Advisors and Startups

Over the last few years I have came accross different situations that involved start-ups and advisors. Some excellent, some average and some pretty bad so I will summarize what I learned so far:

Only equity, not cash. Give advisors only equity (common stock preferably). If an advisor comes to you to give and asks for money, run away. It is not an advisor, is an employee.

Give small amounts. There is not golden rule here, but the idea is to give something small to each advisor, unless it is a super hotshot and will take you to the moon non-stop. Anywhere between 0.10% to 2% is what I am currently seeing, although there are outliers and just be well justified.

Vest, vest, vest. The advisors will provide value to the company in the long run. So make sure you are vesting their shares, so if the advisor rans away, he is just plain lazy or starts something that conflicts with your business you can terminate the agreement.

Separate roles of advisor and investor. It is somewhat common that an early-stage investor can also have an advisory role to the company. And that is just fine. Just make sure to separate these two roles (preferred shares usually for investors, common stock for advisors) because if things go bad you can terminate the advisory agreement and recover the unvested shares without touching the real money investment.

Change over time. It is not the same advisory board you need on a super early-stage project with a lot of focus on product development and technology than a later stage company with focus on expansion or growth. You get the idea, pick advisors that are stage-appropriate for your project.

Focus on value, not just names. Everyone wants big names on the advisory board, but it is often the case that they bring very little value on real life and day to day operations. Focus on what each advisor will bring to the table. Are your areas of pain related to B2B sales, a specific niche or vertical or mobile development? Then make sure you have core advisors there. And as I said in the previous point, areas of pain should change if you are doing the right stuff, so you will probably need new advisors as new challenges arise.

PS: Here is a good article that talks about the typical equity stakes for advisor and a good template for an advisory agreement document.

advisors startups entrepreneurship tips

Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) lessons for Entrepreneurs and Startups

Once upon a time there was this hedge fund called Long Term Capital Management, or LTCM. It was a fund that focused or arbitrage opportunities, meaning they expected for a certain amount of assets to converge on their prices and make a profit. And they used a humongous amount of leverage. Problem is that those prices took more time than they expected to converge, and their strategy collapsed. Big, big failure. Eventually they converged.

When looking at many startups and entrepreneurs I see more or less the same story. Projects that are focusing on solving a specific problem or pain point, but the customers is not there yet. Startups run out of money trying to do this all the time. Or they pivot just months before starting because they need to monetize as soon as possible so not to fail. Key lesson here is that you need to fully understand what your end game is, and fully fund for that end game so you don’t run out of gas.

LTCM could not find more leverage to keep on financing their strategy (economy did not help either), startups cannot raise money and convince investors if traction has not happened. 

If you want to research more about LTCM, there are three great HBS cases you can download here.

ltcm hedte funds merton scholes entrepreneur startups

Martin ScorseseA Letter to my Daughter

And talking about the Future of Filmmaking as for my last post, this is a kind of oldie but great letter from Martin to his daughter.

martin scorsese filmmaking

Great talk of Andrew Weissman of USV about the Future of Filmmaking. Kind of long but well worth it if you are at the crossroads of technology and media. 

usv filmmaking new media

Expanding into Latin America

Easy to say, not so easy to do.

It is often heard, both from investors and entrepreneurs, that “the next step is to expand regionally in Latin America” and that is the reason why they are seeking capital. Regardless the country of origin of the start-up, let me tell you that “expanding into Latin America” is easier to say than to do. Even US investors believe it is easy, they look at the region as a 1/3 of the US, believing that each country is like a state.

Of course is not impossible. Many companies did it. Some of them organically, others with huge VC/PE growth investments and others with joint ventures and partnerships. But when planning such expansion, take the time to understand each target market, and to see if the customers on each market behave the same way (and also the processes such as logistics, payments, legal are similar).

And a special case is Brazil. Very few projects from the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries managed to conquer Brazil. And viceversa: very few Brazilian Internet projects trascended Brazil (despite the fact that some of them do not want to, since Brazil’s internal market is already huge). So if among your expansion plans is Brazil because everybody loves to hear that, especially US investors, then you should keep in mind to either:

  • One of the founders move there and manage the operation.
  • Find a top-notch manager to lead the country and give him equity (local and/or holding)
  • Partner or acqui-hire with another company, if it applies to your business model.

Happy expansion!

startup latin america brazil strategy

Great video on “Beign Fierce” by Jerry Colonna. He touches good challenges on leadership, particularly startups:

  • Being delusional.
  • Disappearing into the fire (watch the video and you will se what he means).
  • Not understanding leadership (vision, building and maintaining a team).
  • Being unclear.
  • Avoiding fierce conversations.

Good leant of 15 minutes while you grab a salad, sandwich and/or soup :)

leadership jerry colonna startups video