisors is a skill in itself. Many get it wrong. Here's how to do it right. pic.twitter.com/JKtjgQHomT
— Daniel Tenner (swombat.eth) 🔮 (@swombat) March 31, 2022