As a founder running a busy company and what feels like a million responsibilities, you might be forgiven for seeing board meetings as a distraction. Pete Flint, a General Partner at venture firm NFX, believes that’s only the case when they’re not well managed and focused. There’s actually huge value to be found in board meetings if you run a tight process. He offers advice he wishes he’d received during his early days as CEO of Trulia (now Zillow).
Choose investors that can add value to your meetings and support you as you scale. As a company scales, it’s critical to get diverse backgrounds and opinions. There can be significant benefits in getting an independent industry expert or former CEO as a board member. Use the expertise in the room.
Cadence of meetings
Short and frequent is generally better than infrequent and long. Flint suggests every 6 to 12 weeks lasting no more than 1-2 hours at the seed stage. He also recommends sending your board updates monthly at a minimum, and if the information is short and easy to digest, as often as weekly.
Optimal meeting structure
Your role as CEO is not to inform and report but to engage, gather perspective and move the company in the right direction. Pick 1-2 bigger strategic items, either operational challenges or opportunities for the company and dive deep. Spend 30% of the meeting on updates and 70% on key forks in the road, operational challenges, strategy, competitive dynamics and organizational issues.
Facing the negative
It’s critical to talk about the negatives more than might be comfortable at all stages. It’s a helpful construct to split your thinking and dedicate time to both the good and the bad when sharing with your board. One method is worth exploring is “Traffic lights” — showing what’s on time, ahead of schedule, and behind. This helps to focus quickly on the challenges and direct energy there.
Engaging your team
Expose the board to your team and vice versa. People tend to get suspicious of big meetings behind closed doors. You don’t always want to show the board deck to your entire company, but it’s efficient to share commentary and report back to your team on any key learnings.
Running effective board meetings from the outset builds strong communication muscles that will strengthen the company if continued throughout the life of the business.