I recently wrote an article on how to respond to board members between meetings. I basically took some time on a weekend and just hacked out what was on my mind. Two people whom I respect (Babak Nivi and Brad Feld) added commentary that made me want to come back and clarify my thoughts. If I were to re-write the original post I would have taken out the section on “how to get better intro’s from VC’s” and made it it’s own post. It’s a long section and related to but not the main point I had hoped to make. Since it was a brain dump it wasn’t very MECE (mutually exclusive, completely exhaustive).
Once I was done writing my post and had re-read it I started thinking more abstractly about decision making. A long time ago was a developer and we did everything as per the waterfall method. It was best practice then. Over time at my first startup our developers encouraged us to move to Agile development. We shortened our release schedules, set nearer term targets, held people accountable more through frequent communications and we listened more to customer input. It seems to me this is the main problem with boards.
So when I read my post it sounded to me more like a new philosophy for “The Agile Board,” so I put that as my subtitle. Yet I didn’t go far enough.
“Agile is about short feedback loops. This post is really about getting information to the board faster.
Information is part of the feedback loop. What’s missing is changing the board-level plan based on the new info that board members are getting more quickly. An agile board would change it board-level plan more quickly than a board that only adjusts the plan at regular board meetings.”
It’s true. In the post I focused a lot on communications between meetings rather than decision-making. I’m no fan of big, long board meetings with too many members and held too infrequently. Too much of the meeting is spent updating the board members on the basics of the business. Since they haven’t focused on things in 6-8 weeks they need some orientation.
So if we’re really going to be “agile” we need action between board meetings and we should come together in person to reconfirm what everybody already kind of knows we’ve already agreed. Brad Feld started with a bias for action in his post, “Give Your VC’s Assignments.”
“Give your venture capitalists (and board members) assignments
Mark [Suster] alludes to this in many of his suggestions but he never comes out and says it. And, amazingly to me, many entrepreneurs either don’t ever think of this or don’t feel comfortable doing it. They should.”
He goes on to state that these assignments should be specific and should play to each board member’s strengths. Generic requests are useless. I agree with Brad. If you’re interested in this topic you should read Brad’s post.
And I was talking recently with a no-nonsense and experienced CEO from New York City this week about how he interacts with the board. He said
“I view my board members as part of my extended management team. I update them weekly, do frequent calls and ask for help on a regular basis.”
I liked that. THAT is the “Agile Board” I was after. That’s what I’ve had at several of my companies in the past three years. Especially Ad.ly. I love that Sean Rad calls me all the time to ask for quick advice or update me. If he’s reading this I’m sure he’s laughing but it’s not uncommon for him to ring my mobile phone at 9pm for something “urgent.” (everything’s urgent with Sean but he’s so infectious you gotta love it ) Or he will ask whether he can swing by early for coffee. That’s the advantage of local investors on early-stage deals.
I always feel in sync with Sean. At any time I feel like I know what the team’s issues are, what’s going on with biz dev, product and customers. And Brian Norgard (a fellow board member) calls me often, too. And then we both call Evan Rifkin, who has already heard from Sean and is in the loop. Board meetings feel like an extension of our ongoing discussions. It’s a chance to formally present the plans and to get us all in the same room. But decisions are mostly incremental.
I feel like we’ve nailed the Agile Board at Ad.ly and are close at some of the other places I’ve invested as well.
You should think like the experienced CEO from NYC I quoted above. He was a hard-nosed, no BS, serial entrepreneur who said,
“I can always get money. Where else can I get very connected and powerful people to do work for me?”
Are you asking for enough help from your board members?