Open-Sourcing the Speedinvest Board Meeting Template
How to Make Your Boards Worth Everyone’s Time
If you are reading this blog post, you have most likely secured investor funding and are preparing for one of your first board meetings — congratulations!
Drafting a comprehensive board deck can be a time-consuming challenge, even more so while simultaneously trying to recruit and find product-market fit. By open-sourcing our Speedinvest Board Meeting Template, we want to provide you with a short-cut and some best-practice slide material so you can fully focus on content rather than slide production.
In the subsequent blog article, I will guide you through the thinking behind our template and elaborate on our proposal on how to structure a board meeting.
The purpose of a board deck
The function of a board meeting is to periodically align the management team and investors on the overall direction of a company. From the CEO‘s perspective, board meetings are an opportunity to take a step back from the daily challenges of the business and to look at where the company is heading from a helicopter point of view.
In this context, board decks are an important tool and a key ingredient of any productive board meeting. A good board deck covers a number of key purposes:
- Help all board members (founders, investors, and possibly independent board members) reflect on the trajectory and challenges of the company in a structured manner before the meeting
- Structure the board meeting
- Document the progress and traction of the company
- Foster discussions around key challenges and opportunities
- Facilitate strategic decisions the management wants the board to take
Board decks should usually cover some universally applicable agenda points. In our experience, a typical early-stage startup board will have an agenda that is roughly in line with the following agenda points :
- Big Picture and Progress (Highlights, lowlights, deliverables since last board, OKR tracking) — ca. 30min
- KPI Update (KPI cockpit, financial metrics vs. plan, engagement metrics, funnel metrics, etc) — ca. 10min
- Company building: (Organizational update, product update, other functional updates) — ca. 40min
- Strategic Topic 1: (Focus on specific opportunity or challenge) — ca. 45min
- Strategic Topic 2: (Focus on specific opportunity or challenge) — ca. 45min
- Housekeeping: (Formalities, stock options, next meetings, misc., summary of deliverables until next board and support needed) — ca. 10min
I will elaborate in more detail on the individual agenda points in the next sections.
No startup is the same, so feel free to adapt the agenda and the template as you see fit. As your company grows, your board deck will also constantly evolve over time. Make sure to ask other board members for feedback on the deck, so you can iterate until the next board meeting.
Also, the duration of board meetings can differ from company to company and on the number of topics that need to be discussed. Typically, proper board meetings at seed stage take two to three hours and take place six to eight times per year. After Series A stage, board meetings often become a bit longer, around three to five hours, but the meeting frequency goes down to four to six times per year.
Before diving into the actual content of the board meeting, it can be helpful to show a slide with the decisions that you want to get out of the meeting. Putting those decision points in a written format a) forces you as the founder to really ask yourself what output you hope to achieve and b) helps you to avoid those types of meetings where you have three hours of lively discussions but few take-aways.
Big Picture and Progress
We recommend that founders start the board meeting by sharing their big picture view on the company and giving an update on progress. This sets the context for the rest of the discussion. A good way to kick this off is to discuss highlights and lowlights since the last board meeting.
Your achievements should be celebrated, but it is even more important to understand the root causes of these achievements and how you can build on them. “We increased revenue by 30% last month” is great news, but lacks insight and the “so what?”. A much more interesting statement would be: “We increased revenue by 30%. Our analysis revealed that 50% of that growth was driven by the launch of marketing-channel xyz. We are now looking into hiring a part-time employee to run this new marketing channel”.
At the same time, it is crucial to be transparent about topics that have not gone so well. Over and over again, we see founders with a pronounced bias towards presenting their startup in the best possible light. Don‘t fall into this trap. In startup life, not all things go according to plan. That is entirely normal and to be expected. Board meetings are a great opportunity to derive learnings from your lowlights and to discuss possible countermeasures or iterations to your strategy.
Board meetings can also be used to strengthen accountability regarding commonly agreed goals. Therefore, make sure to track deliverables of both the startup and the investors since the last board. This exercise might sound a bit cumbersome. But the reality is that, all too often, when boards agree on certain to-dos, in the next board different topics are discussed and half of the to-dos have fallen through the cracks.
Finally, you can consider a brief check on how you are trending in terms of company OKRs. This is certainly not a must. But it can be a healthy exercise, particularly if it has been a while since you set up your OKRs. As an example, imagine you did your OKRs for the new year in December. Five months later you are heads-down in business and your OKRs, as mental guardrails of your work, have slowly become a distant relic of a nice management team exercise. Some company targets might have unintentionally become deprioritized. Pulling up your OKRs in the board meetings provides a high-level view of the business and a reminder of what the company is trying to achieve over the next months.
This section should give your board a decent understanding of how you are trending in terms of KPIs. You should assume that your board members have read the slides before the meeting, so you do not have to present them in detail. Rather focus on some insights that you want to highlight. Or address questions on specific KPIs that the board members want to discuss. If there are no major topics to highlight you can even ask your board if they have any questions and otherwise skip this agenda point altogether.
We have included a selection of exemplary KPI slides in the board meeting template. The optimal number and content of the KPI-slides is very much dependent on the individual startup, its stage, and the business model. A consumer startup at seed stage has some core KPIs that are different from the core KPIs of an enterprise-SAAS startup at series A stage. However, some important KPIs to cover are usually:
• Growth KPIs (e.g. GMV, revenue, contribution margin, # orders)
• Average order/ contract values
• Conversion funnel metrics
• Engagement metrics (e.g. activations, engagement, retention)
• Customer acquisition costs and unit economics
Whenever possible, make sure to compare actual figures to forecasts in your KPI slides — ideally, you show six to twelve months of historic data.
Company building — Organizational update
One of the standard topics of every board meeting is to discuss how you structure your team. Often, the board is involved in recruiting by helping to source and interview candidates. At Speedinvest, we even have an in-house expert team, Speedinvest Heroes, to support our portfolio with recruiting. To facilitate a forward-looking approach, it is helpful to include an organization chart that depicts what your organization will look like in six months.
It is also crucial to understand when people leave. Gaps in the organization can slow things down, hence the board should be informed if you feel you cannot achieve your goals. At the same time, it is helpful to discuss the reasons why people leave. Sometimes these discussions can surface some underlying issues in the team dynamics. Founders can start to understand these issues better upon reflection.
Company Building — functional updates
In most board meetings, it is helpful to include some select functional updates, e.g. on products, IT, sales, marketing, or operations. Obviously, not all company functions need to be covered in each board meeting.
One of the most commonly discussed topics is product development. Which new products or product features are being launched and what are their benefits? How do you prioritize your product roadmap? Are there any delays (often there are!) and for what reasons?
Such discussion points help to align everyone on what’s coming ahead. And they help the board to decide if any internal resources need to be shifted or more external resources are required.
As a rule of thumb, allocate at least 50% of the board meeting to important strategic topics. It is easy to lose track of time in discussions that are part of the previous board sections — they are all interesting and relevant. Make sure this does not happen. Your priority as the CEO and management team is to get the most out of the meeting — and that is input on key strategic topics.
So if your board members are hijacking your meeting schedule with too many detailed questions, gently remind them of the agenda and offer a follow-up for outstanding discussion points.
The slides in the “Strategic topics” section can be as diverse as the startup landscape. A template would provide little value, but there is a minimum structure we recommend to apply to slides of this section:
- Background, description, and information regarding the topic of discussion. If there is optionality, describe the different options
- Business impact of each option. Possibly include the business impact of deferring a decision
- Recommended option
At the end of a board meeting, there is usually a miscellaneous chapter. Non-critical admin and governance topics that need to be discussed, decided upon, or simply flagged to the board go here. Whether you want to schedule future meetings or you want buy-in from the board to rent new office space — this is the time to discuss those topics. Some advise getting these items “out of the way” at the beginning of a meeting. But we discourage this as it can easily lead to distraction from the more important points. So cover these items at the end, or take them offline.
Finally, it is also a recommended practice to summarize the deliverables by the next board meeting, both for the management team and the board members.
In-person meetings have become more difficult or even inappropriate to organize in times of COVID-19. But the pandemic will hopefully be over in the not so distant future. When this is the case, creating opportunities to converse with your board members in a more social setting allows your board members to get to know you and each other on a more personal level.
This leads to better mutual understanding and ultimately better business decisions. And sometimes it leads to a hangover the next morning, but that is hopefully the late symptom of an enjoyable evening.
We hope the Speedinvest Board Meeting Template will be a helpful tool for you. Any feedback you are willing to share would be much appreciated — feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. In particular, if you think that something is missing or if there are any “killer slides” that you have successfully been using in your board work, do let us know. We look forward to enriching the content further.
- Thanks to my colleagues Michael Schuster, Mathias Ockenfels, and Jeroen Arts, who have provided valuable feedback on the content. Thanks also to Konstantin Schmeisser and Max Wilhelm who were of fantastic support in creating this board template.
- Special shout-out to Simon Schmincke from Creandum whose great content in Getting most out of your board and Board Deck Template was leveraged as a starting point for the format of this presentation!