Experienced Heads and Cheap Legs: How to Leverage Mentoring and Advisers at a Startup

Among the 99 problems that startups have, here are a few:

- I have advisors and don't know how to make great use of them.

- I have cheap junior people that hustle but they're not very experienced.

- I don't have enough money to pay for all the people I need.

Here's a solution that can be used in any area: marketing, technology, product, etc.

Hire someone cheap who can hustle.  If you're hiring for marketing, it's going to be someone who will actually test all the AdWords campaigns, run the Twitter account, write the blog posts, pitch media outlets, etc.  Then, match that person up with a one day or so a week senior person who gets paid mostly in equity.  The problem with that junior person is that they don't know enough about brand strategy, messaging, and don't have the network to really get the company placed where it needs to show up.  The problem with the senior CMO-type is that they're never going to want to run the Twitter account and they're going to ask you for too much current compensation.  Frankly, it's not cost effective to pay a senior person to run a Twitter account anyway, and in the beginning of a startup, it's not clear you need a full time senior person.  You need someone who can set strategy, priorities, and direction, and make necessary intros, but that can largely be done on a one day a week basis while someone more junior (and cheaper) carries out orders under a watchful eye.

You could do the same thing in engineering.  Start putting these college kids who have done comp sci to work on your project, but match them up with a mentor--that technical co-founder you think you need but totally can't afford or can't convince to come and work with you.  Often times, that senior person would be more than happy to mentor someone in their spare time and the idea of picking up equity and a little comp for a company they don't have to commit full time to might be really appealing.  Frankly, they could prob do that for 5 or 6 startups at a time, and maybe even group mentor all of the junior devs.  The junior devs might actually benefit from being in a little group cohort under one teacher as well.  

So many companies don't know what to do with their advisors.  I say let them manage the most junior members of your team.  Let the junior person work with them to set their priorities for the week, come back to them to check their work, be available for advice--and the net result will be that you'll get a lot of hustle, cheaply, but in the right direction and using the best practices of a career of experience.  Net net it will be so much cheaper than hiring two, where the senior person just doesn't have enough to do or the junior person spins their wheels.