Ask an Investor: How do I prepare for my first board meeting?

board meeting

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I remember my first board meeting. I was a summer intern at a fast-growing tech company, and the founder wanted to give the summer interns the opportunity to experience a board meeting first hand. That formative experience was a huge benefit to me when later on I started my first company. I already had a rough inkling of what’s involved in a typical board meeting. Most first-time founders aren’t so lucky and go into their first board meeting a bit blind.

Having to deal with board meetings is a good sign, as it usually means you’ve managed to raise some institutional money. Having professional investors on your cap table comes with having to run professional board meetings. I’ll do my best to outline what’s involved and what to expect here.

The basics

A board meeting is exactly what it sounds like: a meeting of the members of the board of directors. Beyond board members, the executive team of the company is also typically invited to the meetings to present to the board, especially the CFO. As well, investors on the board will often bring along an analyst or associate as an observer.

Most companies call board meetings every three months. They typically last two to three hours.

Pre-reads

For your board to come prepared and be efficient at the meeting, it’s critical that the management team prepare pre-read material. The pre-read material should ideally go out a week before the board meeting and certainly no later than half a week prior.

The main document of a board package is the board presentation. It typically contains all the relevant information and will be used as a support for the actual board meeting. Other documents in the package are the quarterly/annual financial statements, pro-forma models, minutes from committee meetings and the prior board meetings and any other supporting documents the management team might deem necessary.

Level of detail

As you prepare the board presentations, recall that directors work with the company but not within the company. Internal company jargon will mostly be meaningless to your external board members. Do not use any unexplained abbreviation or technical jargon in your presentation.

Information used should be meaningful: when presenting data, always answer the question: “What does it mean?”. Every piece of data given should serve a purpose. Trim unnecessary details. The board needs differ from the management ones, so the presentation should be focused on the information the board needs to make decisions.

Finding the right balance of detail is always tricky. It’s advisable to err on the side of too much detail vs. too little. Your board members will likely give you feedback after each meeting. Over time you should be able to calibrate to your board members desired level of detail.

Presentation content

It’s crucial the board presentation covers the breadth of the company’s activities and efficiently communicates these activities to the board. From my own experience the following is a good starting point to prepare an initial board deck:

Agenda
  • Pre-assign some timing to each topic.
  • Approvals
  • Approve agenda.
  • Approve previous board meeting minutes.
  • CEO overview
  • Summarizing the key accomplishments and issues of the company since last board meeting.
  • Alternatively: the CEO Overview can be one to two-page letter to the board outside of board deck.
  • Overall business update
  • Company-wide KPI review.
  • Business development update
  • Sales KPIs.
  • Sales pipeline: $ estimated funnel, highlights and challenges.
  • Financial update
  • Balance sheet, P&L, and cash positions as well as key metrics: cash burn, margin percent.
  • Provide simplified financial overview in the slide presentation, full documents should be separate.
  • If required, annually budget approval.
  • Product update
  • Product roadmap.
  • Product development.
  • Strategic discussion
  • Decisions taken and any documentation supporting submissions that require decisions.
  • Strategic discussion on new topics.
  • HR update
  • Org chart and headcount by department.
  • Discussion of key hires.
  • Includes new hires and headcount additions for next two to three quarters.
  • Asks: What does management need from the board
    Optional and/or appendix
  • Operations update.
  • Team news by department.
  • Approval of options grants
    In-camera session
  • The agenda should set time apart for an in camera session. This is a private session taking place only with non-executive board members present.
  • Approval of adjournment

    Tips

    Having the content right is one step closer to a good board meeting. But to make it great, here are a few more general tips:

  • Stick to your agenda and be time conscious. It is essential that you have the time to cover the whole presentation within the time frame you’ve planned.
  • The presentation should adopt an easy to read or easy to digest style: go for bullet points rather than long paragraphs. Highlight, bold or underline critical points. Always double check for spelling or grammar errors. Reference your document using page and section numbers matching the agenda.
  • Lastly, once you have created your first board meeting package, use it as a template for your next meetings to reach uniformity and consistency across meetings.
  • You’re ready now to prepare for your first board meeting!


    Sarah’s take

    Sarah Marion

    Christian’s commentary on pre-read material is a really important one that deserves extra emphasis.

    A week in advance can seem like overkill. You’re probably wondering, “Can’t my investors just read the package on the plane or over breakfast the morning of the meeting?” No. Board meetings are a blend of tactical and strategic discussions, and you should be aiming to maximize time spent on strategic topics as much as possible.

    Yes, you need to approve option grants, and provide an updated cash balance; these topics won’t take much time in the meeting nor will your investors linger on these points during their pre-read.

    But most of the board meeting will be spent on meaty topics: your mission, the hard trade-offs in spending you’re planning to make, the challenges facing your company, if those challenges overcome by more marketing spend, a more experienced executive in that job function, or a true pivot away from that strategy. These conversation topics take time for your board to absorb, and the best guidance comes when there’s time for your proposals to percolate in your investors’ minds. If you deny them time to review the deck, you’re denying yourself their best advice.

    Got a question for the investors? Email them here.

    Christian Lassonde

    Christian Lassonde

    Christian Lassonde is the founder and managing partner of Impression Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on investing and leading deals in FinTech companies raising late seed to early Series A rounds. Her is a former founder, having built and sold Virtual Greats, a luxury online IP rights broker, and Millions of Us, a digital agency. Christian spent a decade in San Francisco building software for Second Life, LucasArts and Electronic Arts and selling solutions to Sony, Nike, Warner Brothers, General Motors, Coke, Intel and many more Fortune 500 companies. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @classonde