Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Board Meetings or Bored Meetings

In the early 90's I worked for Bovis Contruction (don't ask how that happened) - they loved a meeting or five. Their workforce was made up of very loud aggressive builders turned construction managers who seemed to love their existence by having a meeting and saying a lot.

I used to play a game. Sometimes there would 5-10 people in the meeting and it would go on for ages. I didn't say a lot so would calculate the amount of industry man hours (or days) that these meetings would take. You are talking about 2 man days on average. And most meetings finished with a conclusion to have another meeting.

It was around that time I decided I didn't want to do this anymore - I went freelance and kept away from any sort of meaningless meetings as much as I could. Of course I had to go to some but I always try to make sure they have a point.

Fast forward to about 2006. I invested in a few startups and ended up going to a few "investor" meetings. Unfortunately I wasn't the only investor. They were full of people like me - however, where I sort of stay quiet in groups until I have something relevant to add, these "professional investors" seemed to take this as an opportunity to show their importance by saying as much as they could. It seems I had found myself back to my old Bovis days.

I had a real problem with these meetings - not only because 80% of the content was boring and I could have got the bit I wanted out in 15 minutes tops. But because they must have been a huge distraction to the founders - some of which had to put together massive Board like packs for us all. I would have much rather they were working making the business succeed.

I am not saying nuggets of help didn't appear in these meetings from time to time - although I can't say I heard any whilst I day dreamed. However, how does a founder take away so many opinions from a meeting and make sense of it all. I would rather they judged their own judgement that got them to create a startup in the first place and ask specific questions to relevant people as and when they need help. 

Unsurprisingly I opted out of all these meetings after a few months because I realised the founders were not getting anything from me and I was wasting my time. How many of these Investor/Board/Advisory/Mentor meetings must be going on.

I have been on both sides of this. Luckily as a founder our minority investors were not tech experienced so couldn't and didn't have to offer much to our at most bi annual catch ups. And really they were just happy to receive dividend cheques. But being on the investor side I feel sympathy with the founders and had a lot of chats with many of them who politely tell me stories of the above where everyone is giving advice, sometimes contradictory to each other.

On a personal front after realising what I want out of investments I have sort of got it down to a fine art. I avoid all meetings with groups of investors (apart from friends) if I can help it. Meetings with founders are either in Cafe/Adam Street/Pub/Bar, usually on a one to one basis, very informal and with minimal written updates on progress if required (one page). A few beers usually help the process along.


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