Question of the week #14
This past week I spent some time with the team at Curbed Media. We had a really positive board meeting during the day and that night I went to their holiday party. I was speaking with the President of the company about how far we have all come. We all probably just knew enough to be dangerous when the company raised the first round of capital. As a board member for the past five years, I feel like I have learned and grown right alongside the company. So this particular question was a great one to answer this week.
What was your 1st board seat? What did you do?
Funny enough my first board seat was when I chaired MOUSE. Nothing like starting at the top. I took a few seats at that time but MOUSE was the first. Being a chairperson of a non-profit organization was an experience in itself. At that point I was more apt to rule like a dictator but I quickly learned that nothing gets done that way. I spent time speaking with each board member prior to a meeting, getting everyone on board to get something passed before the meeting, focusing on a few things at once that we could accomplish at a board level by not spending too much time in the weeds. The weeds are meant for the Executive Director not the Board Chair. It was a good lesson to learn.
My first board seat on a start-up was with a company called UPOC. Universal Point of Contact. The founder was a partner at Silicon Alley Reporter and one of my best friends. I invested in the company and took the board seat. I spent a lot of time making sure the board did not screw him which is not a good seat to be in. The lead investor was terrible. He had no idea how to really help a company grow. He just showed up at every meeting expecting that everything we discussed doing at the prior board meeting must have been accomplished without him getting involved. They hired a new CEO to replace my friend and I felt they had chose the wrong one. In the end, I was right, the company eventually closed shop and there most definitely could have been an exit that would have been good for everyone involved.
What I learned from each of those experiences have been invaluable as I have taken what I have learned and applied it to every board I am involved with now. The two things that really stand out are make sure that everyone is on the same page before a board meeting. It makes for a much more productive meeting when everything is flushed out before hand. That way everyone is given a chance to chime in on the process before a decision is made. The second thing is probably the most important. Don't take money just to take money. You want investors who understand you and your product. You want investors who really want to work for you and with you. You can not get rid of your investors but they can get rid of you. Hiring a new CEO made sense at UPOC but the one they chose made me realize that the people running the deal had really no sense of what the company could do.
I continue to learn at every turn. Each board is different. Each company has a different set of issues. It is really experience that has made me a better board member and you never stop learning.