Saad Khan on Forming an Anti-Advisory Board

by wamda, April 5, 2011

Seed and early stage investor Saad Khan illustrates the power of having a good advisory board- both for startups and for finding work-life balance, in a recent VentureBeat article. He notes that in today's age, given the ability to crowdsource advice for simple questions through Twitter or platforms like Quora, there's really no reason to go it alone in your decision-making.

Do you have an advisory board? Would a team of friends working as "personal board" help you achieve things that you'd procrastinate otherwise?

 

Your anti-advisory board: Leverage for lean startups (and life)

by Saad Khan. Posted on Venture Beat and SaadWired.


Umberto Eco, encyclopedic Italian author, philosopher, and semiotician is known, among other things, for the size of his private libraries. Just one of them is thought to contain over 30,000 books – and among private collections, is generally the stuff of legend.

When asked if he has read each of these tomes, Professor Eco is said to have explained that the value of such a collection was not in the books that he had read, but in fact in his assortment of unread books, his “anti-library.’  “A private library is not an ego boosting appendage but a research tool.” writes Nassim Taleb author of the induction-defying Black Swan. In other words, knowing what you don’t know can be even more valuable than what you do.

Sounds to me like Umberto Eco was building an awesome Advisory Board.

Your Company’s Advisors

I’ve been fascinated for some time by the leverage that comes from distributed expertise. Building a board, whether of the Advisor or Director variety, is about finding the experience outside of your four walls that help you know what you don’t. And done well, this can mean the difference between life or death for any venture.

Take for instance a company like Evolution Robotics (one of our investments). Evolution Robotics is the creator of the award-winning Mint, and focuses on bringing state of the art robotics technology to consumer products. Early in the company’s existence, this meant partnering with consumer brands to augment their existing products. If you wanted to take your phone or vacuum cleaner or mobile device and give it the brains to autonomously interact with the real environment, you’d leverage technology from ER.

But the company also wanted to launch their own consumer products — and it was in that context that having the right advisors was critical. To help with design, Evolution tapped award-winning industrial designer Yves Behar, designer of the Jawbone headset and One Laptop per Child. To help with retail and CPG, Evolution reached out to people like Michael Merriman, former CEO of Royal Appliance, maker of the Dirt Devil vacuum. The talent and expertise of these and other strong advisors ensured the company could think through the unknown elements of a new consumer product launch, and help the engineers invent an entirely new consumer product category: autonomous hardwood floor care.

Your Personal Advisors

Advisors aren’t just for companies, though. They’re useful for any anyone. A few years ago I found myself having trouble executing on the “important but not urgent” things I wanted to accomplish. I was passionate about social entrepreneurship and film, two interests outside of my day job that just kept getting pushed off.

A friend and peer who understood my enthusiasm (and was tired of my whining) finally suggested that I put together a “personal board” to hold myself accountable. The idea was to assemble a group of people I respected, and with whom I’d check in on a regular basis to make sure I was staying on track with my personal goals. In my case, that meant spending more time to work with awesome social ventures and with film projects that I found meaningful. My personal board has also helped nurture my career and guided me through some of my toughest negotiations.

It’s something I’ve sworn by ever since.

Read the rest of the article on Saad Khan's blog, SaadWired.

Saad Khan is a partner and anti-VC at CMEA Capital. He’s a seed and early stage investor in Blekko, Pixazza, Jobvite, and Evolution Robotics. He occasionally blogs at SaadWired and tweets the anti-verse @saadventures


 
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