A little more than a year ago I joined the board of a private company that I had gotten to know well. The company had raised some seed financing and wanted to fill out its board with a few independent directors. Having been close to the company for many months, I jumped at the opportunity to have a completely different - and more intimate - view of the inside of a high growth tech company.
Recently I was searching for a file and stumbled across the detailed notes I took for our first Board meeting from April 2013. In re-reading my thoughts from last spring, I was struck by several things:
My notes were so incredibly detailed.
Mostly this was a function of me not having a clue what I was doing. I tried to write down everything that seemed important and then I summarized my notes for everyone on the board to read afterwards. With a year+ more experience under my belt and many more board meetings completed, I find that now I don’t take nearly as many notes.
This is both encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging because I feel much more comfortable as a director and able to contribute in real time now that I’m not using training wheels. But frustrating because being able to read back over exactly how we felt in April 2013 was incredibly valuable.
Sense of Appreciation
We hear all the time about the massive pivots some startups take. But the vast majority of progress is actually achieved through daily micro pivots. These are often really hard to appreciate in real-time. There’s an awareness that these micro pivots are happening and when we look back down the proverbial mountain we can see some of the switchbacks and tough climbs. Yet it’s not always easy to remember exactly what we thought the climb would be like to assess our predictive competencies.
Reading my notes made me appreciate many of the small steps we’ve made forward over the last year. At that first board meeting, we spent a lot of time talking through corporate governance matters, key executive roles that needed to be filled, and theorizing on how the capital raising process might play out. In each case, there has been tremendous growth, and things played out in a fashion that wasn’t too far off from our predictions. This leads to a great sense of appreciation of where we’ve come from.
As I shared my notes with the CEO last week he replied, “it all feels like a good pace. It isn’t a burn and flip couple year thing but it also isn’t slowly but surely. Feels like sustainable and consistent forward motion”
Stopping to recognize this forward motion is so crucial, especially since we’re no where near where we hope to go yet. But we’re moving forward, and that’s exciting.
A Pause for Recognition
Things are usually not 100% rosy though and it was instructive to recognize that some of our biggest areas of focus today were identified a year ago. Our theories on the sales pipeline and process were not quite as prescient as in other areas. I found myself wishing I had documented in a more detailed manner the projected numbers so it would be easier to quantify some operational metrics. Moreover, I wish I had similar notes from each of the next quarterly meetings so I could more accurately track our progress - it’s just too hard to remember what happened at what point without this detail. I know deep down there are patterns that would jump out if I was able to take the time to assess, but I need to get better at documenting the steps to make this analysis possible.
This board experience has highlighted the value of structuring processes so I can better remember the past. I’m thinking of ways to integrate this theme with my work at the bank (better salesforce.com habits!) and also interested to know how other startups play this out. The obvious answer is budgets and performance to plan. But I’m wondering if anyone has best practices for looking back over quarters or years with the lens of performance relative to expectations of how things would play out. It seems this is a core competency of any high growth entrepreneur or investor and would love to hear via comments or email or things that have worked for you.