The Full Day Quarterly Board Meeting

Mattermark team hanging out in KeystoneI’ve been to a gazillion board meetings. I’ve written a lot about them including a book called Startup Boards: Getting The Most Out of Your Board of Directors and piles of board meetings posts on this blog. I still do a lot of them, but I’ve definitely been on a quest the past few years to (a) figure out what works best and (b) try to organize my world around more effective board meetings based on what I’ve learned.

On Friday, I had a Mattermark board meeting. It was our second one since we invested in Q414. Danielle Morrill wrote a post in February about our first board meeting. It was a long board meeting as I’d reserved from 11am until the end of the day for it, followed by dinner together, but it was very different than the one we just had as we search for our rhythm as a board.

At the first board meeting, Danielle, Kevin, and Andy came to Boulder and spent a few days here together. In addition to the board meeting, they spent a bunch of time with founders in other Boulder-based portfolio companies of ours.

This time the Mattermark leadership team, including Sarah, BT, and Beau came to Colorado. They arrived Thursday night and drove up to my house in Keystone (about 90 minutes away). I got up early Friday morning and drove up there, getting there around 10:00am. The Mattermark gang was up, had just finished breakfast, and were doing what lots of startups do when they are hanging out waiting for an investor to show up (queue photo of people sitting around on their laptops.)

We got a little more coffee and then went downstairs into our big, comfy TV room. Last time, we worked directly in a Google Doc. This time, Danielle made a deck summarizing everything we’d been doing back and forth in via the Google Doc over the past week leading up to the board meeting. The deck looked good on our 75″ TV and we fired up Skype on a laptop at the front of the room for Lisa (who couldn’t come) and Megan (our outside counsel.)

We proceeded to spend until almost 8pm going very deep on various aspects of the business, product, product strategy, organizational dynamics, and goals for Q215. During this time, we took 90 minutes off for lunch and had a bunch of Mexican food at Fiesta Jalisco. At about 7pm we shifted into an executive session of just founders and board and then Danielle and I spent 30 minutes just doing a 1:1.

We then jumped into cars and went out to a late dinner. My favorite Sushi place Kemosabe Sushi had an hour wait so we went to Silverheels Bar and Grill next door. We were done talking business so we talked science fiction, crazy obsessive habits, fun ways everyone had met each other, and the stuff you talk about after a long day together.

They then drove back to my Keystone house to spend the rest of the weekend together. I drove home because I really wanted a weekend with Amy just hanging around and chilling out (she’s taking a nap as I write this.)

Overall, I’ve tried to shift my board meeting rhythm to once a quarter. My favorite board meetings are the ones that including the entire management team. I like to have a meal with the entire management team as part of the board meeting. I like to have social time and give the team time and space to get to know me better, and themselves better, outside the normal pressure of the day to day grind that is startup life.

I’m a very deep believer in continuous engagement with companies I’m an investor in. As a result, I do not like a monthly board meeting rhythm. I think it’s too much overhead on a leadership team and lets investor / board members off the hook for continuous engagement. More specifically, I know many investors who only really engage with companies either around the board meeting, when a transaction is going on, or when there is a crisis. While this might be useful for some people, it’s not my style nor how I like to engage.

I’ve only had a few of these “full-day retreat at my house in Keystone followed by management taking over the house” type board meetings and I really like them. I expect I’ll do more in the future and encourage any of the companies I’m on the board of to take me up on them.

  • I have been saying this for decades: I don’t want board meetings every six to eight weeks. I want them once a quarter.

    Figure out how to simplify everything you do and then get the most out of them. Figure out how to pro-rate quarterly billing, figure out how to setup as much time as you need to get things done.

    This is the only fixed time based meeting I want.

    The other meetings happen on events: the choose the feature in the next release meeting once the newest release goes to testing.

    I have always been opposed to setting meetings every Monday morning just to have them. Maybe just me.

  • Den

    always funny to see how life/events (in this case the board meeting) cross check with content on some other blogs (@avc in this case) and the comments.
    really nice to see that you invest your time and much more (house, etc…) in your portfolio teams: do you spend a lot of meetings with other board members that share as much as you ?

    • Other board members – no real consistency – it varies very widely.

  • With all due respect, if moving to quarters allows them to spend less time dealing with the big investors and more time on what they need to do to build the business, I’m all for it.

  • I’ve never been in a VC-backed company, but this seems like a very sane arrangement.

    Even after having listened to Startup Boards, this post sheds a lot of additional light on the subject.

    I own a small business and we are two directors. We have small informal meetings as often as required, and we usually have two official meetings a year, one in cottage country (North Ontario) in the summer, and one at the end of the year in a different country. It turns a needed discussion into a perk.

    • Turning a needed discussion into a perk is a great line / great approach. I will use it!

      • I’m glad you like that.

        I’m learning a lot from you.

        So it makes me feel a little bit better.

  • Matt Kruza

    Brad, Very cool idea / setup. Also very cool from my perspective to see mattermark take off and especially seeing Andy doing so well. Knew him very well at Ohio State as part of the entrepreneurship club (Business Builders Club). Hopefully he has tried to recruit you to swinging by OSU sometime in the Midwest? If he hasn’t… then I will need to get on him about that!

    • He hasn’t yet mentioned OSU…

      • Matt Kruza

        Damn.. will need to reach out to him.. its time as I haven’t talked in a while with him

      • Is this really possible?

  • Getting
    the balance right in how often, in what detail, and how you discuss
    strategic objectives and progress is tricky. As a “lifestyle business
    owner” – i.e. deliberate encore career that is devoid of big corporate
    processes and equity is held to take full control of your focus, time,
    and decisions – this periodicity and depth of team engagement appeals to
    me.

    • He hasn’t yet mentioned OSU…

    • In my first company, which was a cashflow business (I like that term better than lifestyle business) we had two of these meetings a year with the board (me, my partner Dave, and my dad Stan). We made weekends out of them. It was great and amazingly helpful.

  • Honestly this sounds like fun not work.

    A day dedicated digging deeply into business problems with other smart dedicated people – sounds like the dream…

  • Whilst sitting preparing for our monthly upcoming formal Board meeting I pondered over your post for a moment. In some ways I would love the excellent advice I get from my Board more often (although they always answer emails), I sometimes wish they could be engaged directly, and the Board meeting comes across as a slightly inhuman way of posturing about the business in a format which resembles more of a CEO monologue report with not enough time to actually dig deep – although the overhead of suggestions from it take a month to recover from haha 🙂

    So I know i’m doing it a bit wrong (I did watch those videos you posted a month ago), but having our Board so geographically separated how can we get an essence of the feeling at that Mattermark Board meeting day..?

    • 1. Have everyone invest in video conferencing. Force the meeting to be video, rather than conference calls.

      2. Do something special for the people who show up in person.

      Basically – encourage REAL interaction rather than pro-forma activity on the end of a conference call.

      • For next time for sure.. we just did the meeting, it was a bit dry with just a conference call over the phone and hard to judge people’s reactions..

  • Wil Schroter

    Brad if you had to guess how much of a board meeting like this is about personal interconnection versus key business decisions?

    • This is “business decision focused” with a strong underpinning / dose of personal connections.

  • JLM

    .
    Good story and thank you for sharing.

    This was not really a board meeting; it was something more.

    As a guy who was a CEO for 33 years and had more than my fair share of board meetings this would have driven me crazy. I like two hour board meetings four times a year and I can get the board where it needs to be to discharge its fiduciary duties in that period of time. Of course, I did it for a long time including public companies.

    On the other hand, this is excellent investment leadership and this is why it was much more than a board meeting. It was team building.

    Teams are not groups that just work together; teams are groups that TRUST each other.

    You were building trust in a singular way that is consistent with your own personal leadership style. Lending your company your house in Keystone was a very nice and smart touch. That is savvy and thoughtful.

    Well played.

    JLM
    http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

    • Unfortunately, I don’t have a different phrase for this than “board meeting” right now. I wish I did.

      • JLM

        .
        I have a name for it.

        For $20 — bitcoin is not OK — I will tell you the name. Price good until sundown then it goes up.

        I would not normally charge for such info but I had a lot of money on Wisconsin last night. I am trying to recoup my staggering losses.

        JLM
        http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

  • calagc

    Rhythm meetings. Hmmm…Verne Harnish (gazelles.com) helped us find religion on that one. In conjunction with KPIs & digging to find our leading indicators has really helped us at Data Science Automation. How soon do you track such metrics and how frequently do you define/revise new metrics?

  • Super interesting!

    We are setup to have monthly Board meetings with our portfolio companies, on the basis that so much can happen in a month let alone a quarter. But ours are usually 2 hours only which can result in a struggle to go deep across a number of issues.

    I love the idea of an extended affair every few months. But my question is how do you go about engaging with the company in between those periods?

    ps. Almost finished your book on Startup Boards – I paused to read a book on yahoo.

    • Brad engages with us a bunch of different ways. Slack and email are probably our best channels. He is in Slack with the whole company, and participates in a wide range of conversations that interest him. We also have integrations between our CRM and Slack, so he can see notifications as deals close and people sign up. It’s pretty cool! Email is better for longer form communication and conversation with multiple people around strategy that plays out over days or weeks. Hope that helps!

      • Danielle – super helpful. Thank you.

        Btw- I need to reschedule a time with Nick to give him a download of the Australian VC landscape.

  • You are my hero for this. Also, what a way to win a deal. What founder wouldn’t want this type of interaction and advice. Well done.

    • Thanks, but it’s not about winning the deal for me. It’s just the way I work.

      • Of course, just meant it’s a good selling point in eye of the founder who wants active participation from their investor.

  • I think you are very innovative in everything you do, and that is probably an important factor in your great success.
    Expanding that, generally, people spend a lot of time saying do this, do that, but not as much time about how to create and expand innovation in all aspects of the business.

  • Brian Johnson

    This is a refreshing take on board meetings. With that said, one of the challenges I have seen with with board meetings is getting the right people involved. This might sound silly due to the fact that board members are appointed by the board. However, in many cases you have a set of “board observers” who want to be involved. Some times this can bring some unwanted bloat to the table and take the meeting into a tangent. I can’t imagine an entire day of that :). Maybe a mixture of “retreat” board meetings w/ shorter traditional board meetings? Side note – Happy to see you are super involved with your companies. We are also very fortunate to have very active and helpful Angel investors. Turns out finding angels who are interested in truly being active is a rare thing.

    • Yup – that is a problem. I am not a big fan of observers at board meetings with very limited exceptions. I especially get tired of observers who are either simply a proxy for a board member or a way for a firm to bring power to the meeting by have another person in the room.

      I would always leave it up to the CEO to decide whether or not observers made sense for a full day meeting / retreat like this. I expect some would and some wouldn’t.

  • From the photo, looks like they finished up breakfast with some wine! Is that a new effectiveness strategy? I bet my team would love that one! ;~)

    • That was an afternoon photo… But, it’s never too early for apres ski if you don’t ski.

  • Kimberly Klemm

    This is wonderful and definitely points to wisdom in the “hands-on” approach to knowing the people you have invested in and working to have time before the “red alerts” that can arise where business issues can become few and far between due to up-front preventive engagement. I like your approach…

  • We got a little more coffee and then went downstairs into our big, comfy TV room.

  • I like this style for quarterly board meetings…seems more effective to drive business strategy…1x month becomes more of a status report. I’ll have to read more of your posts on board meetings.