Startup board meetings are not just a routine procedure. They are a forum for strategic decisions and a huge opportunity for founders to seek invaluable advice. However, many startup founders struggle with how to run these meetings effectively.
This article aims to provide practical tips to help you optimize your startup board meetings. We will explore preparation strategies, discussion focus, meeting rhythm and post-meeting follow-ups. Our goal is to equip you with the skills and knowledge to conduct startup board meetings that drive your business forward, whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur or a first-time founder.
It’s really helpful to work with counsel in the preparation and documentation of your board meetings. If you’re looking for counsel, feel free to reach out to us here.
Preparing for board meetings provides startup founders with a valuable opportunity to step back from the everyday grind of execution and consider the bigger picture. It’s a chance for you to reflect on the progress made toward strategic objectives. Ideally, the process will result in both clear content for the board of directors (BoD), as well as valuable insights for steering the company’s course.
While board meetings are essential, they need not be burdensome or excessively time-consuming in preparation. The goal should be to set up a system that will maximize the value derived from these meetings while minimizing the preparation time. An efficient way to achieve this balance is by reframing the board meeting as a chance to collate and review existing content rather than creating new material from scratch.
Essentially, the board deck should be a compilation of management team reports and key dashboards that the team already uses. This approach ensures relevant insights are shared without the need for additional work.
At Brex, the co-founders, chief financial officer (CFO) and chief of staff collaborate to create a list of discussion topics at least a month beforehand. The CFO takes charge of the process, coordinating with executives throughout the company to ensure that everyone agrees on the topics and inputs to be discussed.
Here’s their process as described at Y Combinator.
- T-28 Days:
- Founders/chief of staff: Identify the two strategic topics for discussion with the board
- Share with executive team to align on topics for discussion
- T-18 Days:
- Founders/CFO/finance team: Outline topics and write/collect content to be covered
- Share draft deck with end-of-month close data with executive team
- T-11 Days:
- Execs comment/edit and provide feedback to finance team
- Finance team finalizes the deck, including formatting
- Final review of deck and backup data sent to founders and CFO
- T-7 Days:
- Review and final run of edits
- Distribute deck to BoD
- T-4 Days:
- BoD submits questions (particularly on key performance indicators, or KPIs)
- T-2 Days:
- Consolidate and answer all questions from BoD
- T-0 Days:
- Set expectations upfront (with sections you want to spend the most time discussing and where you need more feedback)
Board Meeting Agenda and Length
The primary purpose of a startup board meeting is to enable founders to solicit advice on pivotal strategic matters. Each meeting, typically lasting between 90 to 120 minutes, presents an opportunity to engage with experienced board members, harnessing their expertise and perspectives to address challenges and make strategic decisions. However, this objective can only be realized through an organized and focused approach. If board members are allowed to delve into any topic, the meeting can easily devolve into an unfocused and ineffective discussion, wasting everyone’s time.
To optimize the meeting, founders should pre-determine one or two strategic decisions for the board to focus on. This sharpens the discussion, allowing for more in-depth exploration and valuable advice. In the absence of immediate strategic decisions, the meeting can be used to anticipate and discuss future challenges on the horizon. The best founders know how to maximize their board’s collective expertise, using it as a sounding board for strategic decisions, potential pitfalls and future opportunities.
The board deck from Sequoia Capital has become a startup standard format. It’s a time-tested framework that helps founders organize effective meetings. I’ve summarized it below:
- Big picture — 15 minutes. The CEO summarizes:
- Highlights since last meeting
- Lowlights/challenges since last meeting
- Where the company needs help (e.g. hiring, customers, partnerships, product, and marketing)
Though it’s important to highlight growth. CEOs should resist the common urge to spend most of their time running a victory lap. The purpose of the board meeting is to focus on solving major challenges, so spend most of the time focusing there.
- Calibration — 45 minutes. This is where you “tell the story” of the company. Focus on selecting the fewest number metrics/charts to properly frame the current status of the company for board members. Avoid the temptation to select the metrics that make the company look good; select the metrics that will meaningfully impact the company and warrant input from the BoD. Here are some examples:
- Financial performance and updated forecast (quarterly)
- Marketing performance versus awareness and lead-generation targets
- Revenue/sales performance versus targets
- Product engagement metrics (signups, downloads, activations, engagement, retention)
- Product delivery / launches
- Quality of customer experience: Every company should have a simple way of measuring this (Net Promoter Score is commonly used but often misinterpreted, and needs to be contextualized)
- Company Building — 30 minutes. This is focusing on the team. It may include topics like:
- Forward-looking org chart: Show current team and positions to be filled over the next six months.
- Product roadmap: Include major launches and achievements since last meeting; provide a view on where the company is heading.
- Engineering and technical update: Include major launches and achievements since last meeting; surface challenges and where help is needed.
- Growth team update: Performance against Growth Team KPIs.
- Corporate marketing update: Execution on positioning, brand, messaging and public relations.
- Business development: List of top 10 needle-moving partners the company wants (versus inbound partner interest) and progress on each.
- Operations (if appropriate): Performance against KPIs; surface challenges and where help is needed.
- Monthly Waterfalls for each: Revenue, burn, cash balance, headcount.
- Working Sessions — 30 minutes per topic. This section is where you spend time digging into the top-two most challenging topics that you want your BoD to weigh in on.
- Wrap Up — 15 minutes. This is time for feedback to the CEO and approving actions that require BoD approval like funding and equity grants.
This is just one framework, and it’s not set in stone. Take what you want from it, and modify as you see fit. For instance, some companies prefer to dive right into the working sessions at the beginning of the meeting to focus the BoD’s energy on the most important work first. There are some other solid frameworks from Y Combinator, NFX and Carta. Whatever format you choose, it’s helpful to generally stick with a similar format for each meeting so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and waste precious time preparing for every board meeting.
The written minutes of each board meeting are a vital part of a company’s record-keeping. They are usually drafted by counsel and serve several purposes, including being a reference for potential investors, acquirers during due diligence and even litigants. To learn more about board meeting minutes, click here. [Link to: Board meeting minutes]
To keep the board informed between meetings, send a monthly email. Providing regular updates each month helps board members offer more focused support, prepares them for in-person meetings, and gives the CEO an opportunity to review important business aspects and assess company performance. Written updates often demonstrate clear thinking and convey ideas more effectively than bullet points or slides.
You can structure it however you like. Here is a format I like from underscore.vc.
- TLDR; At the top of the email, give a quick snapshot in bold about the last month.
- Main Updates
- Traction: We finished the last quarter at $XX ARR. Currently tracking at $XX and with the [Customer] season picking up again this quarter, we’re targeting higher growth for the rest of Q.
- New customers: Added some great enterprise software logos: [X Customer], [Y Customer], [Z Customer]: and crossed X paying customers.
- Customer love: Keeps on growing! New case studies and quotes on [URL to Page]. We are also on [Rating Site] now, trending strong at X/5.
- Burn and runway: Still projecting cash runway until [Month/Year] assuming base case revenue growth.
- Team: We are now XX+ members strong. Really excited to have [Name] join as [Title] to help us [Job Goals]!
- Customer Advisory Board: We are forming a customer advisory board of thought leaders and influencers in [Industry] — already 10 members strong.
- Q3 Priorities:
- Pipeline building remains the biggest GTM priority. We are actively working toward a free trial flow, and investing in ads and other salestech accelerants.
- Partnerships as a GTM channel is also something we are keen to experiment with this year. The [Industry] ecosystem is ripe for this – any suggestions here would be welcome.
- Our CS function is evolving to help us hit NPS and NRR next year. We are now X member-strong and are building out motions for onboarding, success and support to streamline customer ops.
- [Customer Use Case] is top of mind on the product side. We are working on some exciting products, which will make doing [Customer Use Case] truly simple. More on this next month!
- Working toward doing a mini customer event in [Month] and a customer conference in [Month].
- Best Ways to Help Are:
- Hiring recommendations: for the [Title w/ Link to Job Description] role. Very important to close this.
- Community Suggestions: We are looking to work with communities such as X, Y and Z, where [Customers] hang out. Warm intros to any such community you know of would be helpful.
- Advice on growth: Always looking for tactical advice on growth and partnership recommendations.
- Warm intros: Can never get enough of ‘em. Anything especially at [List of Companies] would be great.
- Customer Advisory Board: If you know any great [Customer Role] leaders who you think highly of, we would love to speak with them.
- Use us: Many of our investors are using us for [Use Case]. It is a great way to know the product better and spread the word!
In conclusion, startup board meetings are a crucial aspect of a company’s growth and development. They provide an opportunity for founders to collaborate with experienced board members, gain invaluable advice and make strategic decisions. By following the tips outlined in this article, startup founders can optimize their board meetings, from preparation strategies to discussion focus, meeting rhythm and post-meeting follow-ups. Remember to keep board members informed between meetings with monthly updates and to keep a robust record of each board meeting’s minutes. With these skills and knowledge, founders can conduct startup board meetings that drive their business forward, achieving success and growth.
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