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The Startup Board of Directors - Get Your Board Onboard

Once you found your startup, you will quite immediately need to establish a board of directors. That is the law. In the US and in Israel, every company must have a board that includes at least one member.[1] This body leads general policy and supervision. But beyond the law, when utilized correctly, a startup can greatly benefit from a board to develop and execute the startup’s long-term strategic goals.

Diversify your team

Don’t take the composition of your board lightly. By balancing engineers and business people, you stand a greater chance of bringing more creative problem solving skills to the table. Also, you should not wait until the board meeting to understand where members stand on important topics. Set lunches with board members and get to know them. Very soon you will come to realize that the discussions prior to votes define the decisions. In addition, having independent board members join early on (especially CEOs from other companies) can provide a more objective view balancing between an idealistic minded CEO and board members tied to the financials of the company.

Structure your meetings

With all that goes into getting a startup running, it’s hard to make time to examine where you are headed. Board meeting are a great chance to take a step back from day-to-day activities and focus on the company’s overall game plan. Because many startups get caught up with short term goals, it’s important to set an effective structure for meetings. Board members should know the agenda ahead of time and be asked to submit topics they wish to discuss. It is possible to avoid the trap of meetings in which the CEO presents in front of the board and subjects himself to their scrutiny. Instead, you can create a discussion by providing board members in advance with a board packet including all topics covered and sitting everyone in a round table. Some CEOs even go so far as to put silly questions within the packet that they ask as part of the discussion, just to see whether the members actually read the material handed out.

Put them to work

Certainly the board will hold expectations from the CEO, but the CEO can also set assignments for the board. Take hold of the opportunity for board members to take on tasks rather than sit and throw arrows at your ideas. Move the focus from where to put a button on a website to macroeconomic issues such as what has changed in the market since the last meeting and whether it affects your company's position. Board members will largely be more equipped to provide good input on the business side instead of product. For example, a board member can lead an operational committee that specifically gives recommendations on structuring a merger and acquisition deal.

Close the loop

Send a note with a recap of key discussions. Summarizing the issues you discussed in your board meeting creates a structure of continual conversation. This tool will also be effective in setting up the next meeting as you can address what was discussed, the steps that were taken and their outcomes.

Last tip - don’t get fired by your own board

If you’ve followed Steve Jobs’ story, you might recall that early on at Apple, he was fired by Apple’s board, before eventually returning to run the company. If you are a founder, to avoid this kind of issue, create a permanent role for yourself that is separate from the CEO.