Once you’ve raised funding, your board meetings will likely become a lot more serious. Prior to raising capital your board likely consists of the founders and that’s it. After funding, your investors will want a seat at the table (and maybe more.) Boards are often setup with 5 people (2 founders, 2 investors and an independent, or 2 founders, 1 investor and 2 independents.) It’s important when raising money early on that you retain control of the board. I’d argue that this is more important than valuation, even though most entrepreneurs focus on valuation above anything else. Board control is key. Without it, you can find yourself in a lot of difficult situations going forward.
Another quick note: You don’t have to pick the independents right away. It’s quite common to leave the open seats available for awhile. And like advisors, don’t focus on “celebrity board members”, look for people that can be strategically valuable to the company.
So here are 7 tips for successful board meetings:
- Board meetings are important. You shouldn’t take them lightly. Be prepared and well organized. A bad board meeting can be extremely painful, frustrating and a waste of time.
- Prepare a board package and send it a day before. This can be time consuming, but it’s an important way of being organized. Investors will appreciate the effort and thoughtfulness that goes into it. It also gives investors a chance to catch up on the entire business. Here are some of the things you can (should) include in the board meeting package, which also serves as the board meeting’s agenda:
- define clear goals for the board meeting
- review action items from previous board meeting
- state of the company (financials, key metrics, etc.)
- governance issues
- staffing report
- financial report / budget
- key accomplishments
- key challenges
- sales funnel / user acquisition strategies
- product roadmap
- business development roadmap
- milestones to accomplish by next meeting
- final takeaways / actions
- You run the board meeting. This is very important. Make sure you’re in charge of the board meeting, keeping everyone focused where you want them focused. Losing control of a board meeting is surprisingly easy, and it’s hard to get back. It’s also going to be an indication to investors that you might be losing control over your startup too (whether that’s true or not.) You can’t ignore investor confidence as a key variable in having a good, productive relationship with investors.
- Get the governance stuff out of the way quickly. You don’t want the board meeting focused on administrative issues. You want it focused on strategy, business goals and key tasks that you want everyone working on.
- Have a clear agenda (using what I’ve written above as a framework), but don’t obsess over it. Let the meeting go where it goes, but keep a reign on it as well. You’re in charge, and you have to keep everyone focused on what’s important.
- Don’t think of a board meeting as a report. The point of a board meeting isn’t for you to report what’s going on with the business. Board members and investors should have access to and know what’s going on all the time. There’s an element of reporting of course (and a good board package will help with this), but the best board meeting is going to be a fairly open, strategic discussion on the business. It’s a focused point in time where you can ask for help, brainstorm creatively and get everyone aligned and excited.
- You need to give board members “homework.” I don’t mean this in a bad way, but this is your opportunity to really ask for help and get commitments from board members that they’ll do things you need them to do. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get investors and board members involved in-between board meetings too (they should be helping the whole time!) but the board meeting is a focal point for getting their help on key issues.
Board meetings are important. They’re key benchmarks for investors to assess you, and good points in time for you to re-focus investors and get their help. Board meetings can serve as forcing factors for having important strategic discussions, and making major decisions. If you look at them as something you’re forced to do by investors, and mostly about reporting to investors on the state of affairs, you’re missing the point. A good board (caveat: You need a good board for all of this to work!) will be much more than that.
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