My friends Matt and Brad started a company called Windsor Circle and recently raised $350k to build e-commerce integration software. Matt led his first board meeting a couple weeks ago and, prior to the meeting, emailed me and another local start-up CEO - Doug from Spring Metrics - to ask about "the three things to keep in mind" for early stage start-up board meetings.
Here is a summary of my response to Matt's message:
1. Be careful that you don't spend too much time talking about product minutia. We spend maybe 10 minutes of every board meeting talking about the product. It is usually a description of what we've done and what we're doing next...and how it will help us generate more revenue.
This might seem counter-intuitive to lean-start-up-product-driven entrepreneurs - Doug actually disagreed very strongly in a follow-up email. The reality is that we OBSESS over our product and our customers at Argyle. Aside from prioritizing projects, product development is the part of our business that I worry about the least. (This is a testament to our product team - Adam, Mike, & Josh.) So I prefer to use our board meetings to talk about business-building issues.
2. You shouldn't show your board a number, forecast, etc. unless you can explain in detail where it came from or at least explain the assumptions you made when you derived it. I've gotten called out on lazy numbers a few times, so I've learned this one the hard way. This mainly applies to forecasts and goals - actuals are generally pretty easy to explain.
3. You'll get MUCH more value talking about the future than reviewing the recent past. The standard metrics and reports are important and it is obviously very important to understand how these numbers drive your business. But it is also very easy to get caught up in details that don't matter nearly as much as pending decisions around fundraising, recruiting, partnerships, customer acquisition, etc.
I'm no expert in board meetings. And I'll be the first to admit I was pretty terrified when I led our first board meeting back in October. And I'll further admit that I've got MUCH to learn about being a CEO and running an effective board. But I think we do a pretty good job focusing on key issues at the board level.