For most companies, a board of directors (“the board”) helps provide oversight, resources, and experience to keep the company on the right path. But, for many founders, there’s no clear playbook on how to work with the board or how to make a great board meeting deck. If anything, boards tend to be a black box.
We sat down with Woodrow “Woody” Levin, an experienced founder, lawyer, board member at DraftKings and most recently, the founder and CEO of Extend, to learn how the best companies work with their boards. Here’s what he had to say.
Prepare in advance; use a board deck template
There shouldn’t be surprises in a board meeting. This means building and circulating a good deck in advance. It should be professional, but it doesn’t have to be perfectly designed.
To help companies understand what should go in a deck, we’ve built a template, which you can download here:
Download the board deck template
The deck should include an executive update, financials, performance against agreed upon KPIs, key hires, highlights, and risks. While these metrics will change as you grow in size or develop new products, it’s important to consistently track the same metrics across board meetings to demonstrate trends.
For earlier stage companies, it’s common to have decks that are 15-20 pages, and at later stages, they may be 50-60 slides—–far more than can be covered in 4-5 hours, but enough to provide the information directors need. Typically, these should be circulated 1-2 days before the meeting so directors can come to the meeting prepared to discuss.
An important part of the CEO’s job is to make sure the board knows what’s going on, and the deck is one way of accomplishing this.
Finally, Woody suggests dinners before the meeting as a more relaxed way for the board to talk about the business in a more informal, relaxed setting, and get some of the major discussion out of the way.
Bring on the right people
The makeup of a board varies by stage, but one constant is the importance of diversity. “This means diversity of thought, experience, gender, opinion, etc.” says Woody. “It’s important to be able to lean on the board for different things, and diversity helps.” You might have some directors with deep finance backgrounds, others with product or technical backgrounds, and others with deep industry experience, depending on the space you’re in.
At earlier stages, the board is usually made up of founders and lead investors. These boards help with introductions to potential employees, partners and customers, and provide input on the direction of the company in terms of hiring, product roadmap, go-to-market, and fundraising. Earlier stage companies may not have the luxury of recruiting outside directors, but can do so opportunistically.
As companies grow, executive teams and boards typically start thinking about more complex fundraising, and eventually, IPOs and acquisitions. At that point, experienced directors with expertise on those processes are key. The company may also consider board committees, around Series D or later. Board committees may focus on compensation, audit, and eventually governance, and are comprised of people with deep experience in those areas.
Make specific asks
To get as much value out of the board as possible, it’s important that CEOs make specific asks of board members in areas where they can help. Some examples are introductions to potential executive hires or customers. CEOs can also ask for advice on issues or questions they’re struggling with, such as org structure, product roadmap, executive team, or go-to-market plans.
It’s typically good to make these asks at the end of the board meeting, or over email between meetings if it’s more urgent, since it requires follow-up action items and shouldn’t be the main focus of the board meeting.
Demystify board meetings for your employees
Around board meetings, it’s common to feel a palpable buzz around the office. We’re noticing a trend where the best run companies are shedding light on board meetings to their internal teams, and being candid about the board’s feedback. At Extend, Woody provides this level of transparency by hosting an informal afternoon gathering for employees and the board, where he walks through the board deck and answers questions.
We believe that employees are starting to expect this level of transparency.
Get on board
The best CEOs provide the right level of transparency and timely information in both directions: to the board, and to their internal teams.
Finally, the best founders are busy running their companies day-to-day, not spending all their time preparing for quarterly meetings. That’s why Carta has built assets to help streamline board workflows, including both our board deck and board tools.