Your first board meetings will set the tone for your style and communication and leadership style. Maximize your board's impact by following the frameworks below.
Tips For Your First Board Meetings
Develop the Right Meeting Cadence
While Board meeting cadence varies, Seed companies should typically meet with their board every 6-8 weeks (later stage companies typically meet quarterly).
Ask For Advice
Your board members have extensive experience; ask them to share lessons from companies at similar stages.
Own the Meeting
Take charge of setting the agenda and running the meeting. In your first few meetings, you should establish how you plan to communicate with the board and how they should engage with your team.
The pitch process is over and you no longer need to sell to your investors. Be blunt about what's working and what isn’t, then have strategic discussions of how to accomplish your goals.
Have clear requests for each board member, then hold them accountable to prior commitments. Board members will work hard for you if they are clear on what you need.
Board Meetings Early-On
Board meetings are closed sessions among the members of a startup’s board of directors to determine priorities, review performance, and discuss strategy. Board meetings are not status updates, they are meant to discuss the most important strategic questions for your company. The CEO is responsible for running the meeting and maximizing the board’s value. Included below are tips on how to maximize the impact of these meetings.
Many board meetings are inefficient and lack deep discussion of strategic issues. Pre-board meeting prep is critical in optimizing the session.
Developing Your Board Materials
Materials can include a deck (template here) or long-form memo. As your executive team grows, ask functional leaders to prepare board materials for their specific departments. It’s a good idea to expose your executives to the board over time.
Send the Board Materials 72 Hours in Advance
Sharing materials before the meeting allows board members to ask clarifying questions, review metrics, and come with prepared thoughts and suggestions.
Share an Agenda
In addition to sharing the deck, identify 1-2 strategic topics and questions for discussion and send them to the board ahead of the meeting.
Strategic Topics Might Include:
- Experimenting with a new monetization model: ex. product-led growth
- New market entry strategy
- Fundraising timing and strategy
Schedule Pre-Calls as Needed
30-minute pre-calls with individual board members are an effective way to get ahead of tactical questions that might take time away from strategic discussions. They are also great for building consensus around challenging topics before meeting as a group.
Tactical Topics Might Include:
- Updates on the process toward a revenue goal
- Sharing challenges about a specific executive search
- Coaching on a difficult customer conversation
- Previewing the agenda for feedback
Leading the Meeting
Board meetings typically run 60-120 minutes long, depending on how frequently you meet and the stage of the company.
Board meetings are not meant to be a selling moment to investors; you've already convinced the board members to invest in your company. Use these meetings to give a realistic view of the business state, product progress, and anticipated roadblocks. In addition to updates, use board meetings to solicit help, perspective, and feedback from your board – be honest and transparent.
Aim to spend ~30% of time providing updates and reserve the majority of the time to discuss plans, current issues, and strategic topics.
- Lead the meeting, the board works for you.
- Be honest and transparent, don’t sugarcoat.
- Reserve the majority of the time for key strategic discussions.
- Record board meeting minutes from day 1 – you will thank yourself later.
- Give your board members homework (see “Commitments”).
Example Board Meeting Agenda
Introductions & Agenda
- If new board members or executives are in attendance, begin with personal introductions.
- Review the proposed agenda, then dive into the meeting.
Ensure all necessary approvals are addressed prior to the main discussion. Missing approvals (ex., new hire stock grants) can result in long-term negative consequences.
- Issuance and distribution of stocks, options, or warrants
- An amendment to the bylaws or the articles of incorporation
- Loan transactions
- Leasing transactions
- The adoption of the annual budget
- The hiring or removal of senior management
- Benefits - health insurance, 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, etc.
- The dissolution of the company
- The sale or distribution of a substantial volume of assets
The board exists to make you a more effective CEO. Each board meeting should begin by confirming the completion of prior commitments. Keep track and hold people accountable.
- Customer, candidate, and/or investor introductions
- Operating plan feedback
- Funding announcement support
KPIs, Company Building, & Financial Reports
Spend time reviewing your KPIs (key performance indicators), financials, plans vs. actuals, key hires, and other relevant business updates.
Focus Areas for Business Updates:
- Hiring: Key hires, resignations, progress against headcount plan, etc.
- Sales: Pipeline, qualitative customer feedback, rep productivity, etc.
- Finance: Actuals against the operating plan (annual and quarterly), runway, burn rate, etc.
- Product/Eng: Roadmap overview, competitive landscape, design partner learnings, etc.
- Marketing: Demand generation plans and progress, engagement metrics, PR updates, etc.
- The metrics review is just to ensure alignment if you've already sent materials and hosted pre-calls.
- This is not a progress report to look busy; you should only review the metrics core to your business.
- Hold board members accountable for having reviewed the materials ahead of time.
The majority of the meeting should focus on 1-2 critical strategic issues. Allow ample time for brainstorming, debate, and feedback. You should leave the board meeting with a clear decision on what to do next.
- Fundraising strategy
- Company re-organization planning
- New product launch or a major pivot
- Executive team evolution
- Planning for entering a new market
Capture Action Items
Board meeting minutes are the official record that shows the meeting was held and important matters were discussed. The most crucial part of the minutes is accurately recording board members' commitments during the meeting. As such, it's always important to capture all necessary details. Check out GlueUp's guide on best practices for keeping board minutes here.
Boards as You Scale
In this Q&A, Charly Kevers, CFO at Carta, discusses his role as a board member and how to think about your reporting and board management strategy as you scale both as a business and as a leader.
Charly Kevers is the Chief Financial Officer at Carta where he is responsible for leading cross-functional teams overseeing finance, accounting, treasury, risk, and investor relations. In his five years at Carta, Charly has worked as a strategic partner, growing the company from a Series C to a Series G with a valuation of $7.4 billion. Charly also led the first transactions on CartaX, the company’s own private market listing venue.
In his more than 20 years of experience, Charly has held a variety of roles, including finance, investor relations, corporate development, and strategy in multiple countries across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Before joining Carta, Charly served as the VP of Finance at marketplace lender LendingClub where he oversaw all finance activities supporting new product and strategic initiatives. Prior to LendingClub, Charly led the analysis and execution of acquisitions and strategic investments at Salesforce and held various finance and strategy positions at companies like Hewlett Packard, J.P. Morgan and Samsung, mostly focused on supporting key strategic initiatives. Charly graduated with a Business Degree from ESCP Business School and holds an MBA from INSEAD.
Role with the Board
A CFO's primary responsibility is monitoring and maintaining the financial health of the business. Board meetings provide an opportunity to provide as much transparency as possible and preempt any questions they may have on how the company is performing. As the business expands and you introduce more products, the challenge is ensuring that you can provide the same level of detail and transparency so they can assess performance accurately.
And while boardroom meetings are important, it's key to carve out time for 1:1 chats with individual board members, as well. Aim to communicate consistently across quarterly and monthly board meetings, as well as quick updates as soon as the quarter ends.
Monthly Meeting Cadence
While most startups will start with quarterly board meetings and ad hoc updates, scaling companies will likely move to a more regular, monthly, meeting cadence. As the business is rapidly growing and changing, this increased cadence prevents surprises and allow for quick adjustments.
Feedback from the Board
Companies should look to their board for specific feedback on strategy, expertise, and exposure to network/ opportunities. The board was selected based on their specific expertise or network, leverage it. Some of these opportunities might include product or strategy feedback, risk management, introductions in new markets, etc.
Preparing Board Materials
Have a consistent set of reporting slides to make it easy for board members to evaluate trends and know what to expect. Typically, the CFO and CEO will discuss key items that should be covered, and companies should share these materials 48 hours ahead of time. It will typically take 3-4 weeks to prepare, including closing the books, updating the forecast, and conducting any internal discussions to present a clear and consistent message.
Compensation committees should be organized around members who are best suited to provide structured feedback on the company's current and future compensation plans given their background and experiences. The goal is to curate a committee that consistently challenges how your company views compensation and performance.
Having a forum for auditors to provide guidance on risk management and discuss any risk topics or issues (and when to bring those conversations to the broader board) is critical to scaling. This committee can help dig deeper into how to handle projects that support risk management and any cybersecurity concerns.
Reporting in Today's Environment
Generally, your reporting metrics (CAC, net retention, gross margin, etc.) should stay the same throughout your company's trajectory. In the early stages, you should set up a system that helps you think through the relationship between growth and cash burn for each business area and continue that process and reporting structure as you scale.
As you grow, you may get more questions about where and how efficiently your capital is getting deployed and your confidence levels around each area of your business. In this case, you can create additional P&Ls and confidence intervals for your product areas.
Preparing Execs for Board Meetings
Many companies choose to include their whole executive team in board meetings. This allow them to hear real-time strategy updates and to answer questions directly. Once a company has developed a structured reporting framework, prepping for meetings becomes quite streamlined.
For newer executives, the CEO and CFO should spend time reviewing their slides and talking points beforehand and prep the executive with anticipated questions from the board.
Advice & Best Practices
It's critical to build a relationship with each board member. Board members have varying perspectives, and as the business evolves, it helps to anticipate each member's expectations around company growth. Getting to know board members will also help teams prepare and get ahead of any board member questions.
Additionally, never surprise board members. Always talk about the bad news faster than the good news, and create a culture that promotes sharing any negatives as immediately so they can be solved as quickly as possible.