How to Build Your Braintrust
Updated: Feb 9
Are you on the precipice of a major professional decision but not sure which way to go? Ask your braintrust to point you in the right direction.
The concept of a braintrust is one of the major topics I cover with my students at Endicott College where I serve as entrepreneur in residence. Everyone has a braintrust but we don’t always realize it, so we often under-utilize this valuable resource.
Your braintrust is composed of the people you confide in when making life decisions. Who did you talk to when you were considering colleges? These could be parents, a family friend, an aunt, uncle or a teacher.
After understanding you have a braintrust it’s important to leverage that group when making critical decisions about your future.
An Example of My Braintrust
I’ll share some of the most important life decisions I’ve made where I’ve leveraged my braintrust. But first, let me share who’s in my braintrust:
My wife. She’s my rock. She’s my partner in everything. She’s the first and last person I consult with before any major decision.
My pals. I have a tight knit group of friends I grew up with who have enjoyed success in different fields. We help each other navigate all sorts of decisions together.
My mentors. I have a short list of mentors I’ve been depending on for advice since my first job. My mentor Brian Bogie was there to help me thrive at my first job at Schwartz Communications and then he was there helping me develop a business plan to move to LA and capitalize on the Silicon Beach tech boom. He was there again (and is to this day!) helping me develop Value Creation Labs.
Adding mentors to your braintrust is challenging. First, develop an aspirational career goal and then find people who are accomplished in that realm. For me, I want to develop my agency into a venture studio, which means I need to add mentors that have investment experience. You need to identify who you want to be in five, 10, 20 years, and then look to identify and network with people who are already where you eventually want to be. Then reach out. Ask them out for coffee or for an informational interview. Express interest in their work and career trajectory (this isn’t the time to pitch them on your idea). You’ll be surprised who will say yes!
Life Events to Leverage A Braintrust
My brainstrust has helped me through some of the biggest changes in my life. When it comes time for major life changes, I often have no clue where to start. Tapping the full breadth of your braintrust makes it easy. You might tap your own braintrust to help you…
Decide to leave your job
Challenge yourself physically
Move to a new city for a fresh start
Launch a podcast
Start your own business
Building Your Business With Your Braintrust
I’d like to double click on the last item here: start your own business. I created my own business in 2021, and there’s no way I’d have done it without my braintrust. I needed my wife’s unwavering support. I needed my pals’ feedback. I needed my mentors’ guidance.
Whereas I initially thought I needed to tell the world what I was doing, my braintrust convinced me I needed to work hard in the background building the business first. I needed to learn what VCL truly was first by delivering value to clients.
This meant I needed to operate VCL in stealth mode for nearly a year before formally announcing what I was up to. I didn’t issue a press release. I waited to update my LinkedIn. From a public perception perspective, it was unclear what I was up to outside of building my podcast Boston Speaks Up; I was hard at work in a lab without having yet poked my head up in the world to declare what I was building.
Too often companies hype themselves before a product or service is ready to go to market. Sure, they may need some excitement to raise capital or stoke customer interest. I get it. I’ve been the guy doing the hyping more times than I can count. But you do run the risk of misrepresenting your company when you proclaim to the masses who you are before you’ve actually interacted with customers.
So, I have my braintrust to thank, because if I had launched VCL a year ago, I’d have totally missed the mark on who we are and why we’re valued by our partners. Salute to you, Braintrust.
And salute to you, reader! I hope this gives you the confidence to seek out accomplished professionals who are achieving the success you strive to achieve. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how warm and receptive people are to a humble professional seeking their mentorship.