Avoid the Curse of Bad Board Meetings: Best Practices for Running a Board

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This is a podcast episode titled, Avoid the Curse of Bad Board Meetings: Best Practices for Running a Board. The summary for this episode is:
Why have a board?
03:14 MIN
How to work with your board
03:13 MIN
What board members should bring to the table
07:40 MIN
Effectively preparing for a board meeting
07:23 MIN
The value of having the right tools to run board meetings
05:41 MIN
Reduce the amount of board meeting prep time
02:00 MIN
What CEOs should expect from board members
08:44 MIN
Final thoughts from the panelists
04:18 MIN

Kim: So one of the reasons why Matt and I bonded over multiple coffees over the last 18 months is talking about good versus bad boards, that's something we're both very passionate about. So the title of this webinar is Avoid the Curse of Bad Board Meetings: Best Practices for Running an Efficient Board. But many people, many of our early stage founders and others, even early nonprofits, don't really know how to use boards. Why do we have a board? So I'm going to turn it over to Brad, sorry, but you led with this, that you're on a lot of boards, and so tell the audience why should you have a board?

Brad: Well, it varies at stage of company in terms of the underlying pieces below why. But in the context of a private company, high growth startup, the mental model I like to use is that as CEO, you have a team, which is your leadership team, you get to have another team, which is your board, and while the board can fire you, that is one of the things a board can do to a CEO, and in a lot of ways, it's the only real action that the board often will take that's sort of independent of what's going on, although there can be others. Absent that, the CEO ends up having another team of people to help her be successful. I have a simple mantra, which is as long as I support the CEO, I work for her. If I don't support the CEO, it's my job to do something about it, which is to try to get back to the place where I support her. And ultimately, again, that one tool that I have, is that I can't unilaterally replace a CEO, but as a board we can raise those issues. So from a CEO's perspective, the value of the board is to have another team that helps her be successful. And it can be a team, it can also be individuals. So it's important to think of them as both or sort of conceptually separate because each person on the board adds something different. But like your leadership team, it also is a functional team. The other thing that is helpful in the context of a company at any stage, especially early, is that it's really valuable for a CEO to have someone or a set of people that she's accountable to. And it's very, very difficult as a CEO if you have no one that you're accountable to in the context of any sort of rhythm or cadence of communication, of reporting, of goal setting. Just roll it down the company. If there isn't a CEO in the company, all the senior leaders don't have a set of people or a person that they're accountable to. So it's the same kind of dynamic. The third piece, which I think as companies get bigger, becomes more formalized, but it's also useful even in smaller companies and particularly useful in challenging economic environments, is that there are some governance functions that a board can serve. They don't have to be heavyweight, they don't have to be ponderous, but it does create for all shareholders, some governance dynamics to have a board and have the board playing a responsible role in that context.

Kim: I'm going to pull on a bunch of threads there, but one of the things you said at the top was, and I think it's regardless of stage, but I'm going to turn this to Matt, how do you feel when you're working with boards or you're working with CEOs? Do you feel a lot of times sometimes CEOs don't know how to work with boards and how do you reframe that narrative?

Matt: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think most of them don't. And if you think about becoming a founder or a CEO for the first time, it doesn't really come with an instruction manual, the job. And so most of what you bring to that job is something you did from your last job. And if you've never been a CEO before, one of those things that's only in the CEO's job description really is building and managing a board, leading a board. So there's not necessarily a great training manual for it. That's one of the things we tried to do when we wrote Startup Boards. But because there's not a lot of training for it, and early startup words tend to be just the founders or maybe they'll stick a friend or someone they know on it, it's not necessarily functioning as an effective or more mature board would. And I would say it's also not usually one of the top five things on a founder's priority list. They're really focused on getting product out the door, getting early customer validation, customer adoption, raising money, holding the enterprise together with usually a lot of sheer force of will. So it just doesn't show up at the top of their list of like, " Oh, let me be excellent at building a world- class board and getting the most out of it." So it's kind of some combination of those things. And yeah, sometimes there's fear around it. As Brad said, boards can usually fire CEOs. That sort of pushes it down the list. And nine out of 10 CEOs that I talked to when I asked them about their board, they kind of roll their eyes and they talk about the board like it's some kind of obligation or tax or a drag on the system. And that just says to me that they haven't learned how to effectively use a board, whether it's for any of the things Brad said a minute ago or others. I was telling you this before we started today. I interviewed a founder author for my podcast last week, and she just wrote a book about being a CEO, being a founder. And she actually had a line in there that said, " Boards suck and nothing you do matters." And that was just a sign to me that no one's ever taught her, she's never been role modeled at what a great board can do for you.

Kim: Edward, you talked about, obviously you're coming in from a different perspective than maybe Brad, Matt and I, you had grown up in a family that had a lot of board experience and entrepreneurial experience, nonprofit experience. You've created a few companies, been on my favorite movie, 25th Hour, so you've done it all. You've seen it all from every perspective. But when you think about you put your business hat, your creative hat on, what do you think when you're sitting down in these board meetings, what should everybody be getting out of it? Yes, Brad is really illustrative on really supporting the CEO and making sure them and their business thrives. But let's talk about just being a regular board member. What should they also... It's give-get as they tend to say more on the nonprofit side.

Edward: Yeah, I think you said. I think that you want to have a positive reciprocal relationship, and I think that comes with a sense of reciprocal responsibility, right? Backing it up a little bit, I think a lot... And you have a cohort with Techstars especially, you're talking about companies in the early stages, that's an opportunity to set the tone and set the characteristics, set the terms of engagement in some ways, in positive ways so that a positive feedback loop builds as opposed to a negative feedback loop. And many small companies are going to be doing nothing more maybe than investor updates, maybe not even board presentations. But I think there's a real opportunity at the beginning of everything. My father used to say this a lot, and he is a phenomenal organization builder. Whether it's donors for a nonprofit org or investors for a company, there's going to be... I think a founder has to tactically, not even as an ethos, but tactically acknowledge to themselves that the people who are supporting the enterprise, whether as a donor or an investor, are going to then have an almost intrinsic built- in sense of desire to defend their investment, to, let's call it, monitor. And then that's sometimes where the negative thing begins. Because if a founder takes on an immediately resentful relationship of the idea of being monitored, now you get into this whole thing of essentially the perception that whether your investors or your donors, that they're grading your homework, that they're a monitor. And even though your interests are aligned, you don't feel that way. So I think for the heads of organizations, what you really want at the beginning is to create a sense of positive alignment. You need to acknowledge... Let me put it this way, I think the reciprocal responsibility, the part of it that's on the side of the founder is you've got to acknowledge the sense of risk that comes with financially supporting any organization and in some ways have empathy for it, have respect for it, recognize that more than anything what's desired is communication, not performance necessarily. It's communication. It's a sense of, in the donor or the investor, a sense of respect for the risk that they've taken with you and a desire to be communicated with. And you talk about movies and stuff like that, mostly it doesn't really relate to this kind of stuff, but in some sense it does in a sense that narrative is important. Communication is narrative. And so how you communicate and your willingness to communicate and a sense of quality of the communication is really important to start getting right from the get- go. And that doesn't have to be about 83 page PDFs with financial reports or anything. Like in Zeck, one of the things we encourage early companies to do is just use the platform for the, quote- unquote, " investor update" but just for communication, for nothing other than communication, not even governance, even though for much bigger orgs, we have a lot of innovation around defrictionalizing the governance parts of the process. So communication is really important. And when founders I think brush off or get resentful or treat the idea that they have an obligation to communicate with their partners who have taken on some risk, that's a fail by the founder. Communication's really important and you can get what I would call pro activity. You have a much better chance of building the best qualities of a board, which are force multiplication, tactical advantage that costs you nothing, assistance, real proactive assistance if you fulfill, what I would call, the robust communication side of the equation. On the side of the investor or the donor, my own experience both building companies and definitely on nonprofit boards was that you started realizing that a lot of people were simply there to protect their foundations' donations or to monitor and protect. Same with investors. They're there to protect their investment. I think that's a real fail on the part of a board member. I don't think whether you've put money in any form, if you think that you're really only there to monitor, you shouldn't be on that board. A board should be not just aligned in terms of outcomes, but should be committed to proactive engagement with an assistance of the mission of the company. And no matter what your check size, if you don't have that commitment, if you're not willing to do more than monitor and receive report, I don't think you should be on a board. And I think board members need to clearly communicate back to management that, " Yeah, we need updates, but we are here to help and we are going to figure out the ways that we can be a high leverage, low cost, no cost additional asset to the company." Just what Brad said. They are an arm of the company, a front. And any founder who really feels that they're getting that kind of proactive assistance is going to love their board, love their board, and learn a very different set of habits which are communicating what the needs are as opposed to what the performance is. And that's how I think positive feedback loops get built. And I think it's important in the early stages to set the tone of that kind of communicating and those kinds of senses of reciprocal obligation. And from there a lot else can happen. But that's how I think it has to start at the beginning.

Brad: I'd add one thing to that, which is, strong underscores on a bunch of what Edward said, it is however crucial that it's a bi- directional expectation setting. So I can identify board situations where the board members want to actively engage and be helpful, and the CEO really doesn't want that. So it really needs to be both directions, which is that the CEO needs to view the board as a team, overuse that word maybe a little bit, but just to sort of make the point, and work to develop rules of engagement with that team for both the team and the CEO. An example that was very, very effective in a company of mine with an experienced CEO who had started a new company and I think was just starting to add outside board members, company was maybe 15 people at the time, maybe had done one round of financing. The CEO wrote a two or three page document that said, " Here's my expectations for the board." And then he wrote another document that said, " Here's my expectations for me in the context of the board." And they were both drafts, they were not, " And this is the declarative. Here it is, it's engraved on stone tablets." He gave it to the investor board members and the new outside board member and said, " Let's talk about this and let's adjust the expectations and make sure all of our expectations are aligned in terms of what we're doing and how we're doing it." And that set the tone for many years for that company as it grew and as it added new board members. And yeah, it evolved a little and changed a little. And of course I'd screw up something and do something where the CEO would then hold me to account or he'd do something that would cause another board member to be frustrated with him. That's normal. That's human dynamics on any team. But the rules of engagement created a framework where both sides, the board member and the CEO committed to really working with each other as an effective team versus, " Hi, here I am, I'm going to try to help." And the CEO's like, " Yeah, go away. Leave me alone." Or the opposite, which is the CEO's like, " Come on, come over here and help." And the board member's like, " Well, just as long as you're making your numbers, everything's fine with me. And the second you don't make your numbers, you've got a problem." Totally useless board member because it's actually not anything to do with solving the problems.

Kim: Brad and Edward, you really honed in on what the key point of this whole process was. The genesis of this meeting is a lot of times founders view the boards in an adversarial context and they view it as a tax. And you guys have really highlighted ways that we can all be strategic as board members or people that are reporting into boards. But when you think about... And I'll open it, whoever speaks first, answer. Good structure, good governance, all of that. But how do we really help the group today fully understand the importance of not going into these meetings adversarial? And how do you talk to your CEOs you're mentoring, and I'm sure you guys do a lot of it, but how do you make sure to initially come into these meetings and understand, " Hey, we're all on the same team"? And Edward, you hit the right nail on the head. Yes, you're going to get in situations where you have wrong board members, board members that are there for the wrong reasons, and that's going to happen on any board. But how do you guys prep your CEOs you're mentoring to go into these well- prepared and to make sure that there's not fighting or miscommunication or not enough communication? Matt, I'll turn it to you because I know you do a bit of this.

Matt: Yeah, I'm happy to start with this. I think there are a few principles behind this. One is transparency, and the other is understanding what you want to get out of the board and getting it. So on the point of transparency, and someone posted this question in the Q&A, " How much information should you share with the board?" The answer to that question's kind of everything. And I'm a big believer in deliver news early and often, whether it's good news or bad news, probably especially if it's bad news. But in the preparation of materials for a board meeting, there shouldn't be anything that you're holding back and you should be organized enough in the way you report on things that have happened in the past that it's easy for a board member to read and prepare for a meeting and do their homework and have the most important things called out so they don't have to hunt around for them and feel like they're looking for bad news or looking for good news. If five things went wrong last quarter, highlight them on the pages of the income statement, the balance sheet, the KPIs, et cetera, and do call- outs off to the side, " Here's what happened here, and happy to answer questions about it in the meeting." So I think that's sort of the first thing you set yourself up for success if you get it all out on the table. But the second thing, which is an area where I think a lot of CEOs fall down is, and it sort of comes back to my other point, CEOs don't really know how to use a board, if you as a CEO spend time reflecting with your senior leadership team or even by yourself, " What am I really struggling with right now? What are the topics that are on my mind where I could use the advice and counsel of the board? And I don't mind being vulnerable. I don't mind telling them I don't have the answer to a particular question or I want to hear their opinions, or I want to foster constructive debate and discussion because they're going to have different opinions about something." But it really starts with figuring out what do you hope to get out of the upcoming board meeting and then how do you structure a pre- read as part of the materials that lends itself to that conversation. And I'll sort of jump in and answer the question Carla just posted now because I think it's right on point.

Kim: Good. Because that was my next question for the group, so excited. Thanks, Matt.

Matt: So the way I think about it is when you're preparing materials for a board meeting, the weight of the materials are probably looking backwards at things that have happened in the last quarter or two since you last met. So maybe 90% of the pages in a board book are report out analysis, KPIs, financials, et cetera, about the period that you've just finished. And then a much smaller weight of the pages are devoted to teeing up forward- looking strategic conversation. In my board books that's called the On My Mind section, and I always try in the On My Mind section to have between one and three topics that I tee up for the board to discuss. Either I or someone on the team will write a very short memo. It's pros, it's not like slide, slide, slide, bullet, bullet, bullet, right? It's pros, it's a memo, it tells a story. " Here is topic X. Here's how I want to frame the thing that is on my mind right now." And I'm always very clear at the end of one of those to even talk about the kind of conversation that I want to have around the topic because a brainstorming conversation with a board, which is totally great use of a board sometimes has a very different output than a decision or advising me on a decision or, " Hey, I'd like to frame up two decisions, can someone come up with an alternative?" So I sort of lay out the topic as well as what kind of conversation I want the board to have. The board meeting is the reverse of that. So we try to spend as little time possible talking about stuff that happened in the past. I do make sure that the senior people are in the room to talk about major events, to talk about the things that are called out in the materials as things that went wrong or things to be concerned about. I've never been a believer in the dog and pony. I don't have every exec come in and do their PowerPoint or do their Google Slides, " Here's the State of the Union of my team." Because that's stuff that can be read. So I do like to focus a short meaty conversation in the meeting about the most important things that people need to understand about what has happened. And then I really like to devote the preponderance of the meeting to the issues, the things that are on my mind where I've teed up that conversation. I'm happy for Brad and Edward to jump in and critique that. But I feel like that's the best you can do as a CEO is to put together a great set of materials for a board meeting that drive the conversation you want to have. It doesn't mean the meeting won't get out of control. You do have to be a skillful meeting facilitator, but you got to put best foot forward on that.

Edward: I agree with agree all of that. But I say that there's an intrinsic piece of very significant friction in achieving it, which is the tools themselves. And a lot of what you said is frankly the root of why we started Zeck to try to address some of this. The bottom line is that in everything you just described conceptually, it's great, but the tool sets create pain. Right now, if you start with management, prepping for a board meeting, the process of prepping for a board meeting and having your whole team go pencils down to create an 83 page PDF that you mail out to someone that has no iterative capability within it whatsoever, that then they're supposed to read... So you hate preparing that PDF, everybody hates receiving that PDF and reading the PDF but not being able to comment into it in any way or take actions that really don't need to be done in a waste of time in the board meeting, blah, blah, blah, then showing up at the meeting and have the experience of the meeting be the reading of those slides, which is what happens, everybody reads the slides out loud that they already sent and everyone sitting there listening doesn't want it read to them, but it's just a disaster. And this is partly a function of the tools. What we've tried to say is that at any stage, whether you have massive amounts of financial reporting, et cetera, or whether you're literally a startup company that doesn't need to do any of that, exactly what you said, you ought to be able to deliver the highlights, the low lights, we literally say highlights, low lights, the actions you want people to take, all of the information is there and all of the necessary governance should be framed up. But in a cloud- based iterative platform, what we've tried to design is to short circuit all of those pain points by basically saying this is an always on iterative platform that takes literally a fifth of the time to rebuild each time you have to do it. So you want to crush down management prep time massively. You want to make it that in the pre- read, the board does have to fulfill its obligation, but really importantly, the CEO never knows who read the deck, right? You get a PDF, the CEO has no idea what the board's engagement has been. And even VC board members I know who sit 10 board meetings a week board will say that they would like the accountability that the company knows that the board members have done their work and can actually track what the board's engagement is. But the idea that lots of queries and questions and clarifications should be a part of the pre- read process so that a whole lot can get washed out before you're ever sitting at the table. Because for what you're talking about, Matt, for the conversation on the day to have a quality of value and of forward- looking, you need to have been able to efficiently take care of the nuts and bolts and the boring shit and the queries and the questions and the clarifications so that those slides don't need to be read. They have been read, they've been queried, they've been things, and where maybe even really boring time- wasting stuff like approving employee stock options or minutes, for God's sake. I would say in bigger companies there is sometimes a half an hour to 45 minutes per meeting spent dealing with things that could be prevoted in an iterative platform, which we try to design for. You want the conversation on the day to be a conversation that focuses on the components of, " What can we do going forward?" That's going to be progressive and positive for the business. You want the brainstorming, you want the forward- looking. You don't want the rearward looking. You want as much of the rearward to have been addressed in an iterative way prior to the meeting. And the tools just have not existed. I mean, the fact that the large majority of companies present their deck or their board book in slides is just a massive technological regressive fail. And I think that it not only really doesn't suit companies that an early stage, it really is just a total guarantee that you're going to waste a huge amount of time. So from a tool set sense, that's what we've tried to come at, which is how do you strip away a lot of what you don't want to spend time on so that you can spend time, you can build the habit of... Because it is a habit, by the way. That's the other thing too. A lot of these things happen by default instead of by design. And that gets back to communication as well and setting of expectations. But it's also habits. And if the company uses the tools in the right way that build the habits so that the board has the habit of knowing they should iterate on this stuff in advance of the meeting so that the meeting itself it becomes habituated and it becomes a positive set of expectations instead of the habit of slides and reading them and wasting time and blah, blah, blah, blah. So it's sort of like building muscle. You actually have to get into the discipline and the habit of doing things in a positive way. But our conviction was that you needed better tools, a better platform to do that on. And that's what we try to build.

Matt: I just wanted to just pull on one thing. So I think you're right. I'm a big fan of Zeck. I've been using Zeck for several board meetings now. But I want to come back to something you said that ties in something Brad said a minute ago, Edward, which is one of the ideas is to crush the amount of time that CEOs and management teams spend doing dedicated prep work for board meetings. And the phrase that Brad used a couple of minutes ago that's so important is making sure that the board is an integrated part of your operating system as a company and as a leadership team and as a CEO. And whatever tool you use, if you are spending an inordinate amount of time doing things that are only for the purpose of reporting to the board, you're doing something wrong. My belief has always been that you schedule your board meetings and then you schedule your leadership team meetings and you think about when the quarters end in such a way that you can do one set of reporting on how the quarter went and you review it with your leadership team, you review it with your board. Yeah, maybe you have to do a tweak here or there to make it board ready, but if you're coming up with new stuff for the board, either the board's looking at the wrong stuff or your management team's looking at the wrong stuff. So come up with one set of reporting that you can conversion quickly and use for everybody. And then back to Brad's point about operating rhythms, operating cadences, we always do our leadership team offsite for the quarter a couple of weeks before the board meeting, and that gives our leadership team an opportunity to chew through the issues together, figure out what needs to get served up to the board. So as a CEO, I'm never sitting there saying, " Oh my gosh, I have a board meeting in a few weeks. I must start preparing for it." Yeah, I block out a couple of hours on my calendar here and there to version things, but it's not day after day after day of pulling stuff together for individual directors or the needs of the board.

Kim: Edward, I am so happy you said this about sending whatever materials and making sure boards are interactive discussions and not reporting functions. Because, maybe I'm going to sound like a monster here, but if I don't get whatever, whether it's slide decks, words, whatever it is, 48 hours before I have board meetings, I will not attend. I will cancel the meeting. I will not waste my time and other people's time. And I think it's really important that founders come into these meetings prepared and ready to have discussions and be able to use the board as an extension of their business. One of the things that I keep getting some questions on, and I really would love Brad, who has a lot of experience, to touch on this, is when you're talking to all of these founders, these portfolio companies or building up boards early stage, what advice do you give them as they're looking for board members so they can be the strategic arm, that second leg of their business? What advice do you give to these portfolio companies as they go through the process of building out boards?

Brad: A couple of very specific things. One, look for people who are additive to what you need. Each person should be adding different things to the board. You're going to end up with some board members because you have no choice. Investors when they make their investment, a lot of times will have an investor right to have a board seat. But even those investors have different strengths and weaknesses. So as you look to add, independent investors, look for extending or adding to the functional capabilities that people have. If you have somebody on your board or somebody on the... Well, if you're a CEO who is a product oriented CEO and all you have on your board are product oriented people, that's a miss. If you're a sales and marketing oriented CEO and you surround yourself with sales and marketing oriented people on their board that have that background, that's a miss. You want, again, additive pieces of it. Next, you want different frames of reference on your board. You said something earlier, Kim, about arguing, fighting, that sort of thing. This is a cultural norm of a company, not a cultural norm of the board. The board has to inherit the cultural norms of the company, which is actually quite hard. But some companies are very intellectual and other companies run through conflict. I mean, I've been on the board of many companies where the board meeting is just another extension of the management team meeting. And the management team meeting is like a big family dinner where everybody's yelling at each other. And if that's a cultural norm, that's okay. One of the challenges I think for a lot of CEOs and founders as they're building boards is they're afraid of stating clearly their cultural norms to the board members and recognizing that they can't control the individual behavior, but they can set a tone. So for example, I'll use an extreme bad example in my world, a CEO who's really uncomfortable anytime they are criticized in front of a leadership team member. So you have a board meeting where you have a CEO, brings in leadership team members, but is very uncomfortable and does not like when somebody on the board is critical of the CEO or immediately feels like they need to defend the management team member when somebody on the board is critical of that person. The board member may be not even realizing that she's being critical. It's just their own style and their own personality. And if you say, " Look, we have to have a board meeting and everybody has to be friendly and everything has to be nice, and I really want your opinion, but I just don't want you to hurt anybody's feelings or I don't want you to say something like, 'Boy, that's a stupid idea.'" Again, that's part of that setup on the front end, getting different ways that people communicate interact is additive. And then the last is, I think every CEO benefits from having a peer CEO on the board as an independent director. I think it's a massive, massive miss if you're a CEO and you don't have at least one independent director who is also a CEO of another company on your board. And ideally a CEO of a bigger company or maybe a CEO who's more experienced than you,. But a CEO that's dealing with their own stuff so that you can actually kind of relate to their own world. Last comment-

Edward: I couldn't agree with that more, Brad. Early stage stuff, I used to think maybe that was a little premature. But I literally just... A company I've been involved with for 20 years finally just went through an acquisition and everything. The couple of us were independent, the rest were essentially private equity firms that were on the thing. I can't overstate what value our experienced industry pro independent board member just gave our company in its year and a half long process of being put on the market and successfully getting acquired. Literally none of the major equity shareholder investors on the board did one single constructive thing to assist the CEO in the process of a very long and complicated process with bankers and everything. Our independent director, literally, I give him 50% of the credit for getting the deal done. It is mid- stage at least, I think that's an extremely, extremely real piece of wisdom. I think independence alongside just pure investors. And even to the degree that I think, look, sometimes you just can't avoid it. Sometimes people put in a certain amount of money, they lead around, they want a voting board seat for whatever reason. I often say, " Hey, look, should that be intrinsically true?" They get to vote their class of shares, they have lots of blocking. Sometimes people have blocking rights because of the share majority that they have in a certain class of shares, whatever my view is, if you're just there to monitor your investment, be a board observer, be an observer. That's what you're there to do, observe? Observe. But if you're not going to help, if you're not going to accept proactive responsibility, you should be an observer. And I've seen many, many situations where some of the big branded VCs in the world are on boards and are just not doing eff all. They're just sitting there passively commenting and making their kind of pro- forma observations about this and that, but nobody's doing anything. I used to say we ran charitable crowdfunding and fundraising platforms, we had great early... Fred Wilson and Bijan Sabet were on our board, and those guys, we didn't have to say it, they set up campaigns on the... I kind of said, when I went to GoFundMe, I was like, " How can we have board members of GoFundMe who aren't setting up fundraising campaigns for the organizations they support on our own platform? It's ridiculous, right?" And I think sometimes just... I won't go on and on, but I think to underline what Brad was saying, an independent board member sometimes puts a light on how little others are doing. I've found independent board members are always proactive. They know they're there to help, and maybe they're getting a little compensation or something. It usually puts a little bit of peer pressure on the passive ones sitting around as well. So it's great. I think when you horse trade around board seats because of investors, try to get the right to assign an independent as well.

Kim: So much wisdom and I'm getting all kinds of flags to wrap up. So I'm going to do my signature rapid fire question. And I'm going to pinging everyone on the panel, what do you want this audience to leave with today? We want everyone obviously to understand that boards are strategic, but one piece of advice that you would give your younger self for these founders that are building boards today? Matt, all you.

Matt: I'll give one that I haven't given yet, which is... I'll give you what I call my rule of once with boards. I so add independent directors from day one, one member of the management team on the board, and for every one VC have one independent.

Kim: Love it. Edward?

Edward: We touched on it, but I think establishing that positive reciprocity early. As a founder, do let your risk capital partners know that you respect the leap they've taken with you by communicating. Recognize that communication early on will net you dividends and it's on you to establish that. A great investor knows that themselves. But ultimately it's on the founder to establish the tenor and the characteristic of the conversation. And you can lead with clear and regular communication to create that sense of reassurance and alignment. That's what gets the ball rolling in the positive direction for sure. Don't shine off your sense of responsibility to that or treat it as a burden because done right, it will pay dividends. And then of course, talking my book again, but I hope you guys will check out what we're doing at Zeck because we're really finding that early stage founders are saying to us, " This is really, really helping me build the foundational relationship that I want for a high quality relationship with the board. And I'm punching myself in the face over my frustration at having to do board prep much less." So we'd love to work with you guys.

Kim: I hope that was a 25th Hour reference for me, Edward, I'm going to take it. Brad, close this out on... You've given so much, but give us that one more thing.

Brad: What gets said in the board meeting doesn't... That's a bad reference. Yeah, I'll build on what Edward said because I think it's powerful. It's a cliche, you get out of it what you put into it. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of founders, a lot of CEOs don't put energy into building the relationships and the team that is the board, and instead the board is inflicted upon them or they allow themselves to feel that the board is inflicted upon them. And I just turn it around. We're all going to die, so why not put your energy into things the best you can? And even when you have conflict and controversy and disagree, that's all healthy. If you are the leader of a company, invest in all of the people who are around the table. And if you've got a board, invest in those people because that will pay dividends to you. If you don't invest in those relationships, if you don't put the energy into setting expectations, if you don't try to find great people to be part of that journey with you, if you don't challenge, sometimes uncomfortably, the passive participants who are just monitoring and saying, " Hey, this is not enough for me. I need more from you. Or if not, why don't you put somebody else in that board seat and be an observer?" And by the way, if you're uncomfortable doing that, having another investor that you're more comfortable talking to, enlist them to help you. Again, put the energy into it, view it as a team that you really want to activate to help you grow and build your company.

Kim: Okay, we're going to end on that note, but I love it. You get what you put in. Something my mama taught me. And I think those are no truer words. It's simple. It's easy, it's concise. But I really think we've broken the curse. Boards are your friend, they're your ally. Come in prepared, be transparent and utilize your board to help you and your business grow. As you guys have heard over the last hour, I'm geeking out on board stuff. It's important to me. It should be important to all of you. It's obviously important to everybody on this panel. And so I want to thank everyone here. Matt, Edward, Brad, thank you for a really informative afternoon. I know we didn't get to a lot of questions, so we have more to say. But really hone into some of the points that we have legged into today and we'll have more to follow. So thank you, everybody. Have a wonderful afternoon.

Edward: Thanks so much.

Matt: Thanks, everyone.


It’s time to get the most out of your board.

Kim Smith, Chief Capital Formation Officer at Techstars, moderates a conversation with panelists Brad Feld, co-founder of Foundry and early-stage investor, Matt Blumberg, CEO of Bolster and multi-time entrepreneur, and Edward Norton, co-founder of Zeck and award-winning actor. They discuss best practices for managing boards and investors, the most common characteristics of meaningful meetings, and the importance of independent directors and board diversity.