Startup Boards: A Case Study
Guest Post By Eric Remer – PaySimple – (Founder & CEO)
On the morning of January 16th, I read your blog post, The Best Approach to a Board Package. The post got my attention for two reasons. First, the recommendation was simple and contrarian. Second, my company, PaySimple, had a scheduled board meeting 13 days later. PaySimple has been in business for six years, and before founding the company, I started two other companies and worked as an investment banker. In short, I had been to a lot of board meetings, and I had experienced many of the same frustrations discussed in this post. Board meetings are often “ineffective, poorly run, or just plain boring,” as you said. Although I have had informative and successful board meetings in the past and have done my best to create the most relevant and engaging meetings for my directors, it always felt like a flat presentation to a group of people who at times would rather be somewhere else.
The suggestion raised in this post was aimed at creating a genuinely engaged conversation with management and the board, and the concept was simple to implement. The post alluded to the strange practice of sending out a board package days ahead and then, days later, simply reviewing that same package. Your idea was to create an “interactive board package” by posting the board materials in advance on Google Docs and then inviting all the attendees to read, consume, react and comment publicly (to the closed group) in the Google Doc.
So we did it. And it required, as you said, almost no behavior or technology shift. This suggestion was especially timely in that this meeting was a big year-end review and budget review for 2013. So we had a tremendous amount of important material. Focus would be especially helpful.
Three days ahead, we posted our materials on Google Docs and requested feedback. We followed the prescription from the post to a tee. After receiving comments, we sat as an executive team and crafted a new agenda and a (very) few new slides directly commenting on some of the questions that required quantitative analysis.
The meeting was fantastic! Focused, engaged, and very helpful for the board and management. We thought we would be quicker than our four-hour allowable, but the board members were so engaged that we used all the time staying laser focused on the hardest issues. There were no departmental presentations. No regurgitation. Very little multi-tasking on cell phones. Just a vibrant back and forth conversation. At the end of this meeting, I experienced a sense of alignment and understanding at a level I hadn’t experienced before with my boards. Our board members loved the new format, and we have definitely created a new baseline for board meetings at PaySimple.
What will I change going forward? First, I would get the board package out a full week ahead of the meeting and request comments within three days. This will minimize some of the haste (which was fun once, but might be less fun every quarter) of preparing the game-day agenda. Second, I may find more opportunities for my managers to engage. The topics covered at this particular meeting were often more global issues that entailed more activity from me personally. I think it is great when each member of my team gets an opportunity to vibrantly interact with the board. This issue may shift naturally depending on the topics that the board wants to focus upon, but it is something to be aware of. It is clear to me that the more engagement up front, the more engagement on meeting day.
This post transformed our board meeting process. It was a huge win for PaySimple.