Our expert panel at Runway East Moorgate, from left: Jonathan McKay, Chairman of JustGiving, Kieran O’Neill, CEO of Thread, Pete Ward, CEO of WAYN and William Reeve, CEO of Hubbub
Conflict. Division. Disagreement – a startup CEO might be forgiven for thinking this is all their startup board seems to offer.
So Upscale and ICE assembled an expert panel of founders to share their tips for boardroom bliss with a packed audience of London tech founders. We’ve cherry picked a few of the choicest morsels of advice our panel gave for getting the most out of your board…
Put in the time with your board or risk consequences
Putting the time in with your board outside the boardroom is crucial to maintaining relationships and consensus. Chairman of JustGiving Jonathan McKay warned ‘avoid key decisions being fought out in the boardroom. You have to put in the time beforehand’, whilst Pete Ward of WAYN said ‘before you go to the meeting you should already know what your opinions are and have socialised it with the people in there.’ Informally sounding out your board members thoughts and opinions means that when you get to the boardroom you’re more likely to avoid arguments and achieve consensus.
Utilise an Advisory Board
Our panel was unanimous in backing the benefits of advisory boards. William Reeve of Hubbub recounted how at his previous role with Graze, the snack subscription service they brought in a ‘food advisory board that really nailed it’. Kieran O’Neill of Thread had a similarly optimistic view of his advisory board, saying ‘we book a meeting even if we don’t have anything to talk about. You always end up talking about something interesting.’
And make sure they know they’re valued
When you’re bootstrapping your advisory board might consist of a table in the quiet corner of the pub, but when your startup is funded you have to reward your startup board for their efforts. ‘Common compensation is equity of ⅓ of a point over 2 years – you need to clarify what you expect from each other up front’ says Kieran O’Neill – and Jonathan McKay concurs. ‘Make room for them in the next round’ – or they might not have room for you.
You can’t hide bad news in the board pack
Bad quarter? Well according to our panel there’s no place to hide, no matter how small you make the font on page forty three. Kieran cautioned ‘there should not be a surprise. Bad news needs to be shared earlier’. Trying to hide bad news from your startups board, or spring it upon them in the last minute may damage relationships and prevent them from being as helpful as they can to fix any problems.
Pick a Chairman who knows everyone
William Reeve, having been a CEO in front of a startup board and a Chairman in charge of one, recommends picking a chairman ‘who knows the entire cap table’. A Chairman with good links to the board members is more likely to be able to build consensus and settle disputes – conversely, one without any prior connections may struggle to be effective.