High-level overview on how to organize and run a successful board/strategic meeting
How to Run Effective Board/Strategic Meetings Overview
- We recommend having board/strategic meetings every 6-8 weeks depending on the needs of the founder. If you feel it is too much/little, you can always change the cadence.
- Meetings are usually 2-3 hours long.
- We recommend scheduling meetings out for at least 6 months. Much easier for coordination.
- If you desire a lawyer at the meetings, they should attend free of charge + write-up minutes.
- Board materials should be sent at least 48 hours ahead of meeting, preferably 72 hours ahead (deck + administrative material). In return, run your meetings under the assumption board members have read the materials before entering.
- Follow-up the board meeting with a recap of takeaways/decisions + next steps. See example below.
SPIRIT OF THE MEETING
- You should treat the meetings as if they are for you, not for the board members. This is time for you to discuss strategic issues and get debate, feedback and help. You need to provide information to the board in order to make that happen.
- Make sure to structure your deck in a way that solicits advice
- Preparing for the regular update(s) section of the meetings should not take a lot of time. You should have a consistent template that gets updated each time. Your preparation time should be spent thinking about strategic items and preparing for those discussions.
- You should not assume that board members remember your business or the last meeting as well as you do. Better to remind people what was decided or shared last time vs. assume they know.
- Use your investors! We are here to help you. Tell us all (the good, the bad and the ugly) and put us all to work for you.
COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID
- Getting the deck out late so people don’t have a chance to read/think beforehand. You end up spending time walking the group through slides v. having strategic conversations.
- Not creating a ‘glossary of key terms.’ Don’t use up valuable time with board members defining what XYZ means.
- Recreating the way information is presented each time. ‘Re-learning’ format sucks up time with unproductive conversations like “Do ‘new bookings’ include expansion revenue?” You shouldn’t spend too much time recreating the deck – the data should fill in and the deck should create itself in this way.
- Keep in mind that these board decks are valuable and useful tools for founders, not just the Board. Treat them as such.
- Not giving enough context on the data. Showing data without proper context will lead to too much time fielding questions like “How does this compare to last month?”
- Including an overload of data in the deck. The Board wants to know the key drivers of the business and how you are doing vs. goals, blocks/wins….discuss strategic points and back them with key data.
- Displaying loads of data without any visual aid for Board members. Think about how to visualize your data and full context all in one picture, i.e. graphs.
- Founder doesn’t control the meeting by 1) providing the information needed and/or setting up meeting for the strategic conversion they want to have (meetings can turn into a verbal update and Q&A session at the whim of the board) and 2) founders don’t feel comfortable owning the meeting and keeping everyone on key discussion topics. Feel comfortable saying things like “Great idea, Bob. Let’s park that and discuss at the end if there is time after.”
- Founder doesn’t recap meeting and/or follow-up with the Board on stated action items. If you say you are going to do something, either do it or report on why you didn’t. When meetings start to have conversations like ‘Founder, didn’t you say you were going to reach out to X, Y, Z last month…’, they usually continue down a reactive/negative path
- Surprise! Board members can enjoy a positive surprise but never a “We’re almost out of cash” surprise. Never, ever, do this. Stay fully transparent and be proactive.
- Founders are ‘afraid’ to share bad news or provide full transparency about a situation—they don’t want to ‘disappoint.’ Investors want to know all as soon as you do and be there to help you with whatever problem (or potential problem) you’re wrestling with. Holding back often makes a problem harder for members to help solve.
- Founders have great investors on their cap table but don’t put them to work. Sometimes it is wise to assign investors and/or board members a ‘swim lane’ based on their competencies and passions. This solves two common problems: 1) too many voices on the same subject (not always efficient/effective) and 2) gives founders their best ‘go-to’ person as challenges arise.
1. Company highlights
- Accomplishments + challenges. Focus is usually on team, product, and revenue. This can be done with a WINS/LOSSES slide for your key areas (see sample deck) or in whatever way communicates best. It is important to provide context by showing levels from the time of your last meeting.
- Revisit action items from last board meeting – recap what was promised to be done by now (product, business goals, hiring). Color code red/yellow/green to show status.
- Key metrics dashboard, cash balance and burn, and standard financial statements.
2. Team updates
- We recommend a slide that shows hiring by dept vs. hiring plan, the way you would show revenue. See slide in sample deck.
- Hiring wins & attrition
- Company culture & team morale
3. Operating Performance – this should not be walked through in the room – you can share all of this and ask for questions before the meeting. If the question benefits from everyone’s attention or brainpower, start this section with that context.
- Operating metrics and KPIs at least 12 mo. trailing and forecasted. For SaaS…MRR growth (new, resurrected, expansion, churned, contraction), ACV, CAC, sales and marketing funnel, engagement metrics, NPS, etc. For consumer/marketplaces…DAU, MAU, GMV, take-rate, AOV, supply-side metrics, demand-side metrics, etc.
- Cash balance and burn – month over month actual v. planned cash balance
4. Strategic Topics – this should be the vast majority of the meeting.
- Come prepared with context/thesis, how you are testing this thesis, what data you have or expect to acquire, etc. Ideally, you will spend lots of conversation on allocating time and money against strategic priorities.
- Stock option grant approval. Should be discussed with the context of full option budget (see deck)
- Takeaways and asks of investors
- The board should meet alone with the CEO in an executive session, followed by a session without the CEO, followed by a face to face or call where at least one director connects with the CEO to give feedback.
EXAMPLE OF A BOARD MEETING FOLLOW-UP EMAIL
Really appreciated all of your feedback and wisdom yesterday, and we’ve jumped right into action. I’ve attached a copy of yesterday’s board slides as well.
Compliance – We are scheduling more calls with legal to shore up our T&Cs, etc as well as our corporate structure and NAME is looking at what a full time in house legal/compliance role might look like. More details to come as we learn more. We will also be scheduling a call with our attorney and the board soon related to our other concerns.
Savings – We had a great morning meeting with our X-Team, and have set a new level of urgency around our spend on all fronts. We created what we’re calling NAME, which is our effort to quickly identify $X in savings that can be had by eliminating unnecessary services/software and non-performing employees and over-staffed depts quickly. I think we’ll find this $Y in savings by the end of the month. By this time today, we’ve already identified about $Z in savings and the team is pumped. We are also setting a new expectation and culture of frugality across all of our departments and a new billing approval process & expense policy to make sure we are being held accountable for our departments’ spends as well.
Financial Model – We are also accelerating our efforts to get a financial model (even if not perfect) much sooner, and NAME understands how important this is. It’s what he’s starting to work on today and we’re excited to share that when ready as well, ideally this month.
Product Roadmap – We have many ambitions but we are meeting w NAME and team to strategize what the roadmap should prioritize with respect to what revenues it’ll bring and how it will affect margins, churn, and enterprise value and we’re getting more clarity and alignment around this.
In summary, we have a lot of work ahead, and many challenges, but we’re more energized and passionate than ever before. Our team felt really empowered after yesterday, and all hands are on deck, ready to drive results and reach our goals together.
Thanks for your continued trust and confidence.
EXAMPLE OF A MIDWAY UPDATE (between board meetings)
Dear Board Members and Observers,
As you’d expect, we’ve been heads down working hard on the key issues discussed at the last Board meeting, namely:
1) Reduce Costs (and change our culture to be more cost conscious)
2) Fix the Parser that may have been causing as much as 15% lead loss
3) Launch “XYZ”
4) Lock Down Financial Model for Rest of 2018
5) Deal with Legal Issues and determine appropriate steps to reduce ongoing risks
Here is where we stand on progress:
1) Reduce Costs:
- Immediately after our Board meeting, the Exec Team met and agreed on what we called XYZ, with the goal to find $X in monthly savings by end of June.
- We have found $X/mo in savings to date, and our culture across all departments is changing.
- Reductions in Force – we have reviewed our business and completed the following reductions in force: 5/14 8 positions in Sales; 7/2 4 positions in Sales; 7/10 2 positions in Success
- In general, we’re being very intentional about changing our culture across all departments in regards to frugal/scrappy mentality
2) Fix XYZ
- Completed scope the re-architecting of XYZ, and the development sprint for this project began this week. We expect to have a new version out by end of the month.
- In the meantime, we implemented better reporting and processes to identify issues before they’re reported to us by customers, and to push fixes more quickly.
- While we believe XYZ issues are contributing to usage churn, we’ve continued to deep dive into what is happening on that front, and we believe there is more at play here as to why BLANK has been dropping. This was the main focus of our exec-team in June, and we’ve included a Lead Analysis in the appendix of our Financial Update Summary
3) Launch “XYZ”
- XYZ launched and on time! As a reminder, XYZ is the rebuild of ________ that will enable us to ____________. ABC proved to be a great MVP solution but is unable to scale and much more difficult to customize to our needs.
- This means our engineering team can finally start building new stuff and we can now better forecast our roadmap.
- July Roadmap
- CRM Integrations for XYZ with 3 big platforms (A, B, C)
- XYZ Architecture
- Launching ABC
- Launching Self SignUp
- Moving off Salesforce
- June was a great month with record revenue and a 2nd straight month of lowering expenses/burn.
- Total Revenue broke the $X level for the first time at $Y compared to $Z in May. Total adjusted Revenue (ignores revenue deferrals) was $X in June.
- Operating Loss of $X in June compared to $Y in May and $Z in April.
- Cash burn of $A in June compared to $B in May.
- View YTD Financial Docs here
- Review Financial Update Summary here
- Financial Model: We completed our revenue-side fin model, and working on our expense side of the model and will have it complete by July 31.
5) Compliance – KEY POINTS
6) Other Learnings/Strategy – KEY POINTS