Start-up Board Presentation Best Practices

For start-ups, this is the early part of the “next quarter” that means board meeting time.  I’ve finally got around to writing Part One of the more detailed version of the Board Presentation discussion.  The original post is here.

And while much of this discussion will apply to the board of directors for just about any company, the ones that I’ve had extensive experience with are the more early-stage boards for public and private technology-oriented companies … so that’s what we’re talking about here.

With this topic, it’s important to state what I believe the TYPICAL role of the Board of Directors is within an early-stage start-up:  At the most basic level, the Board is responsible for overseeing executive management, providing analysis and council for management decisions, and protecting the interests of the company and all classes of its shareholders. The earlier stage the company or the more inexperienced the management team, the more likely the board will be “hands on” with these responsibilities. The primary conduit of the board’s influence and input to the company should be through the CEO because this reinforces a healthy hierarchy: company management reports into the CEO; the CEO reports to the board.

And because the board must be able to hold the company’s executive team accountable for decisions and good/bad execution, the board should not take on operational responsibilities or make operational decisions in lieu of management…instead, the board should be close council.  Here is where the board of directors meetings and the board book itself play a critical role:  the board must have sufficient, accurate information to analyze and understand management’s proposed decisions and strategy.  The board book is the vehicle to convey this information and should therefore be carefully assembled to provide accurate, transparent and non-biased (this is the hardest part) information.

So with that, let’s talk about the first important slide in the board presentation:

Slide #1:  The CEO Update Slide / Section

In my opinion its really important for the CEO to own the kick-off of the board meeting and I highly recommend a “CEO update” as the first item in the presentation and up for discussion. Although it makes sense to actually build that slide last having seen the flow of material forom the entire board presentation; it consists of at least the following sections:  Highlights, Key objectives or goals, and Issues.

Why is this important:  The CEO Update is your unique opportunity to set the tone of the meeting and set the context for the company-affecting items (good and bad) that we’re going to discuss in the board meeting. To let anyone else / other material come before your CEO update takes that control away from you.  This is a small part of successfully communicating with and managing the board of directors over time – which, in general, is perhaps one of the most important things that a good CEO must become skilled at doing.

CEO Update Suggestions:

  • What is the general state of the business?  Good  Bad?  Why?  Why Not?
    • Here, it’s important to have a balanced take on what is good and what is not so good.  Being overly positive, overly negative or overly emotional can cause confusion on the board:  are you hiding something?  Are you overwhelmed?  What are you really trying to say?
    • Pragmatic, non-emotional assessment based on facts is critical.
    • If you are giving your opinion, then clearly state that this is opinion versus fact.  This is the essence of transparency.
    • What did the company do really well since the last board meeting?
    • What did the company struggle with since the last board meeting?  Why?  How will you be addressing that going forward?
  • Were there quarterly company goals?  If so, how did the company do relative to the board-approved plan?  What are the goals for this coming quarter?  Why these the right goals?
  • What context can you provide now in order to facilitate the discussions we’re about to have in the remainder of the meeting?

For each slide (especially when dealing with business metrics), try to anticipate what the questions might be.   Then, of course, answer those proactively or eliminate them based on how you put the slide/info together.  You need to have well-reasoned logic based on as much data as possible.  Basically, when you pose a question or problem in a board meeting, you as CEO are asking the board to at least pontificate on the issue if not directly pitch in and help…if you have an opinion on that same issue, you should make that clear so the expectation is set.