How to select, manage, and motivate your startup board

Adam Milgrom, Venture Partner at Giant Leap Fund, shares wisdom for running an effective startup board

Adam Milgrom, Venture Partner @ Giant Leap Fund

Enthusiasm and diversity can trump experience in board selection

Early stage startups won’t really have much of a choice when it comes to selecting their board members. Their board generally consists of the founders (typically up to three of them if there are more co-founders) and a representative from their first investor.

Enthusiasm also helps to tackle the motivation challenge

With your initial board (typically consisting of founders and early investors) there’s no need for remuneration for board positions because everyone at the table is motivated by the equity they have in the business.

Let the board directors into your day-to-day

Adam suggested on the Startup Playbook Podcast that founders tell their board members as much about the business as possible. This might go as far as adding your board members to your company Slack — or another form of workplace communications tool — to give them visibility over the day-to-day running of the organisation.

Onboard your board directors like any new recruit

Adam says it’s also well worth your time as a founder to introduce your board members to the team and induct them into the business as if they are full-time staff.

Communicate before board meetings to root out disagreements ahead of time

Adam also believes it’s crucial for startup CEOs to communicate any decisions that have been made ahead of the meeting to avoid getting derailed if there is a disagreement. This is usually the job of a company board chair, but as most startups do not have chairs, the CEO has to assume this role.

Don’t get sucked too far into governance

While it is important for founders to involve themselves in the activities of the board, you can overdo it. Adam’s seen founders take on too much responsibility with governance to the overall detriment of the startup.

Takeaways summary

  • When selecting board members, look for enthusiasm as much as experience.
  • Board members can be remunerated in either equity or cash. But given startups shortness on cash, they will probably be more motivated by a passion for the business, founder, or problem (or a mix of all three).
  • Invite your board members to your company communications platform and give them as much visibility over the business as possible.
  • Induct the board member into the business as if they were a new staff member. Let them meet the team and fully understand all the organisation’s problems.
  • Settle any disagreements on company decisions ahead of a board meeting. Use the board meeting to discuss strategy and solutions, not argue decision-making.
  • Don’t overdo it on governance. Your board and team are there to support you, so don’t be afraid to delegate some of that responsibility.



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