Four years into its mission to solve the problems facing entrepreneurs looking for co-founders, FounderDating is is expanding its mandate to address another common form of startup matchmaking. The company announced the launch of FD: Advisors today, a secondary platform aimed at connecting early stage startup teams with advisors, both formal and informal.
“At its core, FounderDating is a people network,” says the company’s founder and CEO Jessica Alter. “Finding co-founders is the most debilitating place that entrepreneurs get stuck, but along the company building journey, there are a variety of different people resources that are needed.”
When done right, advisory boards can help founders navigate strategic decision making, hiring, fundraising, and any number of other company-defining challenges. Under less than ideal scenarios, advisors can be an undue distraction and a waste of equity compensation.
“The process of finding, connecting with, and maintaining relationships with advisors has been broken for some time,” Alter says.
FounderDating aims to repair this dynamic by helping founders and potential advisors connect more efficiently based on areas of expertise, current bandwidth, and desired commitment level.
“It was happening naturally already through FounderDating, we’re simply formalizing the process and adding tools to make finding an advisor more efficient,” Alter says. “Lots of of people were applying to the platform and saying I’m not looking to join founding team but I want to help. There’s never been a good place to indicate that and to list what you’re good at. People don’t list previous advisory and current interests on LinkedIn.”
Alter hopes that FD: Advisor will soon provide longer-term utility beyond simply making introductions. In the not-too-distant future, FounderDating will add communication and accountability tools to the new platform.
“It goes both ways, everyone needs to set clear expectations. We don’t think they need a babysitter, just think it’s a nice reminder for busy people,” Alter adds.
FD: Advisor, which has been in alpha testing for several weeks, can serves as a mutual vetting system between founders and advisors, Alter explains. Individuals can view the questions, answers, and overall interactions of their potential partners within FounderDating’s Quora-like forum called FD:Discuss.
Once founders identify an advisor they wish to work with (or visa versa) they can message that party through FD: Advisor and request to connect via a phone call or in-person meeting. All messages are delivered via email, but neither party needs to reveal their personal contact details (a la, LinkedIn). Alter and her own advisors deliberated extensively the level of privacy and accessibility to grant under the platform. Their conclusion was not to place limits on who could contact whom, or when, but to give participants simple tools to indicate interest (or lack thereof) and to block future communication when a fit is not right.
It’s a potentially risky strategy that could lead to the busiest and most highly-sought after advisors being inundated with contact messages. But Alter believes that this is already happening through other channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. Also, she’s betting that participation in the FounderDating community should provide a further filter that will result in higher caliber interactions.
“There’s no commitment when an advisor joins the platform except to be polite and responsive,” Alter says. “But they get the opportunity to be exposed to new and potentially lucrative, interesting, and impactful opportunities.”
During its alpha period, FD: Advisor has attracted some marquee participants, including
Living Social co-founder and former CTO Aaron Batalion, MethodVP Product Experience Josh Handy, and Gainsight CEO and former LiveOps CEO Nick Mehta. It’s an impressive group that, if indicative of the types of users FD:Advisor will attract, suggests that this could be more than a passing novelty.
Former Yahoo project manager and active startup advisor Derek Dukes was also an early participant in the platform and says, “I prioritize entrepreneur credibility and not wasting my time above all else. Founderdating is helping me pre-screen according to interest areas. It also allows me to access a broader network of projects and teams at an earlier stage than I would other see.”
Dukes adds that advisors can be the most helpful when getting involved as early in the company building process as possible. “I like to be that third person at the whiteboard when critical strategic decisions are being made.”
This point explains why, in Dukes’ and Alter’s minds, advisor matching is a more apt service to provide through FounderDating, than for example AngelList. “Capital is a later stage ask than either finding a co-founder or advisors,” Dukes says. “Most companies who use AngelList successfully do so after they’ve achieved critical mass and found some sort of traction. FounderDating is altogether different.”
As for why Dukes and other successful individuals choose to advise startups, it’s less about collecting equity or getting access to investment deal flow than most people would assume. “I call it Silicon Valley karma,” Dukes says. “I get to pay it forward while also acquiring knowledge and expanding my network.”
As part and parcel to the matchmaking, FounderDating has collaborated with prominent Valley law firms Gunderson Dettmer and Orrick to design a standardized advisory agreement, similar to the series seed funding documents that have been so widely adopted. The agreement, which is free to download, provides guidance as to advisor equity compensation, but allows flexibility around this subject.
“Iʼm always surprised to see the level of friction between advisors and entrepreneurs when it comes to formalizing that relationship,” says Gunderson partners Josh Cook. “Having this agreement will go a long way to align incentives and simplify that process.”
FounderDating is now operating in 24 cities in four countries (US, UK, Canada, and Israel) meaning that the introduction of FD: Advisors could have impacts far beyond Silicon Valley. And it’s in these secondary markets where the benefits may be greatest. In the Valley, most founders are just a trip to Starbucks, Philz, or the Creamery away from running into elite prospective advisors. But elsewhere, where startup entrepreneurship is less prevalent, finding experienced and willing advisors can prove much more challenging.
One challenge facing FD: Advisor in all these markets will be to maintain some semblance of balance on both sides of the marketplace. Too many founders and not enough advisors, or the inverse, will mean that one party is routinely disappointed by the experience.
“Marketplaces work best when there’s a slight imbalance, but it’s not too off,” Dukes says. “In this case, you want advisors to be able to be selective and know that they’re getting the best intros.”
FounderDating is smart not to rest on its laurels. The company has previously targeted specific industry verticals like Hardware and education. With FD: Advisor, the company further ensures that it can add value at multiple stages within an entrepreneur or startup’s lifecycle. The magic of Silicon Valley has long been about the serendipity of having so many smart and ambitious people rubbing elbows and driving innovation. FounderDating aims to extend this phenomenon online and into communities far from the San Francisco Bay Area.
[image via spotreporting on flickr]
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