You Need a BoD Now

Angel Investor, CEO Succession, early stage, SaaS

How to design a board of directors

By Tom Nora

There was an article recently in VentureBeat about how much control the startup CEO founder has over his/her board of directors. Unfortunately, this actually isn’t true in most cases, especially for first time founders, for many reasons.

Many factors come into play in early board formation including the founder’s goals, investors, cofounders, early appointees, family, friends. A well designed board can be the critical driving force in making a startup successful; while the wrong board can create disagreements, misdirection, angry members, awkward board dismissals, power struggles and can actually bring a company down.

First time founders usually aren’t sure how to populate the board, and first money from FFF (friends, family, fools) blinds them a bit to their best instincts.

Typical Pre-Funded Board

Here is the typical order of board formation before any professional funding comes in:

1. Founder/CEO

2. at least one Co-Founder

3. FFF

then maybe…

3. a “grown up” – former boss, relative, early (non-professional) investor

4. industry luminary

This is the group that must help grow the company properly, attract professional funding and make industrial strength business decisions. Most of this 1.0 group don’t have much experience, i.e. what it means to be on a board, how to optimize it, what the points of leverage are, what a natural disagreement is vs. a problem of discord. Usually the group is not experienced or cognizant enough to optimize this asset early on.

A Better Way

Here I’ll lay out some key steps to making this organization an asset rather than one with little to negative value.

Step 1 – The Founding Team
It’s fine to have the founder and maybe one cofounder on the board; after all that’s all you have to draw from. The key to success here is to STUDY the topic, learn everything you can, follow proper board.

Also, internally you can determine if and when you actually have something worthy of funding – you must have a real business that is operating – product(s), spreadsheets, a team, Revenues?; asking outsiders to get involved too early can be the kiss of death. I see this happen a lot.

Step 2 – Get Outside Help
In any startup ecosystem these days there are many people who have an interest in your business. The word “Startup” now gets their attention. Among these people are professionals that can get involved as a board member, but how do you do it? Which ones should be advisors instead? Are there consultants that help with this? If you’re near Stanford or in San Francisco, every other person you meet almost seems appropriate, but don’t be fooled. You want people who are qualified but also who come to you via an organic process – you read about them, stumble upon them, meet them.

Listen to these signals. For example, in Los Angeles right now the problem is that a majority of those you meet fall below the level of “qualified” – they’re out there networking but have never sat on a real board or led a startup. Keep asking around and you’ll find the right people. And remember, make sure you have a real company first.

Contact me if you have a going company and this is a hole for you, I’m one of the people I mention above who can help. But not if you just have an idea, or are thinking about starting a company, those are a dime a dozen.

Advertisements

TALK LESS! (or, the fine art of Sales)

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

The current massive movement of new startups is an awesome moment in our time. The power of the individual is unprecedented.

But one of the problems with the new would be all-functions entrepreneur is lack of training in some of the key areas of entrepreneurship – SALES skills. The technology has changed, but the art of selling and closing sales has not. Humans make decisions by being convinced by other humans, even if the convincing is implemented by automation, data mining, and semantics. Respect the human sales skills.

In most of the pitches I get from early stagers these days, they start talking and demoing and don’t know when to quit. They keep “selling” me. This one one of the most fundamental mistakes of selling. It’s much better to say as little as possible, then shut up and listen as much as possible. Pretend you’re interviewing the other person and you want them to talk. You’ll be amazed.

When I hear a pitch, I want to ask questions, probe, dig deeper into specific subjects. If someone talks too much I often forget or lose interest in my original questions. I also feel like they must be a bit desperate. The other night someone was trying to show me a demo of their mobile app in a loud bar. Since we couldn’t hear the audio, they were trying to scream the features to me. Very sad demo.

So don’t talk so much, listen more, you’ll close more sales.  @tomnora

The Art of Sales by Alec Baldwin :

http://j.mp/ILFWw3