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How to Build a Solid Deck for Your Quarterly Board Meetings

By Yousuf Khan, Partner at Ridge Ventures

Image Credits: Hiroshi Watanabe / Getty Images

(This article was originally published in TechCrunch.)

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on how to run a successful board meeting. Since then, I’ve gotten one question from first-time founders on repeat — what does a good board update actually look like?

It’s a perfectly reasonable query. In the early days of a startup, most founders have very little data to work with. It can therefore be quite difficult to structure a productive and actionable board deck, with no customer or product information to anchor the update. It’s important to balance two key areas: providing an assessment of the business, and establishing trust with your board members.

Establish the foundations

Though it may seem daunting to start, the simplest way to ensure you’re providing board members with the information they want to see is to ask. Reaching out to board members themselves not only helps provide direction for you as a founder, but offers an opportunity to build your relationship. People appreciate the opportunity to weigh in. Many board members are also investors, so be blunt and ask directly if they had any concerns about making the investment, what they were and how they can be addressed now that the relationship is official.

In parallel, do your own research. Know your board members, and see which other boards they’ve served on. What kinds of companies are they? What type of reputation do they have? The experiences board members have with other companies will influence their expectations coming into yours. If an investor is new to your board, but has been on another for two years, find a way to get insight into how they operate.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to reach out to other founders about what works for them at a higher level. Talk to people within your network to see what they’re doing, what’s resonating with their board, what their investors respond to and what their board’s makeup looks like.

Deck production

Building an investor deck is (or at least, should be) a heavy lift. Remember that you’re going to do this on a continuous basis, so there needs to be a high degree of structure in place to produce something of quality and value.

Be sure to establish a regular cadence of structured time with key stakeholders, starting with a board deck creation meeting that consists of you, your head of sales and any other key contributors. A template should be created up front. Block deadlines on your own calendar, and be sure you have internal deadlines for your contributors, too. Review the deck as a group, and block off ample time to rehearse! Practice — and more practice — is perhaps the most critical and under-appreciated part of putting together an effective board presentation.

Specific sections of your deck may vary based on feedback received from your board members, but a basic bare-bones construction should at minimum include:

  1. Highs and lows. Talk about what has happened since your last update. Be clear about why you were successful and why you weren’t. Remember that investors are always scrutinizing you as a leader, learning how to work with you, looking for strengths and weaknesses. This is an opportunity to show awareness around your business, to demonstrate that you can repeat successes and learn from failures.
  2. Product. If you have an established roadmap, this really shouldn’t change on a regular basis. This section should be about providing progress reports, and plans for next steps. Discuss the next few quarters from a product perspective, and how you’re going to execute on those priorities. Provide nuance around the difficulties and complexities without going into too much technical detail. Give clear explanations about which parts are challenging, and why they are worthwhile despite the lift.
  3. Sales. Most early-stage startups rely on founder-led sales, and most founders are not salespeople. At this stage, the reality is you will need to present the forecast from the perspective of stories and anecdotal evidence. Early-stage founders should avoid the trap of trying to be their own VPs of sales. You haven’t built an established pipeline or demand gen program. Talk about what you’re hearing and seeing on the ground, the objections from customers, how they’re handled, and what you’re doing to consistently add new sales. For startups further along in the journey, with a head of sales on the leadership team, the approach should be more programmatic.
  4. People. Talk about your hiring plans, how you’re going to execute on those plans and take the opportunity to signal high-profile hires that will require equity deals. Equity grants have to be approved by the board, so if you have a senior hire in the pipeline be sure to start that process early or you may run into delays. Or worse, you could lose an exceptional candidate right at the end of the interview process.
  5. Financials. Remember that this is investor money in play, and as you prepare your deck think about how you can use this opportunity to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Be strategic about how you discuss burn and how you position your spend. Make it a two-way conversation and be receptive to feedback. Talk about areas where you want to double down on your investment, and prepare to defend those recommendations. This helps prepare your board members for the day when you’ll inevitably need more funding by giving them a better understanding of when that will happen and why.
  6. Making asks. Your board is not just there to keep you on track, they’re there to help. Dedicate a slide to the specific assistance you need from your board members. Create a specific slide for customer introductions, talk about high profile prospects in the pipeline and ask if the board has any executive connections into any of them. Perhaps another of their portfolio companies has successfully sold into those accounts — have them reach out to those founders for advice. With more general asks, be very specific about what you want. That might be enlisting the help of a board member to sell the company and role to a high-profile candidate, or advice on a specific problem that falls within their realm of expertise. Remember that these are busy folks, and respect their time. Clarity and efficiency are key to getting the result you need.
  7. Action items. Make sure there is a clear action list you are tracking toward. The last meeting’s action items should be included in the next meeting’s deck. Use this as a means of holding both yourself and your board accountable.

Finishing touches

Once your deck is near complete, spend some time before each board meeting reaching out to one or two members. Ask about specific areas of concern from past updates and add them in as items of discussion. This all comes back to relationship building, demonstrating that you listen, respond and follow up.

When it’s ready to distribute, share it with your board early. Investors need time to take in the information so that they can ask the right questions and provide the right guidance. Give them plenty.

As a founder, there’s no shortage of items on your to-do list. Reporting to the board is one area every startup leader needs to prioritize.

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Ridge Ventures

Ridge Ventures

Fast, flexible & founder-focused early stage venture capital fund. Backing experienced founders redefining how the world interacts with data and code.