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Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors

• Martin Babinec

This post was prompted by Brad Feld’s release of the Startup Boards 2nd edition.  I’ve been sharing the original since it was published 10 years ago, frequently shipping a copy to founders when I closed on a seed to Series A investment.   This 2nd edition is packed with new content I find useful for not only startup founders, but also seasoned CEOs ready to do a gut check comparing their board with the book’s suggested best practices.

Learning about boards is an overlooked founder priority

For most founders, the onset of bringing on institutional investors triggers awareness of governance and responsibilities of a board. Though even at that stage, I’ve found it’s a rare early stage entrepreneur that grasps the priority of investing the necessary time and energy for learning how to build and manage a board of directors.

More typically, first time founders look to their venture investors for guidance on board composition, development and process – without realizing that the entrepreneur’s following rather than leading, is a huge missed opportunity to develop critical competency necessary to evolve as CEO through and beyond the growth stage of their company.

Once investor backed company CEOs start being held accountable to hitting growth targets, a founder’s narrowing focus to revenue and customer traction can drive attention further inward, coming at the expense of proper expectation setting and engagement at the board level.  Not surprisingly, many founder departures happen when the company hits inevitable speed bumps in the growth stage, where the mix of managing both above and below is new territory for the entrepreneur CEO.

Working together on a whiteboard

The book is a truly a field guide that founders may read through once, then find themselves going back for reference when board issues start rising to top of mind.

Understanding the basics of a board’s purpose, roles and functions lays the foundation for those just beginning their board journey.

A full chapter on VCs as board members demystifies several dynamics that can help immensely in forging productive VC Board member relationships.

Seeing best practices on how to recruit, interview, compensate and communicate with board members are all key, as is the understanding of why having a blend of independent directors is so critical.

With 34 years on TriNet’s board, seeing the arc of that evolution through challenging growth stages, (including rigors of the public market), gives me special appreciation for how the guidance in this book is spot on.

Buy it now and you’ll have the chance to take more control over your future by seeing the connection between good governance and successful companies.

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