I sat down with seasoned entrepreneur and CEO of Stitch, Michael Burton, to better understand what it takes to build a strong founder-board relationship and what CEOs should do to get the most benefit out of their board members.
What attributes should founders look for in their board members?
Your board members should always complement you, but not necessarily compliment you. As you build out your board, you must ask yourself, “Where am I strong? Where am I weak?” They should fill in your gaps.
Your board members are also your accountability partners. When you’re heads down in your company every single day, you get tactical. You need people who you trust will push you and make sure you don’t get stagnant. You should be able to rely on their expertise to improve your business and do things faster.
What are the elements of a strong founder-board relationship?
Your board members are an extension of your team, and it’s crucial you treat them like it. There’s this misconception that there must be this certain formality between yourself and your board. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s crucial to share the good, the bad, and the ugly and talk about the losses as much as the wins. If you select the right board members, you should feel comfortable being vulnerable and trust that they will be good partners who guide you through troubled waters.
How can founders create a strong founder-board relationship?
To have transparency, you need to be in constant communication with your board. In fact, most of your discussions should happen outside of your board meeting. It is your responsibility to activate your board members; they can’t help you if they’re not in the loop.
I send an update to my board members every week. It typically includes what’s going well with the business, an interesting story for the week, our team’s top three accomplishments, and our three big focuses going into the next week. I also send impromptu messages as developments arise; faster is always better.
I’m fortunate enough to work in the same office building as my board members, so I intentionally sit on the same floor as their offices as I start my work in the morning. That way they can easily reach me if they want to have a spontaneous conversation.
The benefits of this consistent communication are two-fold. Not only are you keeping your board in the loop, but you’re allowing yourself time to reflect on the business.
How else can founders best leverage their board members to benefit the business?
Not only can you leverage your board of directors for their expertise, but you can also leverage them for their network. When you’re building a startup, it’s as much about what you know as it is who you know.
As the CEO of Stitch, I immerse myself in the Braze community. It just so happens that one of my board members is connected with one of Braze’s board members. I leveraged that connection to secure a meeting, which was huge for our business.
It’s also important to lean on your board as your company grows, especially when considering an acquisition or the possibility of being acquired.
What lasting advice would you give a first-time founder learning to manage relationships with their board members?
Your responsibility as the CEO is to know your business like the back of your hand. What’s going well, where you need help, revenue, profitability, cash flow, everything. Otherwise, your board won’t know how to help you.
It’s okay to lean on others to help you prepare for your meetings, but it is ultimately up to you to understand all facets of your business to leverage your board in the best way possible.
Michael’s Final Thoughts
Building a startup is no small feat, and you must have people you can lean on. I encourage you to find mentors to help you reach your goals, and I hope what I shared above helps you build a strong foundation with your board members moving forward.