Category Archives: Finding a Sounding Board

SE Michigan Event: Create Your Own Personal Board of Directors

Personally, I found joining a mastermind group was the single most valuable investment I made in my business.

If you’ve considered joining a mastermind group and can’t find one near you or one that fits, there’s always the option of creating your own. Mastermind groups tend to serve the role of a “personal” board of directors, vs. a board of advisors which serves your company. (Worth noting: A Board of Directors is a different animal altogether. A Board of Directors is a formal entity with the power to hire and fire a CEO, and is fairly uncommon in early second stage.)

Personally, I found joining a mastermind group was the single most valuable investment I made in my business, so I’m excited to see that the Jackson Inventors Network (JIN) is holding a meeting on the topic tomorrow, April 22nd. It’s called “The Mastermind Group – creating your own personal Board of Directors”. It will be led by Steve Ward who founded and ran Micro-Plastics for 16 years.

As the Inventors Network describes this seminar on their website: “Let’s face it – inventing a product and trying to launch it is a daunting task – anyone who has ever tried knows the feeling that they need guidance and direction. No-one can effectively do it all. The focus of this presentation is on getting the inventor / entrepreneur to recognize and utilize resources within their existing lives that can become valuable trusted advisors necessary to keep them focused, on task and successful.”

Program begins at 6:30. Registration and more information via the Jackson Inventors Network.

For more articles on this topic see “Finding a Sounding Board.”

Feeling Lonely at the Top? Join a CEO Roundtable.


A roundtable is a group of senior executives that typically meet monthly, following a format designed for each member to learn from the experience of peers. Certain revenue criteria must be met in each organization to create groups facing similar stage issues.

While the roundtable concept may not sound exceptional on the surface, the results of membership are often extraordinary. Joining a roundtable has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done in my life both personally and professionally, and I’ve seen it do the same for others. How?

As your company grows, complexity increases and new challenges arise. Navigating these waters is much smoother with a group of trusted advisors who aren’t “on the clock” or have other vested interests. While not a substitute for a true board of advisors, a roundtable is a simple way to achieve some of the same benefits, and may be sufficient for some time.

Roundtable sessions are carefully moderated to avoid “you should do thus and such” recommendations (it turns out few CEOs enjoy being told what to do ;-) while sharing personal experiences. The nuggets of wisdom gained from these experiences run the gamut.

For example:

  • A referral to the right banker to remove a personal guarantee
  • A personal introduction to a key reporter in your industry
  • An observation that a quote for xyz service might net a nice savings
  • Pointers for a key pitch or proposal – perhaps directly from a previous winner!
  • Recommendations of great time-saving tools (including what tools to avoid)

The only “trick” to roundtables is finding the one that suits you best as each has its own flavor. To that end, here’s a list of some largest roundtable networks for you to explore.

Some roundtables have a niche:

  • EO Accelerator – Designed to help earlier stage companies reach EO membership criteria. Limited to 30 businesses per chapter of between 250,000 to 1 million in revenue.
  • Vistage Connect – An alternative to Vistage monthly meetings, this version creates peer advisory groups online.
  • Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) – Exclusively for women with businesses of 2 million+ in revenue (1 million if services).
  • Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) – Exclusively for entrepreneurs under 45, with businesses of substantial size (market value of 10 million+, among other criteria).

Others are broader in scope:

  • Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). A large network of 8,000 business owners in 40 countries. By invitation only. Point of interest: The Detroit chapter of EO is ranked No. 1 in membership, and is the fastest growing EO chapter in the world.
  • PeerSpectives Roundtables are licensed by the Edward Lowe Foundation and available in almost two dozen states. Some are groups are free, sponsored by universities and other organizations.
  • TEC is focused Michigan and Wisconsin. (Many other chapters were acquired by Vistage, with which they remain partners). By invitation only.
  • Vistage (formerly known as TEC). A large network of 15,000 members worldwide, Vistage is welcoming to senior managers not necessarily in the CEO or Presidents seat.

Beyond Startup has prepared the following comparison chart of popular CEO Roundtable Groups, available in PDF format and as a Google Doc.


For additional reading, see this NYT overview of roundtables, highlighting Vistage Connect: In Meetings on the Web, Business Owners Turn to Business Owners for Support.

What Should I Tackle Next When the Path Isn’t Clear?

Gathering_at_the_conference_table(Hint: it may be time for an Advisory Board)

It’s fairly common as an entrepreneur to have a wish list a half mile long, even with a great team rockin’ things out. Most of the time, entrepreneurial instincts serve you well in what to tackle next on the list. Until one day, a bump in the road pops up that challenges those instincts. Then what?

For example, let’s say there’s a dip in sales that has lasted more than a couple of months. You might be asking:

“Is this just a blip to be waited out? Does this mean it’s time to embark on the branding campaign I’ve had on the back burner? Would PR be a better bet? Is our sales team doing something differently? Is it time to add to the sales team? Has my competition come up with a new a product we’re missing? Did our competition change their pricing? Is it something else entirely?”

Ideally, you’ve got a management team and something like the EOS process to help Identify, Discuss & Solve (IDS) the issue. If not, there’s another road to clarity that every entrepreneur has access to – a board of advisors. An advisory board can be as formal or informal as you like, all capable of serving as a sounding board and think tank for your business.

Granted, when you’re tackling a tough issue, wrangling up an advisory board is likely to sound like yet another thing there’s no time for. If you’re in a tight spot, take a breath and start simply. Call up someone for coffee that understands at least one key aspect of your business. Bonus points if they’ve got experience with a slightly larger business than yours and can bring that added perspective. My experience has been that people enjoy the chance to be of service and are more than willing to help. And that spending time with someone who can help you step out of the forest and take the 40,000 foot view might just be the single best thing you can tackle on that list.

For more in-depth tips on starting an Advisory Board and how it differs from a Board of Directors, see “How to Assemble a Board of Advisors” from Inc.