Leading your first board meeting
Best practices to ensure the first board meeting with investors is a success
DEAR STAGE 2: I just took on a round of funding and have my first board meeting with investors coming up next month. Moving from angels to an institutional investor feels like a big step, and I’m not sure what the expectations are. Can you share any advice or best practices to make sure it’s an effective meeting? ~First-time CEO
DEAR FIRST-TIME CEO: First — please, please, please go ask your new investor. Normalize these conversations early and start building your working relationship now. Everyone has their own requests for financial reporting, board materials, timing/cadence, and structure of board meetings. Keep talking about and evolving how you work with your board, and know that any decisions you make now can, and probably should, change as the company grows, new board members join, etc...
That said, here’s some advice I have shared with founders in our portfolio when I join a new board. I also called on AJ Bruno, Co-Founder and CEO of QuotaPath and Stage 2 LP:
AJ is on hand to share the founder’s perspective:
Monthly Reporting: Our top companies have a monthly reporting rhythm where we get a read out of key SaaS metrics. Here's a template you can use as a starting point. I love to see a full bottoms up model, but check out the ‘Monthly Performance’ tab for a standalone view of SaaS Metrics. I've found this to be really helpful to evaluate trends in the business over time.
Timing/Cadence: Agree to a regular cadence — that may be as frequently as monthly, but I don’t recommend going longer than quarterly without a meeting. Schedule all of your board meetings for the year and try to make at least 2 of them in person.
Board Material Format: No preference on slides or written document. Some companies find a presentation deck helps them frame a story and get their teams aligned, others find writing out a word document is more effective. Lean into whatever works best for you and your team. Commit to sending materials at least two days before the meeting so all board members have time to digest, bring you any big topics in advance, etc.
AJ’s take: Build 3 decks - 1) full deck that includes input from your exec team, 2) SaaS metrics deck and 3) streamlined deck to present/review live. Send all 3 of these at least a week ahead of time and encourage feedback. No surprises!
When it comes to the actual board meeting:
Recap prior key commitments. Specifically, what did we say we were going to do, and where do we stand on those commitments?
Frame any updates in relation to the plan/forecast/goals. For example, if you are going to share that we closed 100K in new ARR, include the context of "on a target of 150K." Or, if you hired 13 people, state that the plan called for 16 and share where you stand on the other. Be consistent with this over time to ensure the board has context.
AJ’s take: Be introspective and objective. Be open with your board and don’t hide or massage data. You should be calling out the challenges, highlighting where you need help and getting feedback from your board.
Keep financials to a minimum. This may seem counterintuitive. But the board materials should already include all financial statements. If everyone reviews them on our own time, the board discussion can be limited to specific issues and questions.
Use the meeting for discussion and decision-making, not updates. The board meeting is a great forum to make real progress on big strategic topics, brainstorm, and get feedback from everyone. There is value in group conversation where board members can build off one another, compared to solo conversations with the CEO — especially if there are conflicting opinions and debate.
Recent topics that have led to productive board sessions: Review v1 of a customer journey project, breadth v. depth in consideration of regional expansion, pricing discovery, discuss pros/cons of various GTM structures.
Stuck on what to talk about? Ask your board to identify key risks and opportunities in advance and use these to drive discussion during the meeting.
AJ’s take: Make time to talk to all board members one on one ahead of the actual board meeting; schedule a 15-minute one-on-one with each director. After that, keep the actual board meetings to three hours or less, with half of that time used for operations and half for strategy. Remember, it is a very expensive meeting and you want to get the most out of it.
Be intentional on how to involve your management team. It's great to give them exposure to the board, but certain topics should be reserved for a closed-board session. One company I work with creates a deck that includes an appendix with a few slides from each departmental leader. This allows board members to come prepped and helps to prevent an update-packed discussion.
AJ’s take: It can be great experience for your executive leadership team to get exposure to the board. Use this as a growth opportunity. Make sure they understand what they are getting into and are well-prepped. It’s also telling for you to see how they handle these meetings and how well they know their own business
Make the board work for you. As you get to know the new parties around the table, there is a huge opportunity to lean into each person's/firm's strengths. In my experience, the more specific your asks are, the more you get out of your board.
AJ’s take: Remember to celebrate wins — what did the board do for you that quarter? Call it out in materials, emails and meetings and make sure they know you feel the impact.
Good luck with your first board meeting — let us know how it goes!