With midterm elections approaching, help us make everyone smarter about the economy. Donate Now
Kathryn Finney speaks at a women's event in 2018. In her new book, “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy,” Finney outlines the importance of having a personal advisory board. JP Yim/Getty Images for Girlboss Rally NYC 2018
Shelf Life

Why you need a personal advisory board for your dream startup

Kathryn Finney Jun 9, 2022
Heard on:
Kathryn Finney speaks at a women's event in 2018. In her new book, “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy,” Finney outlines the importance of having a personal advisory board. JP Yim/Getty Images for Girlboss Rally NYC 2018

Diversity in the startup and venture capital spaces is still an issue. One recent report from PitchBook shows that companies founded solely by women received only 2.3% of the capital invested in venture-backed startups in 2021. Another from Crunchbase found that Black and Latinx founders represented only 2.6% of funding between 2015 and August 2020.

In her new book, “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy,” Kathryn Finney, founder and CEO of the venture fund Genius Guild, collects her experiences navigating the startup sector as a founder of color.

“All of that kind of led to the book and everything that I’ve learned and put in this book. It’s the mentor I wish I had,” Finney told Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams in an interview.

The following is an excerpt from the book.


Create a Personal Advisory Board (PAB)

When most people think of building an advisory board or board of directors, they think of it in the context of their company. You look for advisors whose experience and LinkedIn connections can help your company grow. But your personal advisory board, the group of people you will turn to when you need advice, is a little different. It should be composed of people who want to see you win — not just your company — and they should feel open enough to be honest with you. This group shouldn’t necessarily be your besties. While a few close friends or family members might be a part of this informal board, the people closest to us may often find it hard to tell us what we really need to hear in difficult situations.

Characteristics of Your Personal Advisory Board

The first step is to examine your personal SWOT analysis, especially your weaknesses and threats. Do you know anyone who can help you overcome these challenges?

For example, one of my threats are distant family members who pop up every time I do something very public, like win thousands of dollars on a TV game show.* These family members are very skilled at showing up just as the wire clears and throwing as much Oscar-level drama as humanly possible. Therefore, my mom, who is an excellent cuckoo family member blocker, is a vital part of my personal advisory board. She blocks these challenges before they even reach me. And she is clear on her role as the blocker of drama. She has, to adapt lines from the movie Taken, “a very particular set of skills, skills she acquired over a very long career. Skills that make her a nightmare” for dramatic family members.

Cover of the book "Build the Damn Thing" by Kathryn Finney

The best board members have the same qualities as a good executive coach. They are people you can trust to have your back and tell you what you need to hear, and they should be willing to travel every step of the journey of building your company with you.

Here are a few roles your board of advisors can play for you:

  • A BS Meter. This person should have the ability to assess when you are not only being dishonest with them, but also when you are being dishonest with yourself. It’s easy to delude yourself and keep pushing forward with something that’s clearly not working. You need someone perceptive who isn’t afraid to call you out on your blind spots and wishful thinking.
  • Motivator. Building the damn thing is HARD. There will be at least once (or twice) where you will want to throw in the towel, the laptop, and the adjustable desk and reclaim your free time (remember that?). You need someone in your corner who will give you the little pushes you need to keep moving forward.
  • Listener. There will be times on your entrepreneurial journey when you need to vent (and vent . . . and vent). Having a good listener in your corner is important. Unlike your BS Meter and your Motivator, your Listener isn’t there to point out your delusions or pump you up. Their job is to empathize with you and say you’re doing a great job. This is the kind of person who pats you on the back or gives you a hug and makes you feel better.
  • Your Personal Comedian. Laughter is so important to our emotional well-being. You need to make sure you have a personal comedian on your team. Note: This person doesn’t have to be an adult. They could be a child in your life who just makes you smile, or even a beloved pet (go ahead and put Fido on your board). For me, it’s my kindergarten-age son, whose questions (“Why do we have toenails”) and original songs (with rap breaks), often about toilets, never fail to crack me up.

Make sure you’re clear with each member of your PAB — okay, maybe not your dog — about the role that they play for you so they know how best to help you. Is their role to listen or to push you forward? Do you need them to bring a bit of levity or to help you be true to yourself?

Excerpted from Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy by Kathryn Finney with permission from Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Finney.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.