For board members
Joining a board is a huge opportunity. Supporting great companies through their growth is a privilege. It’s not always plain sailing. It’s not always easy. It’s far more than a quarterly opportunity to have dinner. Be aware that with the privilege of supporting these companies comes responsibility - both legal and fiduciary as well as mentally and strategically.
Board member responsibilities run the gamut from simply attending meetings and reading regular financial and company reports through to being a mentor, advisor and occasional therapist for the founders, executives and employees of a company.
No two boards are the same, but if you’re considering joining a board, here are some things to consider:
Do you have the time? For early stage companies, boards usually meet quarterly. These meetings are usually anything from two to five hours long. You'll also get a pre-read as part of that so that you can review financials etc - allowing you to focus on discussion topics in board meetings. I usually count each board meeting as one full day. As the company scales, you may start meeting every two months or even more regularly. During times of crisis (or opportunity), you may be meeting or having calls every week, day or hour as you go through a pivot, a collapse (hopefully not), a fundraising process or an M&A process. This is a serious role, so do make sure that you factor in the requisite amount of time - including overseas travel time, ad hoc calls and check-ins etc - so that you can really help.
What are you bringing to the table? A huge part of your responsibilities as a board member will be to provide advice, guidance, mentorship and strategic direction to the company and team you’re working with. In order to be able to deliver that in a way that creates trust - you need to bring something to the table. Are you a sector expert? What unique capabilities or experience could you bring to the organisation? If you’re adding a skill that’s non-existent within a business or if you have insight into their industry, you can be unimaginably valuable. This is not to say that you need to have 10 years of experience, grey hair or a well-developed sense of cynicism - but you need to think carefully about what your secret sauce is, as taking on a role like this is a big deal for you and the folks bringing you on board.
Are you willing to be unpopular? In many cases, board meetings are pretty friendly places. However, you do need to be willing to speak your mind and throw in an occasional hand grenade. Do you have the ability to analyse data from companies - financial, regulatory, strategic and tactical - and synthesise that quickly so that you can dig in and ask questions, poke holes or otherwise ensure that what you’re being told is correct and above board? Do you have the courage of your convictions to be unpopular and extend a board meeting to make sure that an assumption is correct or that the i-dotting and t-crossing is done properly? Can you back up your thoughts and arguments with relevant experience, facts and knowledge?