Brad's Books and Organizations

Books

Books

Organizations

Organizations

Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

« swipe left for tags/categories

swipe right to go back »

Give Your VCs Assignments

Comments (138)

Over the weekend, Mark Suster wrote a great post titled How To Communicate with your Investors between Board MeetingsMark continues to just tear it up with great advice for entrepreneurs.  However, he left out one thing from the post – which is one of my favorite pieces of advice for entrepreneurs.

Give your venture capitalists (and board members) assignments

Mark alludes to this in many of his suggestions but he never comes out and says it.  And, amazingly to me, many entrepreneurs either don’t ever think of this or don’t feel comfortable doing it.  They should.

Most VCs will quickly say that they want to help the companies they invest in to success.  Some will go further and say things like “I’ll do anything I can to help my companies.”  Rarely have I heard a VC say something like “My plan is to just hang around, go to board meetings, ask a few nonsensical, low insight, rhetorical questions, eat the crummy food, and then disappear until the next board meeting.”  However, as any entrepreneur who has ever worked with multiple VCs knows, the statements a VC makes (or doesn’t make) doesn’t necessarily correspond to his behavior.

I think you can break this cycle early in the life of your relationship with your VCs by giving them assignments.  At the end of the first board meeting, spend some time talking about your expectations for your board members (including your VCs), ask if they are reasonable, and then go around the table and ask each board member what they’d like to specifically help with between now and the next board meeting.  Explain that you want to develop a cycle of accountability for each board member to the company and use this to (a) develop deep engagement from each board member between meetings, (b) benefit from the experience and wisdom of each board member on a continual basis, and (c) set a strong tone for the leadership team (and the company) that everyone has functional responsibilities that they are held accountable to.  Acknowledge that it will take a few board meetings to get into a good rhythm with this, but be clear that you’ll spend a little time at the next board meeting going through individual assignments, what was done, and what the new assignments are until the next board meeting.

The assignments should be specific – if they are general (such as “help with strategy” or “help with the financing”) they will be useless.  Make sure the assignments play to the individual board members strengths and interests.  They should provide leverage for the leadership team; not create make work.  They should be impactful, but not mission critical.

In companies where the CEO hands out regular assignments, I’ve experienced an awesome tempo after about six months.  The board members begin holding themselves accountable and the management team is much more comfortable working directly with the individual board members.  Over time assignments become less “stiff” and the regimen of passing them out and reviewing them at the board meeting will fade away over time as everyone gets used to being held responsible for what they sign up for.

  • http://damiansen.com Damiansen

    Can you describe what "accountability for each board member" means precisely?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I don’t mean it in a “precise way” – just “generic accountability.”  For example, if I say “I’ll take out the garbage by dinner time” and when you wake up the next morning this hasn’t been done yet, then I haven’t done what I said I would do.  As a result, you can call me on it “Brad – you said you would take out the garbage by dinner and you didn’t”.  In a business / board context, merely pointing out that the person didn’t do what they committed to do is often enough to develop a culture of accountability (e.g. the next time I’ll make sure I take out the garbage).

  • http://twitter.com/reecepacheco @reecepacheco

    This is something I've been doing with one of our seed investors (who is also a VC).

    He has tons of contacts, so we discuss who's worth speaking to and I give him 'homework assignments' to make the intros, then I follow up if it doesn't happen after a while.

    As an entrepreneur, you have to take the initiative. People want to help, but they're undisciplined and it's up to you to keep everything moving onward and upward.

  • http://www.gluecon.com Eric Norlin

    Hey Brad- interesting post. My immediate reaction was, "do you feel the same way about the senior exec team?"

    I remember very clearly having a pretty one-way relationship w/ *most* of the member of the board at the startup I was involved in. There was one board member that really hung around and wanted to mentor both me and the engineering side — but really most of the board interaction was "here are your goals; hit em or we find your replacement" kind of talk. That talk never really *bothered* me all that much because I'm such a sales-oriented person, but in hindsight, the idea that I could've turned around to the board member that actually said that to me once and hand HIM an assignment just never even occurred to me.

    anyway – valuable stuff for founders and (i hope) the senior exec teams at startups. ;-)

  • http://www.gluecon.com Eric Norlin

    Hey Brad- interesting post. My immediate reaction was, "do you feel the same way about the senior exec team?"

    I remember very clearly having a pretty one-way relationship w/ *most* of the member of the board at the startup I was involved in. There was one board member that really hung around and wanted to mentor both me and the engineering side — but really most of the board interaction was "here are your goals; hit em or we find your replacement" kind of talk. That talk never really *bothered* me all that much because I'm such a sales-oriented person, but in hindsight, the idea that I could've turned around to the board member that actually said that to me once and hand HIM an assignment just never even occurred to me.

    anyway – valuable stuff for founders and (i hope) the senior exec teams at startups. ;-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Ideally it should work with the senior exec team also, although having multiple people “manage” each board member is often difficult so it’s often more powerful / centralized coming from the CEO.  If you have a VC who naturally gravitates towards taking assignments, it can go deeper in the organization – this is the type of working relationship a great CEO will want to establish with each VC in any event.

  • http://twitter.com/wealthofinfo @wealthofinfo

    Great reminder, thanks Brad. In many ways, Mark's original post and this useful add-on can be taken as: don't forget that your investors are actually part of the management team and need to be involved that way (communication back and forth, expectations set and followed up on). After all, if a lean startup is to make the most of all its resources, actively engaging investors might be one of the most important moves a CEO can make.

    The obstacles to doing this well aren't all that different than they are for managing an executive team, the guidelines for which are simple but hard — and you and Mark have nailed two big ones with communication and involvement/accountability. One nit: based on my experience, I'd make sure this conversation starts BEFORE the team is formed (i.e., before the investor is on board) and would do most of the early "homework assignments" one-on-one, encouraging people to report their own results in the group setting. Unless people are used to being held accountable, trying to set this standard in a group setting with a team that meets infrequently can produce some false starts. But that's a nit. Following your advice (and Mark's) will put startups two big steps ahead of their competitors.

  • http://twitter.com/wealthofinfo @wealthofinfo

    Great reminder, thanks Brad. In many ways, Mark's original post and this useful add-on can be taken as: don't forget that your investors are actually part of the management team and need to be involved that way (communication back and forth, expectations set and followed up on). After all, if a lean startup is to make the most of all its resources, actively engaging investors might be one of the most important moves a CEO can make.

    The obstacles to doing this well aren't all that different than they are for managing an executive team, the guidelines for which are simple but hard — and you and Mark have nailed two big ones with communication and involvement/accountability. One nit: based on my experience, I'd make sure this conversation starts BEFORE the team is formed (i.e., before the investor is on board) and would do most of the early "homework assignments" one-on-one, encouraging people to report their own results in the group setting. Unless people are used to being held accountable, trying to set this standard in a group setting with a team that meets infrequently can produce some false starts. But that's a nit. Following your advice (and Mark's) will put startups two big steps ahead of their competitors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/markbar Mark Barry

    Great post Brad! Coincidentally, I had this same conversation with one of our CEO's yesterday and suggested that he lean on his board more often to help remove impediments to growth. Many times, the CEO tries to shoulder this on his or her own and it is hard to sift through the noise and becomes a lonely island. Granted, he or she has a senior leadership team, however, need to leverage each member of the board as a mentor/coach more often. VC assignments is a great way of doing this and besides, board members enjoy doing this.

  • Pingback: Startup CEOs and Startup Founders Need to Focus on Alignment with Investors, Customers and More

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jjboyle jjboyle

    "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take"…..generally speaking, board members, mentors, advisors, etc. all want to help. but if you don't ask you wont get. as Brad suggests, ending each Board meeting with a quick review of assigned actions can go a very long way; start simple, 1 action item per participant. after a few meetings, the CEO can begin to introduce more strategic, high value, action items. of course, in keeping with accountability, make sure the CEO has some material actionable items as well…

  • http://twitter.com/reecepacheco @reecepacheco

    This is something I've been doing with one of our seed investors (who is also a VC).

    He has tons of contacts, so we discuss who's worth speaking to and I give him 'homework assignments' to make the intros, then I follow up if it doesn't happen after a while.

    As an entrepreneur, you have to take the initiative. People want to help, but they're undisciplined and it's up to you to keep everything moving onward and upward.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Well said Reece.  I should have included angel investors in the mix – you should interact with them the same way you do with your VCs.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Well said Reece.  I should have included angel investors in the mix – you should interact with them the same way you do with your VCs.

  • http://www.gluecon.com Eric Norlin

    Hey Brad- interesting post. My immediate reaction was, "do you feel the same way about the senior exec team?"

    I remember very clearly having a pretty one-way relationship w/ *most* of the member of the board at the startup I was involved in. There was one board member that really hung around and wanted to mentor both me and the engineering side — but really most of the board interaction was "here are your goals; hit em or we find your replacement" kind of talk. That talk never really *bothered* me all that much because I'm such a sales-oriented person, but in hindsight, the idea that I could've turned around to the board member that actually said that to me once and hand HIM an assignment just never even occurred to me.

    anyway – valuable stuff for founders and (i hope) the senior exec teams at startups. ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/markbar Mark Barry

    Great post Brad! Coincidentally, I had this same conversation with one of our CEO's yesterday and suggested that he lean on his board more often to help remove impediments to growth. Many times, the CEO tries to shoulder this on his or her own and it is hard to sift through the noise and becomes a lonely island. Granted, he or she has a senior leadership team, however, need to leverage each member of the board as a mentor/coach more often. VC assignments is a great way of doing this and besides, board members enjoy doing this.

  • http://www.sonfilmizle.com serkan

    god why?

  • http://www.ChangeAgentDes.com Desmond Pieri

    Brad, when I read your intro paragraph, I figured I'd disagree with you; too often I've given VCs assignments, only to be disappointed, say, 80% of the time.

    But I like your detailed guidance: Make assignments specific; Play to each board member's strengths; Give them important — but not mission critical — assignments; and do this on a regular basis for at least six months. In the past, I've given up too early, not giving board members 'a second chance' when the F up the first assignment.

    Thanks for the guidance.

    Nice to meet you at Nantucket.

    Des

  • aiongold
  • Claudius Christian

    Can you please give some examples of what good / acceptable assignments are?

    • http://www.facebook.com/markbar Mark Barry

      Help to source and select VP of Sales, VP of Marketing, for example. Help with getting into the C-Suite at a particular company or establishing relationship with potential partners/acquirers.

  • Pingback: Online Ads Legislation: The Day After; Aggregate Knowledge Gets New CEO; WebMD Meets Q1 Expectations

  • http://www.ChangeAgentDes.com Desmond Pieri

    Brad, when I read your intro paragraph, I figured I'd disagree with you; too often I've given VCs assignments, only to be disappointed, say, 80% of the time.

    But I like your detailed guidance: Make assignments specific; Play to each board member's strengths; Give them important — but not mission critical — assignments; and do this on a regular basis for at least six months. In the past, I've given up too early, not giving board members 'a second chance' when the F up the first assignment.

    Thanks for the guidance.

    Nice to meet you at Nantucket.

    Des

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Good meeting you at Nantucket also – dinner was fun.I watch the vague assignments to VCs happen over and over, with the VCs doing nothing, and there is never any follow up.  I often say “treat me like a very undisciplined but absolutely killer salesperson.”  If you tell me what you want me to do and then hold me accountable / follow up, you’ll often be amazed at what happens.

  • aiongold
  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sigmawaite sigmawaite

    Brad, you blew it: Showing your mother's accomplishments and picture, no one's going to blame her!

    For what a CEO is supposed to do, let's see the ten top tasks, each of which should be at least 90% of the CEO's job:

    (10) At the board meeting, have a good answer to the question, "You have $1.5 million in the bank. Now what are you going to do to make money?"

    (9) "When you're out of money, you're out of business" — make sure don't run out of money.

    (8) Do well hiring people smarter than he is.

    (7) Do well at the work unique to the company and also at 'the vision thing' for the future.

    (6) Lead and motivate the workers.

    (5) Do well at CEO Job One — fund raising.

    (4) ABC — always be selling.

    (3) Prepare the board meeting info stack and get it to the board members at least a week before the meeting.

    (2) Be obsessed with the product.

    And for the number one task of the CEO:

    (1) Give the board members assignments and give grades at the next board meeting.

    Gee, how 'bout just make money? Is it enough to make, say, a lot of money?

    For the assignments, how 'bout the board members helping with important work the board meeting was interrupting, uh, making money, e.g., selling ads, or if not that, then helping with the product, e.g., writing software? Uh, do board members write software? A server running SQL Server quit: Repair it, get the data current, get it back online? Shop for dirt cheap commercial space with electric power from two grids and 10 GbE? Plug together servers from stacks of motherboards, processors, memory sticks, disk drives, power supplies, CD readers, and mid-tower cases?

    Can't write software? Okay: How 'bout holding board meetings via Twitter?

    Lacking that, how 'bout board meetings starting at about 11 PM in a private dining room in the back of a bar, with lots of beer and Victoria's Secret models? SI Swimsuit models? With voting by the board on the better collection of models? Or, with just pictures but extra beer? Or have the board vote on who's prettier, your mother or Sarah Palin? With still more beer!

  • http://www.artfulhome.com Lisa Bayne

    Thanks for posting, Brad. I guess the one thing that you didn't mention, and while obvious is worth establishing up front, is knowing how much (or little) your board members are expecting/wanting to be involved. I've found that that conversation helps set the stage for far more productive interactions, and knowing who I can count on for what.

  • Pingback: The Agile Board

  • Pingback: The Agile Board | CloudAve

  • Pingback: Venture Capitalists Chime In About the "Agile Board" | Technology and Web 2.0

  • Pingback: Venture Capitalists Chime In About the “Agile Board”

  • Pingback: Venture Capitalists Chime In About the “Agile Board” | Tech News Ninja

  • Pingback: Venture Capitalists Chime In About the “Agile Board” « Coworking Congress

  • Pingback: Venture Capitalists Chime In About the "Agile Board"

  • http://www.youdesignit.com David

    The who does what by when for board members. This is expected in the non-profit world, your board members are the ones that are out there working "it" in all aspects that need work! What an excellent post on getting VCs on board!

  • Pingback: iOs

  • Pingback: Leroy Deodato

  • Pingback: Franchesca Lathem

  • Pingback: Darwin Basley

  • Pingback: Lisette Arseneau

  • Pingback: Trish Rusteberg

  • Pingback: Meg Nemard

  • Pingback: Reginald Devon

  • Pingback: Candra Hempe

  • Pingback: Emanuel Polakowski

  • Pingback: Valentine Tenley

  • Pingback: Jimmy Moskos

  • Pingback: Lawrence Jonah

  • Pingback: Marvin Prather

  • Pingback: Grover Obermeier

  • Pingback: Yer Hairston

  • Pingback: Pa Bentham

  • Pingback: Emanuel Rohlfing

  • Pingback: Jamison Dugat

  • Pingback: Simone Therien

  • Pingback: Trang Ancar

  • Pingback: Sherron Connerly

  • Pingback: Manual Altobell

  • Pingback: Kris Metevier

  • Pingback: Harold Staubin

  • Pingback: Shemika Daurizio

  • Pingback: Leigh Osorno

  • Pingback: Katlyn Stanko

  • Pingback: Ollie Robak

  • Pingback: Tory Wellmann

  • Pingback: Barbera Lacher

  • Pingback: Dean Kimmey

  • Pingback: Eddy Fetty

  • Pingback: Danny Guilbeaux

  • Pingback: Dean Pounder

  • Pingback: Mallory Hayslett

  • Pingback: Pansy Ayaia

  • Pingback: Carolina Grum

  • Pingback: Shayne Tidrick

  • Pingback: Agustina Halstead

  • Pingback: Garland Kouyate

  • Pingback: Karon Shroeder

  • Pingback: Odell Hemminger

  • Pingback: Karla Turcott

  • Pingback: Ilene Galster

  • Pingback: Susannah Lamunyon

  • Pingback: http://media.jefferson.k12.ky.us/groups/2008iflchoosingtherightstuff/wiki/25ee5/What_Every_one_Really_should_Find_out_about_the_Truth_about_Six_Pack_Abs.html

  • Pingback: Zackary Rester

  • Pingback: Percy Groeneveld

  • Pingback: Karissa Sobczynski

  • Pingback: Fredric Valois

  • Pingback: Kayleen Hefflinger

  • Pingback: Ali Abbadessa

  • Pingback: Eve Petross

  • Pingback: Lilla Neudeck

  • Pingback: Petronila Bouten

  • Pingback: Sueann Gitlin

  • Pingback: Marvis Vannatten

  • Pingback: Katharina Turay

  • Pingback: Audra Larribeau

  • Pingback: Roy Callery

  • Pingback: Jarvis Pina

  • Pingback: Vernia Kucha

  • Pingback: Tamica Oregel

  • Pingback: Kerrie Feduccia

  • Pingback: Edmond Bois

  • Pingback: Edmundo Machak

  • Pingback: Laurene Neher

  • Pingback: Taylor Porras

  • Pingback: Colin Smyntek

  • Pingback: Carter Grasse

  • Pingback: Clotilde Rosan

  • Pingback: Mervin Milliren

  • Pingback: Keenan Panza

  • Pingback: Harvey Brannick

  • Pingback: Xochitl Lindberg

  • Pingback: Tod Alegre

  • Pingback: Waneta Boydstun

  • Pingback: Joana Rather

  • Pingback: Rene Wieseman

  • Pingback: Lavenia Padron

  • Pingback: Gaynelle Sario

  • Pingback: Parker Isenberg

  • Pingback: Miriam Sberna

  • Pingback: Curt Serano

  • Pingback: Oren Hoeller

  • Pingback: Booker Lokhmatov

  • Pingback: Kristian Torreson

  • Pingback: Julian Kostrzewa

  • Pingback: Janelle Kotrys

  • Pingback: Danilo Belton

  • Pingback: Irena Kuker

  • Pingback: Jan Laterza

  • Pingback: Demarcus Tohonnie

  • Pingback: Nichol Pleasant

  • Pingback: Tanya Edenholm

  • Pingback: Manuel Maccartney

  • Pingback: Collingdale

  • Pingback: Quinton Sonterre

  • Pingback: Katherine Cly

  • Pingback: Nicholle Spady

  • Pingback: Nannette Nyswonger

  • Pingback: Ernie Diachenko

Build something great with me