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Let’s Talk About Your First Board Meeting

Tal Zackon

August 2, 2021

Board meetings hold immense power. They have the ability to help navigate your company to its peak outcomes, but they can also be a draining misuse of energy with few results.

It all depends on whether or not you know how to manage them effectively.

Firstly- it must be acknowledged that running a board meeting, (especially your first board meeting as a first time founder) is quite a daunting feat. Making decisions on the fate of your startup is always challenging, but mix in a room full of investors, partners, and other powerful personas and it can result in an intimidating experience. Now you are tasked not only with sitting and talking, but leading the discussion and making sure everyone’s time is optimized.

Tell Me More Sci-Fi GIF by HBO Max

Being on both sides of the table- having worn the hat of Head of Growth of a startup, and the hat of an investor, I have learned a thing or two on how to run that first board meeting and those to come in the smoothest, and most efficient way possible and am happy to share some golden tips.

But first thing first:

What is a board meeting?

A Board Meeting is a formal meeting of the board of directors of a company/organization and invited guests, held at intervals to review performance, consider policy issues, address major problems and perform the legal business of the board. The rules and responsibilities for board meetings are documented in the organization’s operating agreements and may need to meet government requirements.

The finalized and approved record for a board meeting is called the minutes, a legal document published according to the rules governing that board’s operations.

Meeting Office Life GIF by South Park

On a less technical angle- a board meeting is a point in time where you reflect with your co-founders and partners- including investors, advisors, and operators- on what your company has done in the past, where you are today, and what the future holds.

The main purpose of the board is to leverage the knowledge and experience of the individuals sitting around the table in order to analyze and plan how your company will become a market leader.

What isn’t a board meeting?

Just as important as knowing what a board meeting is, it is important to know what it is not.

A board meeting is not a place for you to give regular updates. It is not a place to share common knowledge and data that has no significant purpose or action items that follow.

It is also not the place to hear what you want to hear, to be flattered or filled with empty praise.

How to prep for your first board meeting

Your board meetings should not come as a surprise, they should be set a year in advance, not only to give you time to prepare and make the most of it, but also to guarantee board members can attend- remember these are incredibly busy people with full schedules. This also helps as you can set a reminder 2/3 weeks before the set date to start preparing and working on the board. As a rule of thumb, they usually occur once every quarter and depending on whether urgent matters arise, more frequently.

To begin prepping for a board meeting, the first thing one should do is look back and build a timeline from the last meeting to the upcoming meeting: look at the most significant events that have taken place, your KPI wins and losses, and a general recap on the insights you’ve learned.

Think about the milestones you’ve set when you got started with the company, understand if you’re on the right track, if those milestones should be updated and why.

From here, you can understand the short-term goals which you will be focusing on at the next board meeting and recognize whether or not the long-term strategy which was set beforehand is still the right one to pursue.

At F2, we see correlation between those companies that send board meeting decks a few days before, and set their startup board meeting agenda and our most successful companies. Sending the board’s deck before the meeting allows board members to read and react, to send comments and questions, which helps maximize productivity and time during the board.

Board meeting timeline

Your board meeting should always start with reminding members what your company does and what is your long-term vision: this puts attendees in the right headspace and ensures the decisions made and tone used during the meeting are in line with your core values and mission.

After setting the tone, you should then move to present the company’s status, aka CEO updates, in snippets:

  • Strategic learnings
  • KPI status and company priorities
  • What’s working and what isn’t
  • Status Updates (Financial status, revenue, burn, growth, headcount, etc.)

Once you have gone over the company’s status, a quick update/recap of core company topics should be addressed- sales, product, GTM, talent, marketing, technology, etc.

Out of the above, you should map out 3 to 4 core topics which you would like to discuss with the board in order to get their input. This goes back to leveraging the board to address your most urgent topics.

What to discuss

There are two kinds of topics you can discuss when it comes to your business: strategic topics and tactical topics. I believe board meetings should revolve around strategic planning.

Tactical planning, (like whether or not to hire X or whether Y would make a good customer) are more suitable for ongoing, consistent forms of communication within your team or with individual board members depending on experience and expertise. At F2, we make a point of scheduling bi-weeklies for at least the first six months that a company is with us so that the founders get to discuss these tactical questions.

Strategic discussions are those that revolve around HR and organizational issues, product roadmap, business execution, go to market strategy, HQ relocation and more.

As a first-time founder in your first board meeting, these meaningful topics may still be unchartered territory. Having the ability to get input from board members who have seen companies in your status before, especially successful ones, can provide invaluable insights. You are able to learn from both their success and failures and implement these insights in your organization.

Now some golden tips on how to lead a board meeting:

Golden Tip #1: Anchor your discussions

To have the most productive conversations possible at a board meeting, you must stay away from open-ended questions. These kinds of discussions have no anchor and can lead to circular debates and endless cycles of suggestions. The board can get frustrated and feel as though they are having to manage your company for you.

Rather, you should not be afraid of framing conversations- this means preparing your questions with data, numbers, and optional solutions. Anchoring your discussion with data and suggested solutions not only enables a productive and sharp discussion but shows leadership skills.

Golden Tip #2: Allocate times

Allocate an amount of time to each part of the meeting and be strict on sticking to those time slots. Board meetings have the tendency to go on and on without reaching a resolution, If you see a topic heading this way, I encourage you to move on to other topics and revisit what you are stuck on after the board meeting with the relevant members.

This brings us to golden tip number three: be flexible

Golden Tip #3: Be flexible

There is no inherent problem with certain topics taking time to discuss, but the board meeting doesn’t have to be the place where these long-winded discussions occur, especially if they are only relevant to certain board members. Here is where it pays off to be flexible- feel free to skip topics, shelve topics, take things offline, and have separate discussions in length post-board.

On the other hand, if a crucial discussion for the company is evolving to things you haven’t yet thought of, and the momentum is on your side, you should be flexible to keep on going and prioritize on the fly.

Golden tip #4: Diversity is key

It is ideal to have as diverse a board as possible- in terms of gender, expertise, industry, and experience. Having a consensus is nice, but the most controversial deals internally have also become some of our most successful.

Diversity of opinions not only result in objectivity and products that appeal to a wider audience but force your internal decisions as CEO to be more thoughtful and demand the highest sense of conviction. If you can convince a thought leader that previously opposed your idea, you know you’re in the right direction.

Golden Tip #5: Decide what needs to be discussed face to face

From that very first board meeting, it is important to understand that a board meeting is probably one of the most expensive minutes/ hours that are spent in one room simultaneously. The cost of both your board members and your own time is very expensive.

To maximize this valuable time, differentiate between matters that need to be discussed face to face and things that can be resolved via other forms of communication: emails, messages, one on ones, etc.

For example, going through your entire customer pipeline is not a topic suitable for a board meeting. As a board member, I don’t need to know each customer, the size of the contract, when it will close etc. Rather, I need a snippet overview to understand the conversion rates, whether there is a sales process in place, and what are the key learnings.

Remember, the power of board meetings lies in how you manage it.

A good CEO and board manager understands not only what the boards’ objective is, but what each board member brings to the table and how to make the most of them in discussions.

When you hear yourself saying “oh damn another board meeting” you know there is a problem with how you are managing the board. You should be in a position where you get excited for the face time with the people that you partnered with.

At the end of the day, the board is one of the tools that the CEO has in their toolbox to build a billion-dollar company. It is essential to learn how to run a board meeting, and make sure it brings more value than distraction and noise.

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