17 August, 2020

Cracking the code to startup boards

Our Managing Partner, Dirk Van Quaquebeke, got to be a part of  MEDICI Global Studio’s exciting new video interview series “Weekend Wisdom: VC Debunked & Demystified”. The session featured Dirk and Aditya Khurjekar, CEO & Founder, MEDICI Global delving into common myths and assumptions around start-up boards.

Drawing from his own experiences, Dirk talks about some of the key “to do’s” when donning many hats such as a founder, a board member and an investor. Here is a snapshot of his discussion on managing and navigating the complex world of start-ups, founders and working as a proactive board member. 

Use the “delayed flight” test: What’s the role of personal chemistry in a great relationship with founders?
Invest in a startup where you truly care about the founders & their vision and have personal chemistry with them. How do you figure this out? Ask yourself one simple question: Imagine you are at the airport and you realize that your flight has been delayed for 8 hours. Would you mind getting stuck with the founder for 8 hours? Trust your gut… 

Striking a balance: What is the ideal relationship?
A board member has two functions: support or replace the CEO. The roles may be many and they may change over time. Mentor is often one of them and like any human relationships, it takes two to tango. 

Putting yourself in the founder’s shoes: Why you must find empathy?
The one element that connects a board member with the founder is his own experience of walking a similar path and contending with the same highs and lows. The relationship between that of a founder and a board member should not be transactional. There needs to be a sense of empathy for the founder and his vision for his startup to succeed. It is the philosophy of an underlying ethical code that connects everybody. Without the care and empathy, it is just an unengaged relationship.

Importance of Prep: How can you make all meetings count?
Never underestimate the power of a one-pager. Founders and board members at any start-up would agree on how time-consuming board meetings can be.  The first step to ensure optimum output from any board meeting is to ensure that there is an agenda in place.  The next step is to appoint a Chairperson to drive the meeting. It can be the founder himself to drive the board to a conclusion. A one-pager shared before the meeting will allow members to be prepared not just for their part but also with the questions that they want to be clarified. This seemingly simple process can be powerful.

Switching roles to play the mediator: How do you find the middle path?
One of the most challenging aspects that a board member faces is when the founders of a startup are at odds and want to go their different ways. When there is disparity amongst the founders about the future of the company, the best way out is to call for a strategic session. In such situations, a board member will need to play the role of a meditator and help find a middle ground. It isn’t an easy task, but one that a board member needs to step up to. The board member will then need to make the tough decision of which one of the founders to back while working towards a synergetic outcome.

For more such insights into founder and board member relationships, watch the video here.