Sales · Advisors

What to do with an advisor that gave me some really bad advice?


July 23rd, 2015

Not trying to play the blame game here, but wondering what to do about an advisor that's continuing to give bad advice. Recently, they gave me a piece of advice that actually cost us a huge sale, a mistake I'm not soon to forget. I, myself, learned a lot from that error, but my advisor continues to think they were right in that situation. This is not the first time its happened. What can I do to ease out of the relationship without cutting ties completely or burning bridges in the process, especially since they've become a good friend of mine?

Andrew Lockley Investments & consulting for tech startups

July 23rd, 2015

Good advice often has bad results, and vice versa. It's the pattern that matters. Is the average result better with or without the help?

Rob Underwood Advisor and Entrepreneur

July 23rd, 2015

1. Read "The Hard Things about Hard Things"
2. It sounds like you want to maintain a personal relationship but you know the professional relationship must end. The conversation won't become any easier by putting it off. It sounds like you are fairly certain you are getting bad advice and hence you do need to "cut (professional) ties completely." Don't delay! It'll just get harder!

If this is an informal advisor - i.e., someone who you have no formal contract with and/or isn't on your cap table - you need to have a tough conversation and get that behind you while emphasizing that you want to "stay friends". Be ready for that to be hard for her/him and that you may be on the outs for a bit. Hopefully time will heal the wound. 

If this is a formal advisor you need to review whatever exit clauses there are in your agreement. If they are already partially vested, it sounds like you'll never be able to cut them out completely, but that doesn't mean you need to continue the advisory relationship.

In general, I've learned the hard way several times that "shoot the wounded" sounds cruel but is absolutely essential guidance. If an advisor or employee is not working out - and you know it in your heart and mind - it's probably time to move on. It's much like a romantic relationship. Sometimes it's over and you know it and it's best for all that a separation happens. Postponing - or worse still hoping it'll "work out" - just makes things worse. 

Again, "hard things about hard things"!

Norman Hartmann Principal Expert Mobile Computing at Siemens

July 23rd, 2015

I think you misinterpret the role of your advisor. He/She gives you advice, YOU decide. I think the weak element here is your own decision making and judgement. Guess you need to step up your game. Good luck, Norman

John Seiffer Business Advisor to growing companies

July 23rd, 2015

That's why I recommend formalizing all advisor arrangements and giving them a time frame. For example having a board of advisors with a 1 year term. At the end, if you like each other, you can renew but if not, you don't. No hard feelings.

If they're just a friend who keeps giving free advice and you want to keep the firendship, just nod and say thanks and then do what you planned to do anyway.

You may have to have a hard conversation about let's keep this relationship to being friends and not talk about business.

I would not get into a discussion of the problem with their advice in the past or the ramifications of that. 

2 more things to consider:
1) Always take advice but don't follow it blindly - adapt is as you see fit.

2) Free advice is worth what you pay for it (or less) - even this!

Ignacio Castro MIT Sloan Fellows 2011, MBA, PMP, CSM, exploring business opportunities in US and Latin America.

July 23rd, 2015

A good advise I received is to limit advisors commitment to one year, that way you can decide later on if you want to continue the relationship or find a creative way to part ways. If you have a limited number of advisor seats, then is easy to argue that there is someone else that will bring more value to the company at that particular time. Hope this helps! Good luck! *Ignacio Castro* | Founder & CEO | Startup Costa Rica | m. +1.857.399.7538 | Learn more at | LinkedIn | @icastrocr

Rob Edenzon Acting Vice President, Sales at Armorway Inc.

July 23rd, 2015

The only thing that's black and white in business is whether or not you get the sale.  If you get the sale, then you can declare you were right.  If not, you don't get that luxury.  Especially if it's not the first time.

As a start-up, you can make a lot of mistakes.  But mistakes that involve revenue are monumental.

I'm assuming this adviser has a sales background.  If not, use them for what they're good for and remove them from the revenue side.

If they claim to be a sales guru, cut bait and don't worry about the personal side of things.  In this situation, it's company first.  If the advisor doesn't understand that, then they were the wrong person from the get go.

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

July 23rd, 2015

The key thing here that you've left out is what level of compensation are they receiving for being and advisor.  If they have equity and are vesting over time, it might just make sense to let them vest the rest of their equity but stop listening to them

OTOH if their chunk of equity is too large - then you need to invoke the 'non-perform' part of your contract.   And specifically cite the issues where you believe the advice was not in line with what you had expected or need in the future, so you are terminating the contract.  They keep what equity has vested (if they haven't hit the 1 year cliff, be generous and give them their first vesting)

If there is salary involved.  Ibid #2. 

If there is neither salary nor a lot of equity - just stop inviting them for advice

Alexandra Damsker techophile. entrepreneur. lawyer.

July 23rd, 2015

Tough one.  How formal is your relationship?  Is this advisor on an advisory board?  Do you have regularly scheduled meetings?  Does the advisor have other points of contact within the company aside from you?  Do you have a long standing work relationship that has evolved, such as mentor or boss to advisor?  Or is this person more what my Southern friend would call "an unrelated uncle" - a friendly outsider who cares about you and your progress, and gives you advice (possibly unsolicited)?

The more formal the relationship, the more sensitive you need to be when disengaging.

However, I would caution you to consider first why you want to disengage.  Consider first why you engaged in the first place.  Does this person still possess the knowledge, judgment and overall value that made you want to bring him or her into the company in the first place?  Did one piece of bad advice negate all of the good advice you've (presumably) received previously - enough to want to make this person your advisor in the first place?  Has it been getting worse in a short period?  Is there perhaps something going on in the advisor's life that has made advising more difficult, or the advisor more averse to discussion following decision-making?

Also, consider whether it's been a matter of execution, rather than advice.  Take a close look at how the decisions that haven't worked out have broken down, and see exactly what could have gone differently - with the clear eyes of a CEO, not the clouded eyes of a disappointed or disillusioned protege or advisee.

Finally, remember that the decision rested with you, not the advisor.  The advisor gave you just that: advice, based on an understanding of the facts and circumstances you gave and as understood.  Try not to blame others for failed decisions, or for relying on advice that didn't work out.  It's understandable that you are disappointed, but the cost of running a business is that you run the business.  Decisions rest with you - and you will lose relationships quickly the minute you forget that.

Now, I'm certain you don't intend to blame your advisor for your decisions at all, and perhaps your reasons for severing this part of the relationship are far deeper.  I will warn you, however, that your advisor will find it difficult to understand why you wish to end the advisory part of the relationship, when he or she likely fully believes he or she is fulfilling his or her end of the bargain.  

If there is a formal agreement, you must follow the terms of the agreement.  Note that any equity obligations will likely need to be met.  If it is simple generosity that leads this advisor to lend advice, you can simply (a) stop asking - assuming that is what leads to the advice-giving, and/or (b) when advice is freely offered, say "thank you - I think we're ok on this issue."  

However, I should point out here that your advisor seems to be advising on issues that likely involve issues that involve confidential or strictly internal matters - "major decisions" are rarely made using entirely public information.  That means you've either made this person an insider or are in the habit of freely discussing very confidential company manners to external people (which you should stop.  Immediately.).

If you do not have an agreement with this advisor, this means this person listened to your very confidential, internal matters for some (likely) extended length, offered advice, information and possibly connections - and eventually personal friendship.  You took all of those, and offered nothing in return, including standard compensation, and are now complaining about certain results that may or may not have resulted from some small aspect of his or her generosity.

You can easily terminate this, but realize that very, very few advisors would retain your friendship, such as it is.

Kind regards,

Rich Goidel Business strategist, group facilitator, agile practitioner and corporate muse

July 24th, 2015

I believe your challenge is not the advisor. It's obvious you're not getting what you want out of the relationship and you've decided to end it without burning a bridge. Done deal.

Your struggle is this: how to be honest and transparent in communication. So many of us don't know how to do that.

My advice, pick up the book Crucial Conversations. It may just change your life.

Taj Sateesh CEO at Sphinx Resources--The Preferred Recruitment Partners in Hi-Technology R&D & Manufacturing

July 24th, 2015

An excellent 360 deg view of the situation Alexandra Damsker--I couldn't have said better.

While Norman Hartmann is right on dot when he says 'he/she gives you advice, YOU decide', the focus is more on the PRESENT is projected.

I share Alexandra's view that there does seem to be earlier scenarios--that formed the steps [small or big isn't the issue] leading to today's situation--which is just the consequence.

Suggest go back into time & review your reason(s) WHY you hired/selected/chose this person as advisor in the first place.
Else, there's every likelihood that the same situation MAY play all over again.....albeit with a new advisor.

All the Best.