The board meeting question that consistently confounds

September 15, 2017
And I don’t know where you wanna go, but I’m willing to take you there.
— Chronixx, Somewhere (Perfect Key riddim)

There is one question that consistently seems to stump startup management teams the first time I ask it in board meetings. I don’t ask it to deliberately throw management off balance. Rather, my goal is to encourage good habits of thinking about this question regularly. The question is this:

What would like to get out of this board meeting?

The first time I ask it in a board meeting usually produces blank stares. In contrast, good entrepreneurs inevitably have a well thought-through answer ready the second time.

It can be very comfortable for a startup CEO to fall into the rut of treating his/her supervisory board as an organ of approval. They dedicate so much effort to the daily grind of building their companies that the periodic board meeting almost comes as a distraction.

They feel obliged to divert time in order to prepare an elaborate deck that reports on company progress. They seek acknowledgement of their efforts and strive to give the impression that they have everything under control. The reality is that in the world of tech startups, the entrepreneur’s realm of control spans only a limited number of factors affecting the business at any given time.

Venture investors and independent boardmembers with an affinity for startups understand this

True, one function of a startup’s supervisory board involves corporate governance: approval of items affecting the company’s debt or equity, approval of certain expenditures above a specified threshold, etc. It is the board’s duty to prevent the company from doing something rash that could imperil the firm’s livelihood.

However, I would contend that an equally if not more important function of a startup’s supervisory board is one of support.

I submit that entrepreneurs will increase their odds of success when view their boards as resources. This requires a level of trust and a commitment to open (and frequent) communication from the entrepreneur. It also requires boardmembers to behave in a genuinely supportive manner, for example by providing constructive not critical feedback, by resisting the urge to micro-manage company operations, and ultimately by giving the entrepreneur the space they need to execute.

So, entrepreneurs, ask yourself regularly: how can your board help you? What do you expect from each board meeting? Consider your boardmembers as allies in your market battles, as sounding boards on your strategy and priorities, as safe places where you can openly share what’s keeping you awake at night. You’ll sleep all the better for it.

posted in venture capital by mark bivens

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