Mar 29 2013

This board is on fire!

As Brad and I are putting finishing touches to the book “Startup Boards”, a friend alerted me to something you don’t see often. A “job posting” for a “Board Member” on LinkedIn !

Seeking Board Member - Linked in Ad JPEG

What more, over a hundred people had applied. “Its on fire” as Linkedin points out. Would a startup board member be recruited via an advertisement? Unlikely. Startup boards are driven by (a) relationships  of lead investor (b) skills and experience of the board member. Many times a VC will say “We should have this person on the board because….” Often, the independent board seats go unfilled. As the VCs network tends to be larger, the responsibility of shaping the board defaults to them.  First time CEOs / founders do not necessarily pay much attention in shaping their board – this needs to change (a point we emphasize strongly in this book). Often, the closing of the first round of capital is such a romantic high, or a relief, that CEOs and founders ignore the board structure and its possible dynamics. This comes back to haunt the entrepreneurs later, especially during tougher times.

Here are a few lessons we learn from eGain’s advertisement:

First, define the role: The ad is pithy and succinct. (See full text of this ad: eGain Board Member position description ) The four bullet points you see above summarize the role of the board member. CEO selection and their performance assessment is the primary role of any board member. The secondary role is to assist the CEO in anyway possible. Yet, notice the one and only qualifier: the applicant must have been a C-Level executive in a Global 500 B2C corporation. If a board member has walked in the shoes of a CEO, they know how to support a CEO well.

Cast your net wide: What are some tactics founders use to search for board members ? If you rely only on your network, you may not know what you are missing. As they say, if you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got. If you played with the same people all your life, the game will be predictive. LinkedIn offers interesting ways to search for board members. Mark Rogers, an entrepreneur who often writes about board matters has started a company Board Prospects to help find and recruit board members. Some founders we talked to have used recruiters to cast a wide net. Others have scoured public company 10-Ks to find the best and brightest. The best CEOs recruit a board member, as you would recruit an executive of your team, says ReturnPath CEO, Matt Blumberg. Some of his blogs on boards are worth reading.  

Monitor their performance: So once you hire an executive, good CEOs ask – is this relationship working? Does this person listen and get along with others ? (Chemistry is often the primary cause of disruptions) Do they serve the company ? Or just their own egos? Do they say what they are going to do – and then live up to it? In Startup Boards, we present simple ways to assess your board’s performance. In my book,  “The Business of Venture Capital” I have a whole chapter highlighting how good VCs add value on startup boards. Finally, if you think a board member is wasting their time and yours, call them out. Your startup is your life – its way too precious to be treated in a cavalier, lackadaisical manner.

eGain’s board member advertisement is short and simple. And its on fire – 124 people are trying to be on its board. As a startup CEO, it offers simple lessons – define the role, cast your net wide and let the best and brightest compete to be on your board.