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When I was working on Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors I spent a lot of time thinking about my ideal board meeting. I also spent a lot of time thinking about why boards are ineffective and what you – as an entrepreneur – can do to change the dynamic of an ineffective board (other than firing your VCs, which is hard to do.)
On March 6, from 5:30pm – 7:00pm at CU Law School, I’ll be doing a Crash Course on Startup Boards. I’m being hosted by my friends at CU Law Dean Phil Weiser and Brad Bernthal (head of the Entrepreneurship Initiative).
I’m going to cover three things and then do Q&A.
- How an Ideal Board Meeting Works
- Top 10 Things A Board Can Screw Up
- How To Fix A Broken Board
I’ll give real examples from my experience as a board member on hundreds of boards.
I hope to see you there.
I spend a lot of time hanging around CU Law School. I know it’s a strange place to find a venture capitalist and entrepreneurs, but it happens to be the epicenter of entrepreneurial activity at CU Boulder. I wrote a chapter about this in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City explaining why and how CU Law has taken a different approach to the engagement of the of a university and the entrepreneurial community.
Step back and think about it a little. A surprising number of entrepreneurs have legal backgrounds. A legal education is a great grounding in systems thinking, which can be applied to many businesses, especially as their scale up dramatically. And, in a world that needs less lawyers and more entrepreneurs, repurposing some of the brightest non-technical graduate students to be entrepreneurs is a neat idea. See – that’s not so strange.
Phil Weiser, the Dean of the CU Law School, is a good friend. Phil also totally groks entrepreneurship and is aggressively applying it to the vision, the curriculum, and the operations of CU Law. Following are some thoughts of his that recently appeared in an article in the ABA Journal titled Five initiatives that legal education needs.
Just like every other corner of the profession, legal education is grappling with a New Normal that was barely appreciated as recently as four or five years ago.
Even as law schools welcomed incoming classes this year, the mood has changed. And it’s no secret why.
Applications are down nationally for the third year in a row. And larger law firms aresignificantly cutting back on their entry-level hiring. The American Bar Association is also starting to focus on changes to legal education, recently releasing a draft report (PDF) from the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.
Change is happening, and that’s a good thing.
The upside of today’s New Normal is that law schools have the opportunity to develop a new generation of lawyers who are more purposeful than ever before about how to develop and navigate their careers. These graduates will be legal entrepreneurs. By that, I mean lawyers—whether working in government, nonprofits, law firms, consulting firms, or businesses—who take ownership of their career paths and develop the tool kit necessary to add value and succeed wherever they work. Developing legal entrepreneurs, however, requires a commitment to innovation and experimentation that until recently has not been traditionally associated with legal academia.
To underscore the range of emerging innovations needed in legal academia, consider the following five initiatives now taking place in legal education:
1. Build an entrepreneurial mindset. Training law students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset is foundational for the New Normal. The reality is that large law firms are employing fewer and fewer law graduates, and the early interview week model is not what it once was. As such, law schools need to reorient their students’ thinking about their careers. An entrepreneurial mindset is a must in the New Normal, and law students need to heed LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s teachings in The Start-up of You. How law schools will transmit those lessons to a notoriously risk-averse group remains to beseen. But the age of law school as a risk-free option for people who expect a job to be handed to them at the end is over.
2. Challenge employers on entry-level hiring. Challenging employers to think differently about entry-level hiring and summer jobs is a critical to adjusting to the New Normal. The marketplace for legal talent is incredibly traditional, and the resistance of employers to experiment is a formidable challenge to creating new opportunities for recent law school graduates. Most law students would welcome the chance to work at any number of successful law firms or in-house organizations in a temporary capacity over the summer or even upon graduation—even at lower rates than traditional summer associate or associate positions—because such jobs can offer valuable opportunities to build marketable skills and develop important networks, connections, and references. And such opportunities present firms with the chance to use the talents of these students or recent graduates. But a big impediment to developing such an opportunity is that firms often believe that they cannot provide them if they are not prepared to offer a long-term job when the student graduates. A number of law schools are taking this issue head on, such as the Cardozo New Resident Associate Mentor Program and, in Colorado, where both law schools (the University of Colorado and the University of Denver) are collaborating on a Legal Residency program that encourages law firms or other employers to hire a recent graduate for 12 to 18 months, offer a quality experience, and provide apprenticeship outside of the traditional associate track.
3. Compress law school education and couple with experience. Law schools can couple a 2.5 year degree with a quality experience. The opportunity to graduate in 2.5 years, which can be achieved through accelerated schedules that permit saving a semester, is increasingly appealing as tuition costs has risen greatly over the past decade. Law schools encouraging such paths can work with partners like Cisco’s general counsel Mark Chandler, who is welcoming paid interns for seven months at Cisco from June 1st after their second year until the following January, enabling students to graduate not only with less debt, but with more experience.
4. Provide multidisciplinary training. Law schools increasingly are providing their students with multidisciplinary training, including but not limited to key business skills. The New Normal means that “thinking like a lawyer” is not enough; we need lawyers who can “think like clients.” For lawyers to understand their clients, they need to learn their businesses. This concept applies to those working in the public sector as well as the private sector; lawyers with domain knowledge of the fields they are practicing in are simply more likely to succeed than those without such knowledge. This means more nontraditional courses, more interdisciplinary courses, and more “boot camp”-type experiences.
5. Engage with the community. Law schools need to engage with their communities, get to know their success stories, and reverse-engineer them. The reality is that law firm hiring is not coming back, and a core challenge for law schools is to develop nontraditional opportunities—such as ones in business development, compliance, human resources, and public policy—for law school graduates with the right skill sets. The challenge is that developing such partnerships and opportunities is a long game. But the forces that shaped today’s New Normal were a long time coming; the actions that will enable law schools to adapt will take time as well.
Experimentation, innovation, and the New Normal. In 2008, most law school deans were living in the Old Normal. Today, all law school deans know that they are in a New Normal. The reality is that the shaping of today’s environment took place over a long period of time, even if we did realize it while it was happening. As such, developing a new model will not happen overnight. But momentum is building. The broad outlines of the New Normal—the need for a more entrepreneurial mindset, more community engagement, more multidisciplinary training, and new (and nontraditional) employment pathways—are now taking shape through experiments all over the country. The exciting part of this emerging paradigm is that it is still very much a work in progress, and law schools have the opportunity to develop creative partnerships and innovations to support our students in a changing and challenging environment.
I got to work closely with Luke Beatty this summer while he was running the Techstars Boulder program. In one word, he’s “awesome.” Deeply, truly awesome.
I knew Luke from a distance – we’d crossed paths a few times but never worked together. I watched him build a real company with Associated Content and sell it to Yahoo for $100 million. When David Cohen asked me what I thought of him for Managing Director of Techstars Boulder, I responded “Awesome if you can get him.”
Luke ran an amazing program this summer. I spent at least an hour a week with him and all the CEOs in the program in our top secret weekly CEO session. We worked together on the Intuit acquisition of GoodApril. And a bunch of other things.
I wasn’t surprised when Tim Armstrong at AOL made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and Luke joined AOL as Head of Strategic Partnerships. I knew Luke and Tim had gone to school together, were close friends, and that Tim was the first investor in Associated Content. While I’m bummed that Luke isn’t running Techstars Boulder anymore, I’m psyched I got a chance to really know him over the summer. Plus, it amuses me that he now has to use AOL Mail as his email system.
Come join us at Entrepreneurs Unplugged on Monday 10/7 at 6:15 at ATLAS. Register here.
The Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at CU is looking to hire a new Director. As part of the Leeds School of Business, the Deming Center prepares students across CU’s campus to think like entrepreneurs, act as social innovators and deliver as successful business leaders. It actively engages the community members of Boulder in order to accomplish this. The Deming Center also partners closely with Silicon Flatirons and other CU organizations to put on events such as the New Venture Challenge, Productive Collisions, and annually hosts the regional Venture Capital Investment Competition for MBA students.
This is an exciting opportunity to be part of CU and the larger Boulder entrepreneurship community. The person who serves in this Director role will have a unique opportunity to work with individuals both inside and outside the University to help foster and shape entrepreneurship on and off the campus. This person will also be responsible for the overall brand of the center as well as its operational and financial oversight. If you want to be part of a unique contributor to Boulder’s startup ecosystem, apply here!
I’m a huge supporter of CU and CU Boulder in particular. While it’s not my alma mater, I’ve probably contributed as much or more time and money as I have to MIT, where I spent seven years. Amy and I strongly support three institutions of higher education – MIT, Wellesley (where she went to school), and CU Boulder.
I was shocked and stunned to get an email from the CU President Bruce Benson yesterday. Here are the first few paragraphs, on the CU President letterhead.
“When Colorado voters in November passed Amendment 64, which legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, it led to a number of questions. Most uncertainty surrounds the conflict between the new state law and federal law, under which marijuana remains illegal. Amendment 64 will be signed into law in January and take effect in January 2014.
But for the University of Colorado, the issue is clear. Marijuana threatens to cost the university nearly a billion dollars annually in federal revenue, money we can ill afford to lose.
I was personally opposed to Amendment 64 and worked on my own time to defeat it. But it passed and CU, like many entities, is working to determine the implications.
The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding. CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus. Our campuses bring in more than $800 million in federal research funds, not to mention nearly an additional $100 million in funding for student financial aid. The loss of that funding would have substantial ripple effects on our students and our state. CU contributes $5.3 billion to Colorado’s economy annually, a good portion of it derived from our research.”
Now, independent of your view on the legalization of marijuana, my immediate reaction was that this doesn’t make any sense to me. Last night at dinner, I asked Amy, who is on the Wellesley College board, what she thought. We talked about it for a while and agreed that it seemed extremely inappropriate for Benson to be using his role as CU President to advocate his personal position on this, especially in the context of a threat of losing a billion dollars of federal funding. Neither of us knew the exact rules here, but it just didn’t sound right to me.
This morning, I saw a response from Congressman Jared Polis – our local congressman, a longtime friend of mine and very successful entrepreneur. Jared’s post was clear and unambiguous - CU Federal Funding Unaffected by Amendment 64: Benson’s Statement Alarmist and Irresponsible.
“The University of Colorado is not in jeopardy of losing a single dime of federal funding due to Amendment 64. President Benson has allowed his personal opposition to Amendment 64 to compromise his responsibility to the university by spreading an alarmist claim that has no basis in fact.
“The legality of marijuana in Colorado tomorrow will not impact CU any more than the legality of alcohol does today. The federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires universities to adopt and implement drug prevention programs to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs or alcohol by students and employees on school premises or as part of any of its activities. The University’s alcohol and drug policy bans the use of alcohol and marijuana on campus and satisfies the federal requirement.
“I will not stand by and allow the reputation of the University of Colorado to be sullied by the non-existent threat of losing one billion dollars. As the federal representative the University of Colorado at Boulder, I want to reassure parents, students, and faculty that CU is not in danger of losing any federal funding due to Amendment 64. I call upon President Benson to immediately retract his message and clarify that the University is not in danger of losing any federal funds due to the passage of Amendment 64.”
I respect Benson’s personal position, but I’m offended that he’d use his position the way he just did. Jared is right – Benson owes the members of the CU community a retraction.