Most founders, either before they start their first company, or as they begin to go down the road of entrepreneurship, have an idea of what "having a board" will entail.
The formal definition of a board of directors is "a team of people elected by a corporation's shareholders to represent the shareholders' interests and ensure that the company's management acts on their behalf." Unfortunately, because of all the horror stories from founders being ousted from their own companies (Steve Jobs and Apple being one of the best-known examples), most first-time founders aren't quite sure what to expect when building a board, let alone how to have a healthy relationship with the other people around the table.
In the early days of building ThirdLove as a company, I thought of our board meetings as a place for us to report back to our investors on metrics, progress, things like that.
Over time, however, I have learned that your board of directors is your advisory panel. It's where you find your "truth seekers," who are best positioned and most incentivized to help you talk through the stickiest, hardest questions you might have as a founder.
In order for you to leverage your board of directors in the best way possible, there are two things you need to do as a founder:
1. Make sure you start with the right people on your board.
Your board composition is a crucial part of success. You want to be strategic about who you're bringing on, and the value they will add. For example, one of our board members is Lori Greeley, the former CEO of Victoria's Secret Stores. When my husband/co-founder Dave and I first started ThirdLove, neither one of us were coming from the bra industry. So getting someone who was an expert in this domain was really important to us--and she has since proven to be immensely valuable to our growth as a company.
Diversity of experiences and knowledge is key. Think about the holes in your skill set and your leadership team. What are the biggest challenges for you? Then bring on board members who can help advise in those weaker areas -- whether that is marketing, finance, security, or people.
I know a lot of founders who have four VCs on their board with no relevant operational experience to the company they're actually trying to build. And while they might be helpful in other ways, you have to consider how much more effective you would be with a board member suited for your specific industry or approach to building the business.
2. Find the best ways to leverage your specific board--and their areas of expertise.
The sign of a good board meeting is when we walk out feeling energized and focused to tackle the highest-priority items we've identified within the business.
This dynamic happens when you are comfortable having the hard conversations that need to be had with everyone around the table. Your board shouldn't be this room of people you are afraid to be honest with. These are the people you should be the most honest with--and who feel comfortable challenging you right back, asking the right questions, and helping ensure you are making the best decisions possible.
Our board meetings today are far from metrics presentations. We discuss those things, of course, and we send our presentation deck a day or two in advance so all board members can process the information in advance. These days our board meetings are a space to discuss bigger, stickier, more nuanced challenges and ideas. For example, last year we decided to run a national TV test based on a discussion that started in the boardroom.
It's a brainstorm--and over time, we have started to bring in some of our senior leaders from the company, if for no other reason than to give them exposure to the questions our board asks us and how we go about thinking through effective paths forward.