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Why you need a personal advisory board for your dream startup

Heard on:
Kathryn Finney speaks at a 2018 event.

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

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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.

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:

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.

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