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Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors is shipping. It was so satisfying to see this today.
This was by far the most difficult book to write so far. The title we came up with should have tipped me off – it ended up be extremely challenging to make a book about “boards” not be “boring.”
If you are up for it, give me some opening day love and order a copy of Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.
Over and over again people talk about transparency. Many people assert they are transparent, or are being transparent. Few actually are.
I was thinking about this last night while watching the last few episodes of Revenge: Season 2 with Amy. Suddenly the word “transparent” started being thrown around by the Grasons, referring to their new found desire to be transparent. In this case, it was simply disingenuous - they are transparent only when it suits their purposes and usually as a setup of some other nefarious act they were about to perform (or had performed).
Whenever a word makes it into a TV show like Revenge, you know that it’s lost all meaning. And, as I’ve observed in the world of tech and startups I play in, transparency is used all the time to justify something, but rarely actually supported by behavior.
In the “everything that is old is new again” category, the master of transparency, and likely the originator of “open book management“, is Jack Stack. I remember meeting Jack and hearing him talk at the very first Birthing of Giants event created by Verne Harnish in 1991. I read Jack’s book – The Great Game of Business: Unlocking the Power and Profitability of Open-Book Management – about his experience at Springfield ReManufacturing Corp - and was blown away by his thinking. My first company – Feld Technologies – was definitely not run with an open book and Jack’s ideas were very provocative to me.
Over the years, several CEOs I’ve worked with have been incredibly open book, or – if you want to use today’s lingo – transparent. My two favorites are Matt Blumberg of Return Path and Rand Fiskin of Moz. Matt shares his entire board book after the board meeting with everyone at the company (now over 400 people). He’s been doing this since the beginning, and only redacts specific compensation information and occasional legal stuff. Rand shares – well everything – including one of the best, most detailed, and completely transparent posts about a private company financing in the history of private company financings.
When an entrepreneur says he’s transparent, I now ask “do you publish your board book to your entire company?” I view this as a benchmark for transparency. If the answer is “no”, then I ask the entrepreneur what he means by “I’m transparent.” If you can’t be open with your company about the information you report to your board, how can you actually be transparent?
I’m working on a book with Mahendra Ramsinghani called “Startup Boards” where we are trying to provide clear best practices for how the boards of startup companies should work. You may recognize Mahendra’s name – he wrote The Business of Venture Capital which I reviewed recently.
This book is part of my continuous effort to dramatically improve startup company boards. I’ve been on hundreds of boards and have been to thousands (or tens of thousands) of board meetings and way too many of them are bored meetings instead of productive sessions consisting of the leaders, owners, and board members for a company.
Give us a hand and take 5 to 10 minutes to fill out our survey on Startup Boards. It can be anonymous or include you name and email if you are willing to be interviewed in more depth.