written by
Johan van Mil

How to run an effective advisory board meeting

Venture Capital 3 min read

In my role as co-founder & managing partner of VC fund Peak Capital, and also as a founder of multiple companies, I have seen how advisory board meetings can create a lot of value and energy for the people attending. Unfortunately, I have also run into board meetings that end up being an energy drain due to various reasons. For those founders and (future) advisory board members, I would like to share my experience and firm beliefs on what you should do to maximize the value of an advisory board.

*Note that advisory boards have rather different characteristics from more formal and distanced - supervisory boards.

Composition and size

An ideal advisory board consists of the relevant shareholders - those that have a significant stake and add expertise. In some cases, it might be relevant to add specific domain sector knowledge as well. For practical purposes, the number of participants in an advisory board should not exceed 3. Why? Because a relatively small board maximizes commitment and ensures maximum output.

On the founders side, preferably all active founders should be present in order to have a complete view of the company in discussions. At times, it is useful to bring in an extra person from the company for specific deep dives. Normally there is no chair person, because the founders presenting (should) take the lead. In my experience, it is most effective that each member takes their own notes.

Lastly, and certainly not least, ensure there is diversity amongst the board - diversity in background, opinion, and importantly, in gender.

(Read more about the importance of diversity and our commitment to it at #fundright).

Topics

The main purpose of an advisory board is to help founders run the company, so it is imperative that the advisory board is fully and properly informed. I therefore recommend always preparing a presentation deck for the advisory board, complete with an agenda, key updates, issues to be addressed and topics/questions to be discussed.

  • This means the deck should start with a few slides about the company performance compared to the budget, last year, and the last 3 months. Cash runway is also (always) relevant.
  • The company performance should cover both key financials as well as non financial KPI's - such as conversion and liquidity with marketplaces or churn and payback time with SaaS companies.
  • Something I find works well is to present a gap analyses or waterfall chart that shows how actual performance differs from expected performance and why.
  • Further on, the deck should contain relevant qualitative updates on e.g. people, organization, product, tech, and the competitive landscape.
  • After this, it is always good to discuss one or two strategic issues. Remember to point out why these topics are important to you, what the background of the issues is, what options/strategies you are considering, and what the pro's and con's of each option are. This helps to have a good in depth discussion so you maximize the output.

Timing

"There is no ideal timing for your board meeting"

As the speed of the company changes over time, there is no ideal timing for your board meeting.

  • We have learned during the first 100 days as an investor it is good to have a 2 weekly meeting with a new portfolio company.
  • After this - which can take longer if needed - we normally would have monthly meeting to ensure commitment.
  • As an investor is active in different companies, it is key to share the deck minimum 3 working days before. This will enable the advisory board to study the topics carefully in advance, to consult experts if needed or to reach out to the founders for clarifications.

With these points in mind, you have all the ingredients to run a successful advisory board and maximize value for the founders. Good luck!

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For more insights and best practices of boards, I recently attended the ScaleUpNation "Board Program". Check it out.

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