Learnings from startup board meetings

Markus Grundmann
Jan 16, 2019 · 3 min read

As a VC I attend a lot of board meetings. I’ve seen a wide variety of management teams, meeting styles and board compositions leading to good and not so good meetings. I think the best board meetings achieve 2 goals:

a) To satisfy the information needs by your board members and investors

b) To aid the management team taking strategic and difficult decisions

Over the time I’ve come up with the following recommendations which lead to efficient meetings and which I like to share.

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Board Size

Typically, you’d want to have your board members and the C-Levels & founders. Over time these meetings tend to increase in size since with each new investment round new investors come aboard and the existing board guests and observers continue to attend. Thus, the group structure needs to be realigned occasionally. As a software developer, I like to follow the 6 +/- 3 team size recommendation from Scrum.

Rhythm and scheduling

The meeting rhythm should follow a “U” shape around the financings: Usually, after a fundraising is when the war chest is at it’s fullest. This is the time when big strategic initiatives are kicked off and the majority of the knowledge transfer of the new investor happens, followed by a time of “execution” where the results come in. Then, towards the end of the cycle, it’s time to think again about re-alignment of strategy, preparation of a new fundraising or a continuation of the existing initiatives.

My preference is 3–4 “full” meetings roughly every 6 weeks (~5 months). In the following 4 meetings / 4–6 months period every 2nd meeting is a shorter version and, in most cases, only an update call. This is then followed by a few full meetings again. If the company goes into fundraising, then I try to keep board meetings again to a minimum (2–3 meetings just as an update call) since there shouldn’t be any big strategic decisions during a fundraising and the management is busy enough without smart suggestions by VCs. This of course does not mean the board should or will not support during the fundraising. We just don’t need to have 2 hours strategy discussions 😊.

Oh, and if I can give one advice to startups: doodle and block half a year or the full year in advance for all board attendees. Otherwise you get too often into situations where someone is on vacation or another meeting is planned and things get a bit hectic.

Content

I think a “full” board meeting should go over 2–3 hours and have the following contents:

  1. Housekeeping, Meeting Minutes (5min)
  2. State of the Nation / Company Dashboard (15min)
  3. Business Update (90min)

a) Financials
b) Sales & Marketing
c) HR
d) Product

4. Deep Dive Topic 1 (30–60min): e.g. Large partnership opportunity

5. Deep Dive Topic 2 (30–60min): e.g. Product relaunch

A short update meeting would just consist of items 1–3 and aims to update the board members on recent development. A full meeting should also have one or two special topics where the focus is on decision making and strategic guidance as well.

To make things a bit easier, we’ve developed a board meeting template which contains some sample slides and descriptions for each section. The goal of this is to give new investments a jump start and you’re welcome to use it as well if it’s helpful:

Board Meeting Template Download

Housekeeping

Last but not least, general meeting hygiene should also apply to board meetings:

· CEO: Make sure everyone is informed in advanced. Send out material the week before the meeting.

· Everyone: READ the material so you are ready to discuss the content. Soooo much time is wasted reading slides together. Life is short.

· Include people not attending the meeting but which need the information (e.g. angel investors) on your distribution lists. Earlier investors shouldn’t hear about your budget misses when you’re running out of cash and knocking on his door for an extra bit of liquidity. Same goes for the term sheet you want signed tomorrow.

· Send out meeting minutes in the same week after the meeting so that everyone can review them while the memory is still fresh.

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