Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Third Board Meeting


Short, sweet and to the point.

That pretty much sums up our meeting this month. Interestingly, most of the board wasn't there in person. Brad and Jerry were on the east coast, David was, I think, in Cali somewhere and only Niel and I were in the room with the speaker phone.

Interestingly, it was one of our more collaborative interactions as a group.

Maybe it's just me getting a little better at prep and pre-meeting meetings. More than likely, though, it's my board being supportive and guiding me in the right direction. I may be old by startup standards, but it turns out I can still learn.

Jerry and I, for instance, are doing weekly coaching sessions. This is one of those added bonus type things you get when you have a great board of directors. Didn't know Jerry Colonna is an executive coach? Either did I, but he is, and a damn good one. He coaches several people, including the CEO's of other startups. Once a week for about an hour we talk about what it means to lead in a start up; what turns your crank, your fears, your weaknesses and what you can do about improving them, how your folks are doing, where to focus, what personal things might be going on that effect life and work, a broad range of things, all useful. And he does it in a way that's supportive but firm. He asks tough questions that make you pause and really think through issues. Fun? Not the word that pops immediately to mind, but when we're done it feels like I've really learned something, and most of it was in there already. Jerry just helped find it and bring it out.

Yea yea.. I know.. sounds all touchy feely. To a degree it is, but only a little. The results are real. Having an experienced, resourceful, intuitive, honest and damn smart guy to talk things over with who's got a very objective point of view is incredibly helpful in figuring out how to do what you need to do.

We scheduled the board meeting for our usual 3 hours. I distributed the pre meeting materials a couple of days beforehand as easy to print PDF's for everyone and set a simple 4 point agenda. 3 'handling board business' type things and one major item: Products and Markets.

We put spent about 10 minutes on the first three points and the rest of the meeting on an overview presentation of the business, products, product mixes, potential markets and associated (est.) revenues from each market. With Brad, Jerry and David on the phone and Niel and I in the room, the conversation flowed very well.

Although the presentation was about 40 pages, we only used about 5 or 6 of them for the entire conversation (with a couple of references to other pages for numbers or target markets). I led them through each of the key slides, we discussed what it meant, bounced back and forth between the concepts a few times, expressed opinions, disagreed, debated, found agreement and came out with a pretty clear picture of what we should be doing as a business.

Our problem has been the typical startup problem: too many opportunities and potential directions to go in. If you build a really flexible feature rich platform that can do a lot of things and can be used in a broad range of potential markets..what's the business you focus on and go after?

The presentation framed (most) of the best potentials (but substantially more than we could do with the resources on hand). First, we got agreement that this was a good overview to work from (focus…), we looked at the four big areas, decided pretty quickly that the first two were low hanging fruit (addressed reasonably broad markets with self serve tools and could be implemented with reasonably minimal effort) and we should just do them. 2 down, 2 to go. The third was by far the biggest revenue potential, but also the hardest to nail down.. so we skip that for a few minutes and look at the fourth area and quickly determine we like it, but it’s payoff isn’t big enough right now and we’ll back burner it for the time being (ahh.. more focus, take something out of the mix).

Back to the third big potential. Each of the board members likes a slightly different set of 2-3 primary markets. We debate this for awhile but we don’t settle on specifics. So, I asked them to each think about the complete list (about 15 markets) and for each of them to get back to me with their top three markets. This was, essentially, assigning homework. Brad then comments that between the 4 of them, once we nail the markets down, they could likely get several dozen companies to open their doors to us for a pitch. If we included our angel network (and we have something of a dream team of angels), we could potentially make that a couple of hundred leads to work with. Nice.

Jerry suggests I set a due date for each director’s ‘top three’ (let’s make it 4 days from now). We all agree. Wrap up.

Total meeting time? About 90 minutes. Could we have stretched it out another 90 minutes to fill the entire 3 hours scheduled? Probably, but why? It was good to have the time available if needed, but what we really needed was to get one pretty major thing done and we did it efficiently and reasonably quickly. The bonus was an hour and a half of extra time for a bunch of time starved folks. I even got a ‘great board meeting’ text message from Brad after the fact.

Lesson learned? Keep it focused, get your board business wrapped up quickly at the front end and spend your time on what you really need the collective intelligence of the board’s help with. No less, but also, no more.

And if you can, give them some of that time back,. Time’s one of the few things your board members are likely short of. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

And yes, they all did the homework and via email we narrowed it down to 2 markets (and maybe a 3rd) within 4 days. Great stuff and exactly how I envisioned an active and engaged board of directors really adding value to a startup.

2 comments:

Needledncr said...

This is really exciting. I'm so pleased for you!
(I can't wait until you decide you need inside counsel. I'd move so FAST! if you'd hire me) ON the other hand, I hope you never actually need inside counsel...
I'm enjoying reading these reports (still). Thanks

The Lal said...

Scott,

Nice article and brave of u 2 share some of the inside goings on. A lot of blog posts from startups are mundance and just give a few key points with little indepth coverage.

The key seems 2b "And yes, they all did the homework" and having a good board thats got the expertise and 'do-it' capability.

Nice

Lal