When talking to early stage Founders (mainly Seed and A Round), one of the subjects that comes up regularly is how to get the most from their Board. As a Founder, your Board wants to help you build your business, and there are certain things that you need to get right to help you do this.
This is the first in a series of blog posts from Mark Ellison to help you with your Board. First off we’re going to look at how to structure your Board Report and how best to get the right information to your Board. In later blogs we’ll be looking at metrics, reporting and getting ready for your next funding round.
The blog is aimed primarily at Seed and A Round Founders but the principles that we’re going to lay out are similar for later-stage companies: however their Reports will by necessity be more complex and will probably already have an evolved style.
Why do I need a Board Report?
All companies have a Board and they all have one thing in common: the NEDs want to help you grow your business and change the world just as you said you were going to when you pitched them for their investment.
The most important event for the Board is the Board Meeting; some Boards meet monthly but as a start-up you only need to have a full meeting every 2-3 months.
To have a productive Board Meeting, it’s essential for you to get the right information to your Board and to set the agenda for the discussions and to do this, you have to get the content and tone of your Report right.
How should I structure my Board Report?
Many Founders hate having to produce their Board Reports which they see as a time-consuming imposition and would willingly bump down their to-do lists. However, remember that the NEDs want to help you and the Report is the best way to give them the information they need to make decisions about your company.
To get your Report working effectively:
- It needs to be short, clear and to the point. Reports help your Board make decisions about your company, so it should only contain board-level information (don’t include pages of management data) and bear in mind that your NEDs will sit on other boards and they will not be able to use more information than that which is essential.
- Split your Report into three: Housekeeping, Board Discussions and Procedural Matters (such as approving minutes from previous meetings)
- Housekeeping should be all about updating the Board on core areas of the business – reviewing this should take no more than 30% of the meeting. Focus hard on getting the metric reporting right as your Board will similarly zoom in on the metrics.
- Board Discussions: two or three points per meeting for discussing strategically-important matters which may require a decision by the Board. The Board Discussions should take up at least 50% of the meeting
- The Board needs time to read and digest your Report so circulate it no later than five days before the meeting.
What should I put in my Housekeeping slides?
You should have no more than a dozen Housekeeping slides:
- First slide is the Founder’s intro – the company’s “pulse check” – good and bad points since the last report, requests for help to the Board and acknowledgements of help already offered.
- After the Founder’s slides come the functional reports – covering the four or five key functions in the business (Sales, Marketing, R&D, Product, Operations, etc) and showing the key metrics for each function, targets and results, and a RAG status.
- Include the right data. Focus on the metrics (we’ll talk about these later in this blog series) and keep continuity so that the Board can track the company’s historic performance. Include forward-looking data and if you want to circulate larger volumes of information, do this as an appendix or send out separately to the main Report.
- Each month’s slides should be consistent with previous months: the Board needs to be able to see trends, performance against targets and future expectations. Don’t change the format unless you have agreed with the Board.
What else can I use my Housekeeping slides for?
The Housekeeping slides are first and foremost to give the Board the information it needs. For some of the NEDs the Board Report may be the only information they receive so you need to be sure the slides do the job.
All investors appreciate updates and with a little modification you can circulate Housekeeping slides (not the Board Discussions) to your other non-Board investors.
If your Board does not meet every month, circulate the monthly updated Housekeeping pack to all Board Members in the months between Meetings.
Where can I get more information?
Notion’s SaaS Board Workshops are run for Founders to find out more on managing Boards – ask Notion to find out when the next workshop is scheduled.
There are also a number of online resources which are worth checking out:
And look out next week for the Running an effective Board Meeting post.
Mark Ellison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a strategic partner of Notion and provides advice and consulting to Founders on working with Boards. Feel free to reach out to him for more information.
Blog produced in partnership with Mark Ellison at Tall Cedar Consulting.