My Favorite Board Meetings

When we first raised an investment round in 2007, SEOmoz’s board of directors (consisting of Michelle Goldberg from Ignition, Gillian & myself from Moz, Kelly Smith from Curious Office and Sarah Bird as secretary/counsel) would meet nearly every month. Over time, that became every 2-3 months and now it’s quarterly. Unlike some CEOs, I’ve (almost) never dreaded or stressed for a board meeting. They’re one of my favorite parts of the company.

Brad Feld, our newest investor, has some great thoughts and posts about board meetings, but he and I actually disagree about some elements of what to include/exclude.

For example, I really like a board meeting that runs like this:

  • Team sends out board packet with everyone’s slides 48 hours in advance of the meeting
  • COO/CFO/VP Finance presents financial/operations performance (10-15 slides, 20-30 minutes)
  • CMO/VP Marketing presents non-financial growth metrics (3-5 slides, 10-20 minutes)
  • CPO/VP Product presents product-related growth metrics (3-5 slides, 10-20 minutes)
  • CTO/VP Engineering presents technology-related metrics (3-5 slides, 10-20 minutes)
  • CEO shares a roadmap and future plans for the quarter ahead (3-5 slides, 10-20 minutes)
  • Possibly 1-2 non-exec team members present to the board on important projects/areas for feedback (3-5 slides, 10-20 minutes)
  • Any big issues facing the company are discussed with the executive team and board (1 slide or no slides are fine, setup slides if required, 2+ hours)
  • Exec team departs, discussion/approval of board-member-specific items (30 minutes)
  • Reflect on/suggest improvements for next board meeting (5 minutes)

The board meeting is a great place to talk about key issues facing the company, but I don’t like it being the only thing that happens at a board meeting. They are a great opportunity for the team to present the business as they see it and to get feedback from board members on the metrics that are missing, those that may lead to interesting questions or decisions, and those that seem wrong or troubling. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to have non-eteam members of the company summarize and deliver updates on their project and get very high-level feedback from smart folks.

Unlike Brad, I also prefer to have the “board-specific business” at the end of the meeting, mostly because items often arise during the other discussions that lead to board action. It’s also a good time to discuss the performance of eteam members, and the board will have those folks fresh in their minds.

That said, I do love a lot of Brad’s ideas – the concept of making the metrics presentations short and sweet, of sending out the decks a couple days in advance, the dinner the night before/after (which I’d really love – never done that, but I bet it would be fantastic).

In my ideal world, board meetings last ~4-5 hours and happen after lunch. They’re also in-person (Brad Skyped into our last board meeting and it’s clearly not the same as having him in the room. I Skyped into a board meeting a couple months ago and that also barely worked). You need people in a room, together, face-to-face to get the full value of their contributions.

Finally, I think the biggest improvement I want to make from board meetings in the future is to carefully record the conversations that get passionate, involved and interesting, and follow up with the board on those pieces. Oftentimes, someone will offer to help make an introduction, do some research, lean on their network for info, or take some other form of action, and without diligent follow-ups, that task is left ignored.

I also really liked Brad’s advice for CEOs to be on at least one other board of directors outside their own company. I’ve been doing this for the past 8 months and I’ve learned a ton. I’ll likely write about that in the near future.