Startups

What you need to know about your first board meeting

Now that you've successfully raised funding for your startup you have to transition your skills from selling your investors on the idea of your company to managing them as your board of directors.
first board meeting

While it may seem difficult while you’re doing it, closing an investment round and infusing your business with cash is just the first of many steps you need to take as a founder to grow your company. As I’ve written about before, once the round closes your real work begins.

Getting an investment means you will have a board of directors. As the CEO, your board of directors is your boss, and they will control how much you get paid. But that doesn’t mean you have to blindly follow everything they say. Your board can help guide you while you scale, provide insight into issues you haven’t yet faced, or remove any number of roadblocks as you grow. You can define the working relationship and get the most out of your board of directors as long as you’re clear on what that is.

Here’s what I learned about having a successful first board meeting.

Your investor might be more nervous than you are

While this may seem surprising, your investor might be more nervous for your first board meeting than you are. That’s because your investors have now done their due diligence and are part of the team, no matter what. It’s not unheard of for a founder to use the first board meeting to break some bad news (VC’s have been known to call this the “Oh, shit” board meeting). A founder can reveal anything from pending litigation to a large customer churning to the exit of a cofounder. These things might not be revealed before close, which means the investor could be walking in blind.

In our first board meeting after we brought on a new investor he asked a few of our board members minutes before the meeting started, “is there anything I didn’t discover?”. Our investors assured him that everything was fine, but the worry is real. The best thing you can do to assuage those fears is to assure your investors that everything is fine. And if it isn’t, get out in front of it as soon as you can.

You should get on the same page beforehand

I always send out a board pack prior to each of our board meetings. I usually send it 2-3 days before the meeting, and it includes our financials, any big news, and updates from across the business. It’s far more in depth than anything I would present in the meeting itself, but it gives me a chance to provide more context to the things I want to discuss in our board meeting. And because we use DocSend to send our board pack, I can tell who’s read it in advance and I can usually anticipate any questions they’ll have based on where they spent their time in the board pack. If any questions about the send ahead board pack do come up during the board meeting I’ll address them offline so we can keep the meeting structured and out of the weeds.

I also call each of my board members before the meeting to let them know what we’ll be covering in the meeting itself. I try and stick to 1-2 strategic topics, and I present a much shorter deck during the board meeting. The meeting isn’t just about you presenting what’s going on in your company. It’s about using everyone’s time strategically.

Know what you want from your board meeting

There’s always going to be a bit of a push/pull between you and your board. They’re immediately going to push you for growth, and you’re most likely going to push back and try to set expectations about what’s achievable. But not every board meeting has to revolve around the sales numbers. I’ve used my board meetings to discuss things like our marketing plans, a rebrand, and the competitive landscape globally. One board meeting was entirely dedicated to coming up with crazy ideas that could fuel our growth. I then went away and scoped each idea to see if it was feasible. We ultimately couldn’t justify building any of the things we discussed, but it was a good exercise to see what was possible if we had the resources.

The key to a successful board meeting is to identify the things you want feedback on and keep the conversation on track. It’s even better if you have specific asks for your board members. Things like intros, regulatory help, or things they can unblock. But you shouldn’t ask your board what to do. You present them with plans and get feedback and then make an educated decision. You’re running the company and ultimately you need to make the decisions.