Learning to be an effective leader in the boardroom

All VCs know that investing in a startup goes well beyond writing a check. To help a portfolio company succeed requires the investment of a VC’s time. Young companies need advice and leadership, which is why many VCs sit on the boards of their portfolio companies. And it’s also why NVCA held its first-ever Board Service Excellence Forum on September 15 in Austin, TX.

This one-day learning seminar provided 80+ VC investors with actionable insight on how to become more effective leaders. The audience heard from accomplished CEOs within the Austin community and their board members with panels covering how to guide a challenged company led by Latham & Watkin’s Scott Craig and the CEO’s perspective moderated by SVB’s Dax Williamson. Rounding out the event were discussions on paths to exits and navigating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

Six key takeaways for VCs:

  1. Alignment is key. Startup CEOs and their boards work best when everyone is on the same page in terms of company goals, progress, challenges, and strategy. Julia Cheek, CEO of Everly Health, works to understand each of her board members’ communication preferences and tailors her approach accordingly to ensure important information flows easily to all stakeholders.
  2. Be prepared. Come to board meetings to keep up with the latest company milestones and issues. Use the board meeting to tackle big decisions, not updates. Co-founder of ICON, Evan Loomis, provides his board with mid-quarter memos that keep his board abreast of critical developments. This allows them to take full advantage of their time together during board meetings.
  3. Understand the value of each board member. Figure out how to work with each individual to take advantage of their unique skills. Maryam Haque, Executive Director of Venture Forward, led a panel highlighting the pivotal role that diverse boards and perspectives bring to an organization, which opens new customer segment revenue streams according to Zach Ellis of South Loop Ventures.
  4. Board members have power. When a member of the board asks for data or makes a recommendation, the company will respond. As a board member, ensure what you are asking for has the impact intended. Dan Levine of Accel sits on multiple boards and expects to have an action item after every meeting. Board members also have the ability to make powerful connections. Take advantage of your brain trust of experts!
  5. Develop empathy for the other side. Oftentimes, the strongest board members can put themselves into the shoes of the founder and understand his or her unique goals for the company. As a former operator and entrepreneur, Katie Bullard of Insight Partners advises company leaders based on lived experience.
  6. Be present. Opt for in-person meetings when possible and encourage board members to leave electronic devices aside. While virtual meetings served a critical business function during the peak of the pandemic- they are rife with distraction, according to Conrad Shang of Ensemble Ventures. Board members do not reach their potential when not fully engaged.