Bursts of Color - Better Board Meetings
Founders often enjoy their board meetings as much as trips to the dentist. This is partly because you-all tend to dislike authority... which is why you founded your own companies. This is also partly due to narrow board composition, which I touched on last week. Even with these limitations, there are a few things you can do to make board meetings more useful and pleasant.
Shorter, More Frequent Board Meetings
The median board schedule seems to be three hours, once per quarter. This is a logical cadence for public companies with quarterly earning cycles and out-of-town directors traveling in for the meeting. For start-ups, however, both a quarter and a three-hour meeting can feel like forever. I also find that higher frequency, more casual communication is better for building both knowledge and trust. For those who aren't already locked into a schedule, I suggest trying defaults of monthly, 90-minute meetings for seed stage companies and bi-monthly, two-hour meetings after Series A. You may also find that our all-remote times makes this kind of scheduling easier than it used to be.
Concise Board Materials
Max Levchin (of Paypal and Affirm fame) once gave me an awesome back-handed compliment along the lines of:
Geoff, you have made some great board decks that are less than ten pages. I think the quality of our meetings is inversely correlated to board deck length.
Of course, that day our deck was probably fifty pages. 🤦♂️ I've read a lot of start-up board decks since then and can report that 50-100 pages is not uncommon. IMO there is very little upside to these long decks, and plenty of downside (e.g., takes forever to create, means you're not synthesizing what's important, board members can't possibly digest it all, and oh by the way, you're just asking them to nitpick you on some data point from page 87). As a default, I encourage most start-ups to shoot for board decks of ten pages, or an Amazon-style memo instead if that's your thing.
Get Board Member Help With Things They're Good At
A board meeting is not a fundraising pitch, so you shouldn't have to present on every metric and department. I think of most start-up board meetings as having three key sections:
Review and discuss any meaningful changes to metrics, team or environment.
Educate the board on one or two "deep dive" areas of the business it's important for them to understand so that you can:
Get your board members actively contributing with things they're uniquely useful for.
VCs are often great at raising capital, recruiting executives, making client introductions and providing benchmarks on all kinds of things they see at other companies. If you put board members to work on these things during the meeting, you may find that, not only is the output useful, but they will become real team members.
More from First Round Capital
I found myself agreeing with a bunch of things in this blog post: The Secret to Making Board Meetings Suck Less.