From Advisory Boards to Equity Partners: the Plan to Grow My Business

by Jill Foster on June 24, 2009

Can I do this?
When I first started Mavin Digital, Inc. in October 2007 (sounds like it has been ages ago!) the question I want answered was “can I do this?” Go solo while creating a virtual company that can serve as a source for interactive advertising agencies, startups and brands that are budget conscious. The passion that fueled my desire was the opportunity to effect change in the product development and advertising workflow process for web properties and/or products.

I decidedly went the self-funded, super-lean route.
[image Mean Lean Street Machine by Caribb, Creative Commons]

If I failed, it will be my failure and my learning. I didn’t want to drag anyone else into my curious and foolish desire to be an entrepreneur. Steve Jobs encouraged the Stanford University graduates in 2005 to stay curious and foolish at all times. So I thought, perhaps I am on the right track.

The first week I closed my first small contract, which was followed by two large ones in a month. Word of mouth and referrals are our primary source of client relationships. Engaging with the startup, tech and media community in New York, DC and San Francisco helps with our deal-flow. We also service accounts in Asia and France.

Today, the challenge I face as a founder is growth.

I’m ready to take Mavin Digital, Inc. to the next step – grow her as an organization.
Personally, this next step seems more challenging than when I first started. Why? I have to share the wealth creation process in order to achieve our future growth potential. I saw this challenge three months into the business: I realized there would come a point, when I could only do so much on my own from managing the day-to-day client work and resource management to constantly engaging with the community and prospective clients in order to keep our deal-flow pipeline active.

Releasing some control of a product that I started (my first born) is harder than I thought.

How am I going to overcome this [growth] challenge?
I like to take baby steps. I have been doing just that for the past year, psyching myself for the day I have to make a firm decision on our approach to growth. So far I’ve made three:

  • Create an advisory board who can help guide and support my decision-making as a founder and open doors to the opportunities that we seek to pursue;
  • Bring in two equity partners who can complement mine approach: a development/technology equity partner and a creative/product development equity partner;
  • Hire a multi-talented associate who I have hired in the form of an intern – and so far he has proven to be a gem! I can’t wait to get him onboard full-time after graduation.

More on the advisory board and virtual relationships (from Estonia to Ukraine)
To date, I have four advisory board members and the technology equity partner who have pledged their support. I am so thrilled and feel very lucky to have such a great team who in many little ways have contributed to our successes along the way. I am in search for the creative/product development partner – this one seems a little tough to find. The short-term goal is increase our human power locally, while maintaining our virtual relationships in Estonia, Tunisia and Ukraine.

I make it sound so simplistic as I write this – trust me it is not.
Though I’ve taken the organic route of finding the distinguished group of people that I chose as cornerstones to help us grow.

How does one go about the challenge of selecting the team who will be essential to our long-term growth and success?

Here’s my personal check-list:

  • Surround yourself with people smarter than you.It is important for startups to be surrounded with people who have the intelligent aptitude to add value to what you are trying to build/create, yet more importantly people who will take a genuine interest in your idea, product or service and those who have one-track minds toward achieving success.
  • Know what you need.
    When I look back in October 2007 after my last day at Dogmatic, Inc. I had a big list of things that I needed to accomplish in the first three months, including naming the company. This time around I have three things that are top of mind:
  • Raise a small amount of capital investment.
    Use it to inject into the business so we can hire and get a more established office space, etc.
  • Find equity partners in the roles of Creative/Product Partner and a Technology Partner
  • Form an advisory board
    Call on your trusted circle. Since toying with the idea of growth, I’ve informed my trusted circle of friends and colleagues in the business about my search. I know they have my back when it comes to finding opportunities and the proper contacts and directing the same to my attention.
  • Conduct smart networking and follow-through.
    In a week, depending on the number of events, workshops, etc. that I go to I could be collecting on average 10-15 business cards. Like anything else, you must prioritize otherwise you lose. I keep a stack of “opportunity” cards and a stack of “social” cards. The game of networking is all about attitude. Each opportunity contact could lead to a contract/s. Each social contact could lead to new opportunity contacts and more social contacts, multiplied by 10x over. Collecting the information will not help create any form of relationship. Sincere interest and timely follow-through is essential.
    Guess how I found the great individuals on my advisory board?

  • Seek a shared common-value system.
    When I meet with people one on one – it is either I like you or I don’t. Of course, that works both ways. After a chanced-meeting at an event or an intro via email, I usually reach out for a person-to-person meeting. Yes, exactly a “date.” At that juncture one can tell if that connection will prove to be long-term. Is the date all about business? Funny enough no.

When you meet people with shared values and a fearless passion for change creation – it is simply magical.

I tend to fall in love with people whose work is fueled by their personal belief that change is needed — that something can be made better.

The above has worked for me. I’d love to hear from fellow entrepreneurs and startup founders – what has worked for you in growing your business?

In my next post, I will share my experience on pitching to a private equity firm for convertible notes funding, which will be a first for our esteemed advisory board members.

Wish me luck!

mavin-digital Guest contributor Jessica Valenzuela is the founder and principal of MavinDigital, a 360 degree digital product and marketing company. She is closely associated with Springboard Enterprises and Astia, two exciting organizations that mentor, incubate, and invest in high-growth, women-led companies. Also collaborating regularly with Columbia Univeristy’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network, Jessica can be reached through her blog Mashup and also on Twitter (http://twitter.com/mavindigital).

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