Post-mortem on Board Meetings
A couple of weeks ago I received a question from a founder that I had backed. He had read Fred Wilson's post on Striking the Right Balance and wanted to know my thoughts related to his board. Related to Fred's post, I told him that I thought we were a founder friendly board. I also told him that my sense was that we gave him sufficient pushback and guidance when appropriate.
The founder wanted more feedback so that he could learn and iterate for future boards. Board dynamics vary from company to company. In this particular case, our meetings were adhoc and generally informal. It's okay to start out that way, especially while still searching for product/market fit. But as the company grows and matures, the board process should become more formal.
I provided the following feedback for what I think we could have done better:
Schedule the meetings in advance. It's a good idea to schedule meetings out a year in advance. When you're two quarters in, schedule the next two quarters again. It's good to have known cadence between meetings. And when travel is involved, having this level of advanced planning is necessary.
Schedule the meeting for 3 hours. If you're done in 2, everyone gets an hour back. Generally though, you should want more time with your advisors and so running out of time isn't great. There should be enough changes on a quarterly basis to fill up the time with high quality conversations.
Whenever possible, have everyone together in one room. There is no substitute for face to face interactions. We all want to be engaged in the discussion when we're remote, but it's too easy to get distracted. Something is always missed, even with the best video conferencing systems.
Do something outside of the boardroom. Have a lunch before the meeting. Have a dinner after the meeting. Getting your supporters together in an informal settings helps to build stronger bonds. And you may get some insights that may not come out in a boardroom. Bonus points if you can get your board to do something more creative than eating and drinking. Mini-golf or bowling, anyone?
Get the deck out early. Given travel and other commitments, it's difficult to process a deck with a day or two lead time. Shoot to get the deck out a week in advance, but make sure to do it at least 3-4 days prior to the board meeting. Make sure you put in enough detail to give your board a sense for how the business is going. The board should read and process the background in advance of the meeting so that everyone is on the same page. But also make sure to add your strategic discussion points. What decisions can the board help you with? What guidance are you looking for? What bets are you considering that you want to discuss with your advisors? This is where the value of the board should shine. It's not looking back on the last quarter but instead it's looking forward to the next quarter and year.
Bring in the executive team. A good executive team wants exposure to the board. They want to share their vision of how they're going to build out their org and provide value to the company. They want to know that the board knows them and their contributions. And the board values seeing the depth of your team. It's one thing for you to say that you have a great team. It's another thing for you to put that team in front of your board. I'd recommend focusing on one or two departments per meeting. As an example, give your head of sales the opportunity to present in Q1 and your head of product in Q2.
Don't wait for the board meeting. Quarterly meetings are the standard, but business tends to move much faster than that. If something momentous happens, reach out to the board with an update. If you need input or help along the way, ask for that help. If a core metric or assumption changed, let the board know. It's often a good idea to schedule an interim one hour call between the more formal board meetings.
These suggestions are broadly applicable and have worked for me over the years. This founder did some of these things well, some of the time. In looking backwards though, following these guidelines more consistently would have likely been beneficial for the founder and the company.