Executive Advising, Not Startup Advice-ing

How I sold my company, started building a coaching practice, and joined a new team in 9 months — all because I know the difference between advice-ing and advising.

How I became an Executive Advisor

April of 2015 was a busy month. I sold my second company, moved from Vegas to Minnesota, and started getting ready for the birth of our first kid. I also needed to figure out what I would work on next. After 8 years primarily working in and building my own tech startups, I kind of assumed I would launch another startup.

Before rummaging through my ‘startup ideas’ notebook in Evernote, I decided to slow down and really figure out what I enjoyed the most about the past 8 years. After we sold the first startup I co-founded, I became a mentor at 500 Startups. I joined a handful of startups as an advisor. I helped NewMe Accelerator companies as a mentor. I spoke at quite a few Startup Weekends, and mentored a lot of founders through Up Global (now TechStars). I started advising several other companies.

Mentoring (Not Startup Advice-ing) at Grind Coworking.

Mentoring at Grind Coworking. Photo by the organizer, Nicole Yeary from Ms. Tech.

All of this was happening while I was building my own companies. Rather than being a distraction, all the conversations with other founders gave me more energy and took me out of my own head, giving me more perspective. And, I loved it.

AHA! This is what I love.

Rather than launching another startup, I decided to convert my hobby into a career so I could focus all of my time and energy into helping other entrepreneurs survive and thrive. My wife, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, had already begun working primarily with entrepreneurs and executives as a coach. So we started building up a practice together.

Wait, What is an Executive Advisor?

Startup advising is broken. I learned this the hard way, on both sides of the table. Even though I owned – on average – 0.25% of the startups I advised, I rarely got tapped for help. As an entrepreneur with my own advisors, I know how easy it is to get buried in the insanity and forget to reach out. Far too often, founders give away valuable equity in their company, only to receive platitudes and generic advice in return. And that is if they actually remember to reach out and ask for help.

Startups don’t need more advice. Founders need a trusted advisor: Someone they can trust with the dark secrets and hard questions, who shows up even when they don’t know they need support, who will give them perspective and tell them the truth to their face.

A startup advice-r shows up for 30 minutes and regurgitates the last three blog posts they’ve read and tell founders, “You should go try this,” “You should think about pivoting,” “You should just build it that way.”

This is called shoulding on people. And it isn’t nice.

An executive advisor helps a founder to discover the root causes of their concerns and fears. An executive advisor coaches that founder in first principles and helps them build new habits which will impact many decisions. An executive advisor listens and asks questions far more often than they speak.

A startup advice-r spouts advice to a startup.
An executive advisor is a trusted confidant and coach for the founder.

Going Pro and Scaling Up

I learned a lot while building our practice. But I had to spend as much time finding new clients as I did working with my clients. Remember how this got started? I wanted to spend all my time doing what I love: helping entrepreneurs survive and thrive.

Which is why I am excited to announce I have joined Revelry to add Executive Advising to their already solid stack of Custom Software Development and Design Sprints. Not only will the sales team take over the time I spent finding new clients, but I also immediately expand the resources I am able to provide to my executive advising clients. And over the next few months we’ll add additional business coaching services for teams and startups.

“Not only am I the president, I am also a client.”

This move is personally exciting for me because I have been friends with Gerard Ramos, the CEO of Revelry, since the first day I started working with startups. (We met at a Pownce/Justin.tv party the day after I landed in SF.) And we have already worked together over the years as an advisor to his companies and coach for the Revelry team.

Now we get to partner up to make executive advising and business coaching available to many many more people.

If this resonates with you, I would love to connect. Read through the Executive Advising services page to learn more and grab a free 30 minute discovery call. And, if you know an entrepreneur, consider sharing this story with them so they don’t have to go alone.

Be Amazing!
Thomas Knoll