Episode 1 advice on board meetings

by Simon Murdoch

I’ve been on about 30 boards in my time. A good board can really drive a company to greatness, a bad board is a pain for all concerned. Here’s the advice we give our entrepreneurs about board meetings when we first invest…

board-table

Board meetings can be incredibly useful for you – if they have the right content and the right people in the board . We’ll discuss the structure & content of the board pack and of the meetings themselves at the first board meeting. First, I would strongly recommend that you read the following best in class posts about board meetings:

The best quick overview out there is from Sequoia’s Grove:
http://www.sequoiacap.com/grove/posts/p5ae/preparing-a-board-deck

Then read the useful overview from Brad Feld. Unfortunately in our experience most boards are “reporting boards”, and our role as experienced investors is to help you get value from a “working board”:
http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2004/07/boards-that-are-not-bored.html

and his thoughts on the board pack:
http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2013/01/the-best-approach-to-a-board-package.html

and this on what makes an awesome board member:
http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2012/02/what-makes-an-awesome-board-member.html

This is also very helpful:
http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2010/02/12/running-more-effective-board-meetings-at-startups/

though I have not experienced the board dinners before or after (probably a US thing given plane travel), and I disagree with point 11 – we can discuss how & why.

And finally, this confirms things said elsewhere so an optional read:
http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2013/12/09/why-youre-not-getting-the-most-out-of-your-board/

Plus this optional one is good about the interesting stuff up front (but we disagree with concept of Exec sessions):
http://pointsandfigures.com/2013/01/29/how-to-run-a-productive-board-meeting/

 

Once you have read that stuff, I would suggest that you structure the first meeting around sending out a board pack 2-3 working days before the board meeting containing an agenda, a CEO report, the current KPIs and management accounts. Paraphrasing the Sequoia Grove post (and sticking with their timings) the pack for your circumstances should be:

  1. CEO report (= big picture) – overview of highlights, challenges, company needs
  2. Metrics – all relevant KPIs including sales headlines, operational KPIs and then monthly management accounts comparing performance against plan
  3. Company building – sales pipeline, hiring plans, wip on any C level hires (or those you might want help from the board on), product road map, any other depts?
  4. Working sessions aka deep dives – different every time – the top 2 or 3 strategic issues which you want board input on. It’s these that really make a working board.
  5. Formal approvals + any other business

Our suggestions for the working sessions at the first meeting depend on the specific situation of your company, but examples are:

  • Pre-mortem – the idea here is to project 12-18 months ahead and imagine what could have caused the company to fail (getting to profitability or to next round of finance). Think through the top threats to proving the business model, what could have gone wrong, and therefore what we can do asap to mitigate/test for these issues
  • KPIs/OKRs – what are the measures we have of success of the business. Select a suitable set and measure trends each week and/or month.
  • Sales proposition and pricing – take one of the key revenue lines and focus in on the sales proposition. Given the types of organisations you are selling to, is it compelling emotionally and rationally? How does the ROI stack up for the typical client and does that resonate with the lead qualification process.

That’s enough for the first iteration. We usually have a call before the first meeting to flesh this out, or you should create your first board pack and we can see how it goes in the first meeting, and iterate afterwards.

 

PS bonus post :

http://firstround.com/article/The-Secret-to-Making-Board-Meetings-Suck-Less

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  • aelloyd

    I recently attended a Board development session at Stanford during my 5 year reunion. Lots of useful stuff, but 1 thing stood out for me: Executive sessions for the non-Exec Board

    The Professor suggested that after every single Board, non-Exec’s do an Executive Session which would be led by the lead Board member or Chairman. There is no management present.

    Issues to cover:

    *Meeting process: review specific agenda items (e.g. quality of materials, air time, agenda)
    *Evaluation of CEO’s current performance and action plan for any developmental issues
    *Inquire into any issues/concerns that Board felt uncomfortable discussing with CEO

    Lead Board member or Chairman would then follow up immediately with full Board or 1-on-1 depending on their preference.

    We at Episode 1 feel that this will only be additive and should be experimented with by all Boards with multiple non-Exec Board members

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