Member of the Board
So you think you’d like to become a board member? We’ve asked Jill Rowley to share the reality of this often-glamorized role. For some of us, it just seems like the logical cherry on top of a well-played career. It may mean “simply” volunteering on the board of a non-profit, like your child’s school. For others it may mean becoming an advisor to a start-up that plays to your experience. For still others it can mean a seriously coveted, paid spot on the board of directors for a large enterprise. (Photo: Quotable)
As much as we value our own experience – the question is, will others? These spots are few and far between, so we thought we would speak to a professional who now finds herself on several advisory boards and a board of directors simultaneously. We hope to help you consider this possibility as something that could make sense for you, or something that you may actually want to remove from your list of career goals.
Let’s start our discussion with Jill, advisor or board member to at least seven different technology organizations, including Folloze, Affinio, and Nudge.ai. Jill’s deep areas of expertise include digital marketing and social selling. When she was a top salesperson at Eloqua, where her title was “Eloqueen” due to her success and dedication to her customers, the company, and the marketing community. It was at Eloqua that she became an avid user of social media, in large part because her customers were using it. To date, Jill is one of few business executives who has grown her social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) to tens of thousands of people. That process is a story unto itself, but the short description is that she is heavily engaged in social conversations, interviews, videos, live presentations, conference keynotes and more. Bottom line, she is incredibly curious and very well-connected.
Jill, how is it you find yourself in advisory/board roles for a particularly long list of organizations?
The first time I was involved as an advisor was for a company called Influitive. A personal relationship drove that position. I had worked with Mark Organ, Influitive’s CEO & Founder, for five years when were were at Eloqua. Many of the advisor roles come from my personal brand that I’ve built, largely online. I only entertain opportunities that are within the first two degrees of my network.
Back in 2012, I had my first chance to be a private investor for a company called Vidyard. They came to Eloqua Experience (an annual event), when I was still working there. They were a partner who was told they needed to meet me, so they tracked me down. They made a good impression on me, and others in the Eloqua ecosystem. I did my research on the video space, and spent some time with the team. I just knew that Michael Litt, one of the founders, was going to be successful at some point. When I came into the money from Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua, I decided to put six figures into Vidyard. I had actually started introducing them around and helping them grow before investing in them. I am still an investor and involved with their biz dev and marketing teams.
Who reaches out to whom? Do you approach an organization, or does the organization contact you?
Because I have developed a well-known brand – if someone is recommending me, they can fairly accurately describe the value I bring. They know what I’m like, my strengths, my values, and who I know. My world today is mostly inbound requests. My outbound communication is all about building relationships with interesting people, rather than getting something specific from them. I have never approached a company about being on their board. To date, I’ve been very reactionary.
I initially met one CEO with whom I work, at an Inside Sales Leadership conference. I speak at, and attend many physical events. I highly recommend people attend relevant events, which sometimes surprises them. I’m not sure why! Being a digital evangelist is not about operating solely from your desk.
How is your contribution scoped out? Do these organizations know what they need? What does your contribution look like?
In the tech world, the advisory roles can vary widely, and so can the agreements. When Influitive sent me the first document, I didn’t know if I should sign it, or have a lawyer look at it. I didn’t know what it was worth – it was equity. Most of my advisor roles are equity, not cash. Some people do cash. You don’t go into this thinking that you are going to get rich. An exit is usually greater than 10 years, and “failure” is more common than success. That said, I’ve had two successful exits in the past five years, and I’ve been an Advisor to one company that closed up shop.
The expectations listed in my HubSpot advisory agreement were the most detailed, and included the biggest time commitment. Generally, I don’t agree to any deliverables per se (PowerPoint decks, blog posts, introductions). I agree to a certain number of calls or physical meetings. I prefer to do strategy work over anything else.
My involvement depends on the stage of the company and what is needed. Agreements are usually for a two year period. I have a number of agreements where I’m fully vested, and I’m still rooting for the company to win!
Expectation management is one of the most important things. Be upfront about your strengths and weaknesses, and also your communication style.
I almost always work directly with the CEO, as well as the heads of marketing, sales, and business development.
What factors do you weigh when considering your involvement?
Primarily I consider how well I know the leadership team – what led us to connect.
Do I trust their capabilities? Do I buy into their vision? As I mentioned, sometimes it’s gut instinct that an entrepreneurial CEO will be successful, whether it’s this time around, or in the future.
Do I believe in the market opportunity? What is the scope of my involvement? Do they want what I’m in a position to bring to the table? As I mentioned, expectations needs to be clearly defined for the situation to work for all parties.
What would you say is a common stumbling block or challenge that you are often tapped to address?
On occasion, the CEO brings me on as an advisor, and fails to communicate to sales leadership that I am not an extension of their sales team. I am not going to make introductions to 20 strategic accounts, etc. I don’t have the desire or bandwidth to be a lead gen engine for these companies. I can advise on how to develop their Ideal Customer Profile “ICP” and identify their top accounts/opportunities, but I am not their sales rep. Some really just want introductions, but that is not my model.
Across the board, the question they want answered is: “how can we create an engine for growth?”
I’ve been involved with a few early-stage startups where the biggest challenge at the time was product/market fit. I’ve helped them pivot based on capabilities and what the market is willing to pay for.
An all-too common challenge is definitely “how can we scale”?
Most recently, figuring out the marking and sales models – like moving from inbound to outbound, from demand generation to Account-Based Marketing – has been another area where I’ve been adding value.
If someone thinks that they would like to contribute their experience to a board role – where would you suggest they start?
People don’t need to wait to be approached. There are a lot of great potential advisors out there who simply don’t have the right connections or personal brand to get noticed. I recommend searching and studying how to become a start-up advisor. There are a lot of free online resources. Go get educated on what it all means, and see if a role can be a natural fit for you. Build your knowledge, grow your network, and make a lot of deposits before asking for a withdrawal.
We thought we’d leave you with a look at Jill’s social selling philosophy, one of the cornerstones of her personal brand.