The Board Process
Now you need to get your board together for a meeting. I suggest a 90 minute board meeting. Every four to six weeks is enough for even pre-PMF companies. Quarterly is great but don’t go there until you get close to IPO. Schedule these for the full year and don’t deviate. With people this busy, it’s just better to cancel the meeting and send out an update than try to reschedule. I would cancel if more than one member can’t make it.
Once you have your board calendar, there are some mechanical things you need to do with your board that will make life far easier.
1 — Get your board packet out at least 3–5 days before the board meeting. The packet should include a short deck (we’ll talk about that in a bit) and supporting materials so that board members have all of the context they need to study up and give you good advice.
2 — Set up a 30 minute 1–1 with each board member no earlier than 2 days after they get the packet for at least the first few meetings. This is a reasonable amount of time for them to read it before you talk. You are doing this so that you can get their feedback and head off poorly framed questions or deal with venting if they are worried or unhappy about something. Those 1–1s are crucial for building trust and will make your board meetings go much more smoothly. Let everyone know that you will likely make revisions to the board packet after your 1–1’s are done.
The board packet is a deck with agenda, slides, and appendices. The deck is much much smaller than your fundraising deck, ideally 5 slides. The agenda should look something like this:
- Approvals 5 minutes
- ‘Key Metrics’ — 20 minutes
- ‘What We Did Well’ — 5 minutes
- ‘What We Need To Do Better’ — 60 minutes
The first item in the agenda is always to approve past minutes and any other board resolutions/etc. If you are big enough that your lawyer sits in the meeting, have them in during this portion and excuse afterwards. Your agenda should look something like this:
I like to start with ‘Key Metrics’, something that shows the board your kpis month over month for last 12 months in graph form. Note that kpis are probably a superset of your 3–5 goals so this is going to be the one and only chance for board members to talk about those non-goals. Try to let the conversation ramble a bit more, looking for perspective you have missed. If it goes off the rails, you need to summarize the concern and tell them you will work on it after the meeting and come up with a plan. If that doesn’t do the trick, you did not do something correctly in your 1–1’s before the meeting.
What We Did Well
You need to give the board a chance to cheer and recognize that life isn’t all about problems. You don’t need to belabor this slide, but it’s important for perspective.
What We Need To Do Better
Where are things not working yet in moving your goals? This is where you want to spend the majority of your time. Your pre-meeting deck should give as much detail here as you can. You should always have a proposed plan for these big areas, but be open minded about board input here. It’s really the highest and best use of their experience, pattern matching and networks to tee up a couple big challenges and let them dig in.
If your assessment is that the problems are manageable and you can discuss them and move on, then you have room for one longer term discussion item slide. This could be, for example, whether it’s time to go international. I learned the hard way in my first company that if you don’t have the problems handled from slide 3 in a way the board found appropriate, you are wasting your time talking about the future. All future things (vs. what you’ve already promised) require trust and good will on the part of your board. That’s what you are buying by operating well.
Include anything that seems remotely relevant, but regard this as extra-credit reading and don’t assume the board will have read it. Market studies, customer testimonials, competitor press releases, anything that gives the board context, and especially anything related to what you are going to be discussing in slides 3 and 4.
During the meeting, it’s pretty darn tough for you to take notes, so I would often have someone else from the team do that. When you are still small, it’s fine to just jot down action items for yourself to follow up on.
After the meeting, follow up on every item raised, so that the board knows you heard them. Usually let two days go by so that passions can defuse and then be super honest about how you plan on prioritizing what they said. If the board was super passionate about something, call the most vocal member and walk her through your thoughts. Then email the whole board with the solution you agree on with her. Make it clear that you are happy to discuss when any other member if they have questions and concerns. On lower urgency items, just include them in the same email and note what you plan to do. Your board members will often pull those plans into their own files on the company to see how you do relative to what you promise.