I held off for many years on writing a post on Board Meetings.
Why? Because every investor in the world writes lengthy posts on How to Have a Great Board Meeting. How to Have a Great Pre-Board Meeting. How to Have a Great Board Meeting Week. Etc. etc. etc. etc.
VCs, once they have been doing it a while, basically become professional Board Members, and they write a lot about that. But I rarely find these posts help founders hack board meetings to help them. Or even explain why you should do them — if you don’t have to.
But how can you make Board Meetings work for you as a founder — especially if you are early stage and don’t have to have them yet? A few non-obvious ways you can use having regular Board meetings to help you. A lot.
- First, VCs that attend regular board meetings are much, much more likely to invest again. And to make intros for the next round. Never assume a VC will write you a second check. There is no obligation to write another one. But, you can hack it. All but the smallest VC firms hold “reserves” for second and even third checks into their portfolio companies. These reserves are used to double down on their winners, but also, to give a little more runway to the ones doing OK or pretty well, but not yet great. But the odds you get this “extra runway” check go way, way down if you don’t keep investors in the loop. The second best way to keep them in the loop is monthly investors updates (so do this!). The very best way is to invite them to detailed board meetings every 6 weeks. The VC sitting in those board meetings 6-8 times a year is much, much more likely to write a second check than one that isn’t. Ditto all of this for intros to the next round as well.
- Second, done right, your management team will really enjoy or at least value board meetings. Having them in board meetings includes them in the journey at a senior level (even if you are tiny). This really matters. You may not care about board meetings. But your heads of product, engineering, sales, marketing, success, etc. … even if they are stretch leaders, or even individual contributors in the early days … will really appreciate being included. It will make them feel heard and included, not just by you as CEO/founders, but also by key outside stakeholders. Folks take board meetings seriously. As part of that, your team will genuinely appreciate being part of it all.
- Third, and probably most importantly, your management team will hustle to hit their deliverables and goals for board meetings. This is key. Board meetings are a bonus, almost free outside forcing function for you. You can only push the team so hard to hit your monthly, quarterly and annual goals before you break them. Make sure everyone attending board meetings has quarterly and annual goals to hit (even monthly if you can) that are tracked at each board meeting. Then, they have to present a dif to those goals at each meeting. They’ll worry, squirm, and hustle in slightly different ways than they will with you. And you’ll learn a lot watching how they rise to this challenge. Fewer and different excuses (if any).
- Fourth, it’s a great way for your investors to learn about your team. Hopefully, your investors know you personally well. You shouldn’t need a board meeting for that. But how do they get to know your VPs? A board meeting presentation is the best way. That also means you should talk less — and your team should talk more. Your investors can always just have a 1-on-1 with you.
- Finally, you might even get useful feedback. I’ve had boards that never helped me at all. I’ve had boards that helped a bit. I’ve never had a board that was awesomely insightful, though. But … a good board of seasoned executives (or even just 1) will likely create a format that provides you 1 or 2 insights that help you step out of your box. It forces you and everyone to take a 6-times-a-year perspective on things it’s often hard to take time to do. These board meetings will force you to think a bit more strategically that week than you might. That’s good.
So what’s actionable here?
- First, do board meetings earlier and generally include your largest investors as “observers” — even if they don’t have board rights. Folks without board or observer rights that own > 5% are worth including at least until the next round, or maybe at least for the first year or so after they invest. (Just be very clear on the timing and expectations here, otherwise they often don’t want to leave).
- Secondly, include the team and let them talk more and you less. You can always do a 1-on-1 Zoom with an investor later.
- And third, these days when you can raise $5m+ on SAFEs without “giving up” and board seats … maybe have regular board meetings anyway. Every 6 weeks like clockwork. You’ll at least get the benefits above.
At least until you hit true Scale, half the point of a board meeting is to have the rest of the senior team present
It holds them accountable, forces them to be organized in their thinking, and shows the gaps in org
If you do as founders do all the talking, you get none of this
— Jason ✨Be Kind✨ Lemkin (@jasonlk) October 28, 2021
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)