For the past 5 years, I’ve been an angel investor in addition to getting involved in multiple companies as a founder or co-founder. This experience on both sides of the table taught me lessons about running successful startup board meetings with your investors and advisors. In this episode, I talk about some of my takeaways about making these meetings more productive and fun. Hope you’ll enjoy it!
I’m sitting in the Mediasign meeting room and today I want to talk about startup board meetings, and probably to some degree about meetings in general.
I feel that running as startup board meeting efficiently is crucial to the relationship between investors and founders. And because I’ve been sitting on both sides of the table, I want to share some insights about what I’ve seen and learned over the years.
So today, in this room, I’m going to have two board meetings. First, I’ll be sitting on the founder side, talking to my investors in the Sendtask project. Afterward, I’m going to have a meeting with Jodel, where I am an investor.
So I want to share my perspective from both sides of the table and share a few takeaways that I’ve seen over the years.
Choosing the right board members
First and foremost, I think startup board meetings are not unlike any other meeting. They should be well prepared, they should be efficient, there should be a lot of communication from both sides and not just one party talking while the others listen.
But what’s different about startup board meetings is that often there is a certain level of disconnect between the two parties because the investor is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. And so for the founder, it’s a special challenge to take a step back and assume the perspective of an investor.
Before you have your first board meeting, first you need to constitute your board. Ideally, you will have people on your board that can contribute value and are complementary to your skills so they can give you a different perspective. You trust them and your interests are aligned. Ideally, they’re investors in your projects so you know that they have the same incentive as you – bringing the project to fruition.
The problems with startup board meetings
One problem that I’ve seen in the past with startup board meetings is that founders tend to overthink them. They spend a lot of time preparing nice slide decks with lots and lots of information that they don’t even use during their day-to-day. They create statistics that they only look at for this board meeting. And because of that, having a board meeting becomes this very dreadful process. That leads to fewer and fewer board meetings because founders don’t want to take two days out of their busy schedule every couple months just to prepare board slides.
And thus you have fewer and fewer meetings which leads to a larger disconnect between the investor and the founder. And then at some point, it will be hard to provide meaningful input as an investor if you’re too disconnected from what’s actually going on.
On the other hand, I think there’s also a few problems for the investor that I’ve seen. If you come to a board meeting and then you spend two or even three hours listening to the founder dumping information on you that you didn’t have time to review ahead of the board meeting. And then you’re asked to react spontaneously to whatever is discussed.
How to run a successful startup board meeting
So I’m fortunate to be part of a few projects and being exposed to these meetings over and over again. Here are some of the takeaways that I’ve learned over the last few years. There are four takeaways that I want to share with you to make startup board meetings more efficient, more productive, but also more fun.
#1. Make it about data and not opinions.
What I’ve seen very often is that during the board meeting, we would not agree on which KPI is most important or the founder was not 100% clear. It also happened to me as a founder. When I was trying to answer a question, I didn’t actually know which data point to look at or didn’t have that data present.
So what I suggest is that whenever you form a new board, use the first board meeting to really think about what KPIs and metrics best represent your vision and mission, and whether you’re on track or not. Ideally, this comes down to 3-5 metrics that you can look at daily, weekly, monthly and so on.
The numbers that you find should make sense to you as a founder. They should be the numbers that guide your daily actions, your weekly actions, your monthly actions. So they should not be something that you create for the board.
It’s helpful for me to have that discussion with the board because there are people with a lot of experience that can guide me and give me inputs on which data points might be worth looking into the most. So I typically use the first session with a new board to talk about vision, mission and how we can measure whether we are on track in that first session.
#2. Share information asynchronously.
What I mean by that – don’t use the time during the board meeting to just dump information on your advisors and investors or whoever sits on your board. Use the days before the board meetings to keep them updated. Ideally, you will develop a system where they have access to your KPIs so they can go in and check themselves.
Also, share slides, comments and whatever information you want them to have in order to have meaningful discussions before the board meeting. Ideally, that’s at least 2 days prior but 7 days is even better. So when people come to your board meeting, you don’t need to waste time reading slides or comments. You can spend the time having meaningful discussions.
#3. Have a dynamic structure.
If there’s nothing to say about HR, then don’t make HR an item on your agenda. One format that I’ve used in the past is talking about highlights and lowlights. From your perspective as a founder, talk about the highlights since the last board meeting. What went extremely well or made you feel good? And then ask yourself what were the lowlights – what did not go as planned? What made you feel bad? What didn’t go the way you were expecting it to go?
Then deep dive into those points because that’s most probably what your investors are interested in. They’re not only interested to hear that things go according to plan. They want to hear about the best parts and they want to hear where they can help. This way you could learn from their experience going through a similar problem.
#4. Have meaningful discussions and get value from your board.
I often see work meetings where it seems like the founder is trying to dump as much information as possible on their investors and then there’s very little time left at the end.
Sometimes that’s a three-hour board meeting and at the end, we have 20 minutes for questions and discussions. I think that doesn’t make sense because you’ve got these people onto your board so you can learn from them. They should be providing value to whatever you’re trying to do or build, or the problem you’re trying to solve.
So keep the majority of the time for discussions to talk about your lowlights. Send out information in advance so that these discussions can happen uninterruptedly and you don’t need to go back and look up numbers. And also think about who could have inputs in a specific field so you can have one-on-ones or an expert to lead certain discussions when the board meeting starts.
These were the four ideas and experiences I wanted to share with you in this episode. A recap:
- Number one: make it about data and not opinions. Define clear KPIs and then stick to them, revisit them periodically.
- Number two: share information asynchronously a few days ahead of the board meetings so that your members can show up prepared.
- Number three: have a dynamic structure. Something that has worked well for me in the past is using highlights and lowlights to guide the meeting.
- Number four: use the time to have meaningful discussions and get value from your board members. Leverage their expertise in their field and think about who could provide the most input to each topic.
And with that, I got to go now because I have a board meeting starting in about 30 minutes.