Given the recent $1 billion lottery bonanza, it got me thinking about people who win the Silicon Valley Lottery and the roles they play in the start up ecosystem and how those qualifications compare to a Lottery winner giving financial advice.
It seems like a strange question, but I recently watched a client of mine bring in and exit very quickly an Adviser who had been a very early employee in a well-known Silicon Valley tech company. From a pure optics point of view, this person looked like a 'Rockstar', an early employee in a well-known tech company and they had held numerous senior roles. However, the advice that this person gave seemed to lack strategic thought or understanding and led to some ill-advised decisions, which my client is still trying to unpick. When more digging was done to uncover the major misalignment between the adviser they thought they were getting and the adviser they got, it transpired that in fact, this person was the best friend of the CEO and Co-founder of said Tech company and was moved around a number of senior roles to help them vest their stock following their acquisition.
I have the pleasure of working with some of the most impressive minds in the world as they build their startups and scale these businesses to world domination. An important piece to this puzzle is bringing in senior leaders and advisers who have ‘been there and done that’ and have got the Patagonia company branded vest. People who know how to transform a business from a fledgling start up to a global powerhouse.
A common mistake I see companies make, is that they are overly focused on people who were one of the first 20-30 inside company x (insert well known tech business here). They have an automatic belief that this person must be 'legendary' in the tech world simply because they were an early employee in x, y or z, without considering many other factors that would determine success.
I am not suggesting that there aren’t a number of very successful people who were the driving force behind these companies and are the reason these companies became the global businesses we all know, however, evidence suggests that there are as many who were in the right place at the right time and were lucky enough to be on board for the ride. These are the people I caution my clients to be mindful of, those who might have been friends with a founder, or who took a chance on a 15 person business reluctantly but hit the jackpot by default by being surrounded by exceptional people who made all the difference.
When you look to bring advisers into your business, be diligent with how you choose the best for your business; rather than purely focus on what business they were in or what their employee number was, focus on what they specifically achieved, how they explicitly helped that business grow, what their specialization is, what time commitment they will make to you and more importantly why they are passionate about your business and what they think they can achieve for you and make ensure your expectations are aligned.
What worked for Google/Facebook/Salesforce may not work for you. How relevant is their industry experience? Who were their customers? What was their funding? Who opened doors for them? What were the market conditions at the time?
Advice from the right people is worth its weight in gold and there is an astonishing number of super smart, talented and passionate people out there who can drive your business forward. They can help you to avoid the mistakes they made themselves and can give your business a competitive edge that is hard to duplicate. Remember though, this is your baby and people have different ideas about how to raise their kids. Nothing they tell you should be the be all and end all, you have got yourself this far, so you have to be doing something right!