Legal Talk

Choosing an Advisory Board for Startups

Novo JurisLegal Experts at NovoJuris Show us the Way

We all need a sounding board to bounce off our thoughts and get good advice.  For startups, it is a very valuable and powerful management tool, to have an experienced person who has ‘been there and done that’ to actually provide excellent counsel.  Some informal ways would be having friends, previous employer/boss who you would trust to offer advice.  But then, they might not be an expert who understands the landscape you might be operating in.

Who: A person who is experienced in your industry or specific function is beneficial. Depending on the needs of the business, you could have more than one advisor and create an Advisory Board with diverse and complimentary skills. I also believe that the Advisor is for the CEO rather than ‘for’ the company. An Advisor is different from a Director on the board, since it is not a legal position and carries no decision making powers, legal obligations, rights or duties.

Why: A trust worthy advisor is someone you can lean on for advice or critical feedback.  Choose the right advisor based on your need for the Advisor’s experience, opening doors for sales, building credibility, brand etc. Think twice when you want to rope in a celebrity advisor, they are high maintenance.

Engagement: Identify if you need an intense, hands-on help or an occasional discussion.  Also, if help is needed in specific aspects of business or generic advice. This helps in setting expectations with the advisor and time commitment. However, don’t expect the world of them.  This exercise also helps in deciding whether it has to be a formal engagement.  Ensure they are available and accessible when you really need them, otherwise it is just not worth the effort.

Compensation:  When you expect ad-hoc help, such as providing introductions or providing some quick inputs/opinions, an advisor may be willing to spend the time in ‘helping’ without any compensation.  For deeper, meaningful engagements please have a discussion on the compensation expectations of the advisor. The compensation could be coffee/dinner, covering their expenses, honorarium cash or equity, or a combination of these.  For a bootstrapping startup, the compensation is usually in the form of sweat equity either allotted in one go or at staggered intervals.   The equity typically ranges between 2% to 5%.

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Novo JurisHow many is too many:  It is really upto you to reap the benefit of the advisor’s knowledge.  You need to be engaged with the advisor and that requires energy and effort to spend quality time with the advisors.

Agreement:  If there are specific performance metrics expected of the advisor (which is usually not the case) or shareholder duties (typically restrictions on share transfer, drag along), you may want to have an agreement with the advisor.  In one of the startups, I have seen an advisor who wanted the shares to be allotted upfront but took offence to signing up an agreement because it then meant he was expected to perform.

What do advisors get out of it? They are definitely not in it for the compensation.  It is usually because they are thrilled at sharing their experiences, establishing their thought leadership or just the kick of being called an advisor.

Go ahead, and have a carefully chosen counsel(s) that you can trust and lean on in your startup journey.

Share your views on this article by leaving a comment or by writing to us at

Also, to get regular legal advice for startups and entrepreneurs, do keep an eye on Legal Talk at

About NovoJuris
Sharda Balaji founded NovoJuris with the realization that technology innovations are fast outpacing the legal framework. NovoJuris counts over 200 small and medium business and over 10 investment houses as their customers over the last 3 years. NovoJuris values a culture of providing professional legal help and obsesses about the success of their customers. The management team at NovoJuris brings over 30 years of experience in technology and law into practice. Do check out their website for further details.

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186 thoughts on “Choosing an Advisory Board for Startups

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  100. I wonder whether it is the start-up that chooses the advisory board or if it works the other way around. Any start-up would require an advisor to give it the bigger picture and this article is definitely a help if a start-up gets the opportunity to choose an advisor. 

  101. If you need more information please drop us an email at info@novojuris.comIf you need to drop a physical document, the snail mail address is: Novojuris Services India Private Limited
    H. 34, II Main Road
    L N Puram
    Near Devaiah Park
    Bangalore 560 021
    If you need to see us, please come to: NovoJuris Services India Pvt Ltd
    32, Osborne Road,
    Near Lakeside Hospital (This is close to Ulsoor Lake)
    Bangalore 560 042.

  102. its is always a challenge to find quality mentors and advisors…would also help if we have an article on how to find these people…

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