Beyond the Pitch
5 Steps to Building a World-class Board of Directors…Here’s How You Start
“There are some people who, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell them.” –Yogi Berra
This Yogi-ism is one of my favorites and a great message for anyone who is working to bat or catch like a superstar.
Whether in baseball or business, no single one of us knows it all.
Coachable entrepreneurs will recognize that “don’t know it all” is especially true when it comes to creating and working with a Board of Directors, especially for the first time.
There’s a lot to learn and many great local experts to learn from.
Building and working with a board is sort of like playing in the major leagues—you can’t truly learn how to do it until you’re at the plate. But you don’t have to wait until you’re closing in on your Series A Round to prepare.
These five tips can help you building board know-how early on.
1. Overcome any reluctance to ask for help. If you have any hesitation about making a phone call or sitting down with someone to ask advice, get over it. A good first step is talking with an advisor or experienced entrepreneur.
The point is to become comfortable with revealing what you don’t know—by asking lots of questions, and being willing to acknowledge that it’s okay that you don’t have all the answers (or for that matter, even all the questions).
2. There’s a time to learn and a time to act. Charging forward and inviting a bunch of folks to be on your Board of Directors (or even a Board of Advisors) doesn’t belong at the top of any entrepreneur’s first 12-month’s priority list. Validating the market always, always comes first.
As you figure out your value proposition and reach out to talk to potential customers, do be mindful of people in the industry who are willing to help you with advice, expertise, or introductions. This “warm” network of connections will be invaluable when you are ready to build a board.
3. Map out a networking plan. The goal is to build your own personal directory of people who can help your startup grow. There’s a lot of learned knowledge to gain from the entrepreneurial ecosystem right in our own backyard. Get to know people personally. Set up a system to collect the names and contact information of the people you meet.
4. Create a team of advisors. Too many times entrepreneurs come in the door looking for money when what they need most is mentoring. When you’ve advanced to the prototype stage, create a team of two to three advisors who have skills and experience where you don’t. You might benefit most from a technology expert or the leadership perspective of a serial entrepreneur. You might need branding and market development know-how or the fiscal or accounting guidance from a CFO.
5. Start reading up on board-building best practices. Boards are just like every other aspect of entrepreneurship. There are ways to it better and ways to do it worse.
Start building your personal knowledge about board operations or the legal implications for board governance by reading Building Great Boards by Dave Berkus. He’s a nationally recognized entrepreneur, angel investor, and board member serving more than 40 companies.
Or, check out Chapter 8 of Biotechnology Entrepreneurship: Starting, Managing, and Leading Biotech Companies by Craig Shimasaki. Craig’s target audience is in biotech, but I wrote this chapter on relationships with all entrepreneurs in mind.
And a bonus tip:
6. Get your mental game right. Whether you believe that a Board of Directors is one of the most powerful assets that any entrepreneur or startup can have or whether you believe that a Board of Directors is an adversary, you are right. A successful and productive board relationship and process all has to do with the entrepreneur’s attitude and the people that sit on the board.
And now, back to Yogi.
He is widely recognized as one of the best catchers of all time. He also proved to be a great coach and manager—especially during the 10 years he was with the Mets—managing them to the World Series in 1973.
Odds are that he learned how to be a great coach by being coachable.
That’s another important message for entrepreneurs.
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