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08/18/20 | Menu-Homepage

10 Pieces of Board Room Advice for First-Time Founders

For the past 4 years, I’ve sat in a number of board rooms and watched founders and executives run board meetings. While some have been very effective, others struggle to make good use of the time. 

Given my experience, I wanted to share some insights on how to best run board meetings so founders – particularly those managing their first boardroom – can be more effective. 

1. Focus on a few strategic topics 

So much goes on inside a company between board meetings, so it’s tempting to spend the time walking through updates for every part of the business. Avoid that trap and instead focus on 1-3 strategic areas that board members can be most helpful sharing perspectives on. All other company updates can be sent via a pre-read and board members can ask questions on those if they have them.

2. Use your board observers 

Most board observers are dying to be helpful. Asking observers to help with one-off requests or take notes on follow-ups from board meetings can give you leverage. VC-backed startups can typically use all the help they can get so make use of an eager pair of helping hands.  

3. Call on quiet board members 

Boardroom dynamics can be tricky. It’s a social situation where you have multiple senior investors and / or operators in a room, often with different areas of expertise and points of view, trying to share their opinions. Unfortunately, some board members can get pushed out of the conversation by louder, more aggressive, voices (I’ve seen this happen to female board members more often than to male). Call on quiet board members if you want their advice on a topic – you wanted them in the room for a reason!

4. Ask for example board decks 

Many board members have 1-2 key slides and / or metrics that they like to be included in board decks to track the progress of the business. When you add new board members, ask in advance for example board decks and if there are specific things they’d like to see tracked in order to avoid having that conversation in the board meeting.

5. Build relationships 1-on-1 with board members 

Different partners will have different areas of expertise. Partners at firms such as Work-Bench or Operator Collective have amazing customer networks while partners at multi-stage VC firms can be great at advising on the right metrics and benchmarks to hit in order to successfully raise the next round of funding. Spending 1-on-1 time with all board members will help you understand their strengths and what they can best help with.

6. Assign board follow-ups 

When you make an ask to the entire board and no one is specifically responsible for it, there’s a chance it won’t get done. By building 1-on-1 relationships, founders can understand who is best for what tasks and properly assign follow-ups to individual board members. 

7. Bring on an independent board member early 

An independent board member can add a helpful, and hopefully diverse, voice to boardrooms and fill gaps in expertise. Too often, founders will tap one of their friends for this role which can create a missed opportunity for the company. 

8. Bring functional leaders to board meetings 

Functional leaders should present when the spotlight is on them (i.e. having the VP Product present a major release). It will make for the strongest update while giving execs exposure to the board. It can also be a good idea to include new execs when they join the company. This will connect them with board members so they feel more comfortable asking them for help outside of board meetings. 

9. The CEO should be able to answer questions on the numbers 

If the company is at a stage where they have a CFO or VP Finance, the CEO should still know the numbers well enough to answer questions. Knowing the intimate details on how the business is tracking is critical to making strategic business decisions. It is also wise to preview metrics to track, as well as the format in which the board wants to see them in, before they are presented in board meetings. 

10. Don’t let someone dominate the conversation 

This is your time to get advice from the board you assembled. Be confident taking back control of the time if someone is dominating the conversation in an unproductive way and / or taking the conversation down a path that is not relevant or important to the business at that time. 

For founders running board meetings for the first time, or founders looking to improve their board management skills, these learnings should hopefully demystify the boardroom and help founders be more successful in this aspect of running their business.

Amanda Robson

Amanda Robson

Amanda Robson is a seed investor at Cowboy Ventures focused on enterprise investments within DevOps, security, data, and applied AI.

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