I get lots of questions about compensation for BOD members @ startups. I can’t say it much better than Brad Feld in this post. A few additional thoughts:
Your BOD works for the company. First time entrepreneurs are sometimes at risk of thinking of the BOD as their boss – imho the best early stage BODs do not function that way. The best BOD members are responsible for holding the CEO/Founders accountable for performance and for representing the interests of all stakeholders. The BOD members individually or collectively can’t match the detail, pace, intensity and intimacy required to drive effective decisionmaking in early-stage companies. The BOD should be a valuable and objective feedback mechanism for the founders & leadership – and they should absolutely do whatever they can to help – but thinking that they can/should be driving decisionmaking or strategy is a slippery slope. In my experience – the most functional and effective early stage BOD members start every interaction with founders/leadership with the simple question “How can I help?”
Beginning, Middle and End. As Brad points out in his post – it’s always best to make clear that every BOD seat should have clear expectations and milestones to consider change of compensation & role. BOD membership – like all “tours of duty” should have a beginning, middle & end anticipated at inception of the first BOD gig. If you decide to extend a BOD member to a 2nd or 3rd tour of duty on your BOD – that’s great – but having a preset milestone to check in and evaluate how it’s working and to enable 360 feedback for the BOD member helps ensure that you don’t have BOD members who are just filling a seat. I think that 2 years should be the max timescale for the first check-in and annual is much better. It’s a little different for BOD members appointed by investors – but also healthy to have similar check-ins for investor appointed BOD members who sometimes never get objective 360 feedback.
I was truly moved by this article in Wired last week. As anyone who knows me well will tell you – I think of start-ups as a team sport and my most important teammate is, and will always be, my wife Amy.
From day one Amy encouraged my irrational entrepreneurial interests. When I graduated from Tuck, we had a 1 year old daughter, a pile of debt and a pullout couch that we’d been sleeping on. Amy encouraged me to pursue my passion for software startups instead of chasing a method of paying off B-School loans. She insisted I go to work for a small AI startup in Austin TX – Trilogy – making half of the comp I might have made as a banker. I had studied AI as an undergrad at Bowdoin and even though AI was out of favor in the early 1990’s I couldn’t imagine doing anything cooler. She didn’t understand what AI was, but off we moved to Texas, away from everyone we knew but towards some of the best BBQ in the world.
Through innumerable sacrifices, dozens of failures and a few precious wins, Amy has been incredible as a partner in life and in work. Everything we have accomplished together is ours and most of the credit goes to her. While raising our four children and quietly building her own art career (check out her latest series @ pigratdog.com), she has provided the rock-solid foundation that has allowed me to start companies and play with computers for the past 25 years. Like most great partnerships, I can always count on her to check me with the hard question at just the right time.
Amy – thanks for being the best partner a rugby playing software nerd could ever expect. I owe my successes to you – and you can have all the cash – oh wait – as you taught me – none of it really belongs to us in the first place 😉
If you are running an early stage company or if you are an employee at an early stage company or a seed fund – I strongly recommend that you have your CFO/Admin folks adopt Carta for equity and/or fund management.
I wrote a blog post about why Carta is so important a few years ago – link is here. Carta was previously called eShares.
I use Carta myself @ Tamr, more than half of the companies @ Koa have adopted Carta for equity management and I use Carta for the management of the Koa Seed Fund. All of the companies that adopt Carta have the same reaction as I did – “I can’t imagine what we did before Carta.” It really is a no-brainer.
If you don’t believe me – then listen to Fred Wilson @ UnionSquare Ventures also uses Carta and feels the same way that I do – “no brainer” – his post is here.
Hope that you give it a try – totally worth it and I bet you’ll find you can’t imagine what you did before Carta – I know I can’t.
Last week I received this email from my friend Rana El Kaliouby – the Co-Founder/CEO at Affectiva :
I just hosted a dinner for female founders, CEOs and investors, which was awesome!
Half way through our conversation, we noticed that many of us had at least one thing in common: YOU!
You have supported, championed, invested in, advised, and connected many of us.
The world needs many more men like you.
Thank you. See pic of your mentees and fans attached 🙂
When Amy and I started Koa – we were committed to investing in female founders – we are so honored to have the opportunity to work with so many great women.
Over the past 30 years, I’ve had a chance to work with some amazing entrepreneurs – many of whom have become great friends. One of the best I’ve ever known (entrepreneur and friend) is Christopher Ahlberg. Christopher’s 50th birthday today is a great opportunity for me to thank him for his partnership, friendship and most of all his sense of humor. Not only is Christopher incredibly smart, fiercely competitive, deliberately balanced, a loyal patriot as well as a great husband and father – but in his heart, Christopher is one of the best human beings I’ve ever known. He’s also an exceptionally private person which is why it gives me great pleasure to recognize his 50th birthday in such a public venue 😉 Happy birthday old man – looking forward to many more.
Spend visibility is a foundational need for procurement organizations, but many enterprises struggle to gain this visibility and keep it up-to-date. The notoriously messy nature of spend data and inability of legacy, rules-based technologies to keep up with the pace of business has made solving this problem a thorn in the side of many Chief Procurement Officers.
Societe Generale, a leading European financial services institution, recognized the need to take a fresh approach to solving this problem in late 2017 when they selected Tamr as a digital transformation partner and as their solution provider for spend analytics. Check out the video case study below.
The bank’s Group Sourcing Division manages the “source-to-contract” process for 250 buyers in 22 countries who collectively engage more than 100,000 suppliers and oversee €6.5 billion of spend. This complexity has made legacy solutions a non-starter. Previous attempts to apply a rules-based system were able to integrate just 15 of 100+ ERP systems and provided only 40% spend visibility.
In this 3-minute video, Jean-Baptiste Anne (Societe Generale’s Head of Sourcing Methods & Information Systems), describes why the Division chose Tamr and some of their successes so far, such as deploying Tamr’s Spend Analytics Solution in under 2 months and being able to reduce manual support effort by over 70%.
The success of the deployment has given the Division a foundation of trusted, up-to-date data that is being used to fuel the next steps in their digital transformation. As Jean-Baptiste describes in the video, Tamr’s unique approach to data integration has allowed Societe Generale to “rapidly scale our analytic operations, reduce costs, and simplify our IT environment.”
A post by Meredith Somers @ MIT last week here caused me to think about my own entrepreneurial journey. I had entrepreneurial tendencies early in my career – always trying to emulate my grandfather (reference here) – however I didn’t “co-found” a significant company myself until I was in my 30’s.
I love to back smart young high risk/return folks straight out of college (or even younger). Over the past 10 years @ Koa Labs and Founder Collective – I’ve been involved in backing many young entrepreneurs. At Koa our investment criteria included “first time entrepreneurs with technical/scientific background” – which skewed the age of founders in the Koa portfolio toward the younger side.
However statistics matter and as MIT Sloan professor Pierre Azoulay and PhD student Daniel Kim point out in their research – the average age of entrepreneurs who’ve started companies and gone on to hire at least one employee is 42 years old.
In my opinion – the key takeaway of this research is that there is a distribution of entrepreneurial talent in the world. There are “extreme entrepreneurs” insert cliche reference here to Musk, Gates, Jobs – but these individuals are all many standard deviations out from the center of the entrepreneurial distribution. Most of us fall somewhere closer to the center and and it can be dangerous to interpret the behavior of the folks that are extreme entrepreneurs as a model for what will work for the rest of us. Key message – figure out what works for you rather than trying to emulate the outliers.
As I reflected on what worked for me on my journey, there was one thing that stood out as a key – active mentors. After grad school I did at least 3 significant gigs which I have now come to think of as “entrepreneurial apprenticeships“. In each case I had fantastic mentors that taught me what I needed to know in order to be my own type of entrepreneur. First working with Joe Liemandt, Christy Jones and Phil London @ Trilogy & pcOrder.com, then Frank Moss @ Bowstreet and Steve Holtzman @ Infinity Pharmaceuticals. These mentors and the lessons that I learned while working with them and the people they attracted molded my entrepreneurial instincts over more than a decade after grad school. The list of lessons was long and hard won over 10+ years including :
- The ins and outs of bootstrapping and venture financing
- Challenges of setting & managing expectations with investors, employees, customers, spouse & kids
- The emotional roller coaster of believing that things can be better – technology, people, business – and then fighting against all odds to make it so
- People in startups need to be inspired emotionally AND it is essential to treat their emotional commitment and personal sacrifice with respect/honor
- The list goes on…
When I partnered with Mike Stonebraker & his academic cohort to co-found Vertica back in 2004 – I felt that I had an “unfair competitive advantage” not only because of amazing the technical ideas/inspiration from Mike & team – but I had learned so many hard lessons working on 3+ startups and was prepared to put those lessons to work on a project I co-founded.
Perhaps the takeaway is that for many of us who have entrepreneurial tendancies – our entrepreneurial journey is likely different from that of the extreme entrepreneurs – Jobs, Musk, Gates – and in my case was primarily driven not by youthful energy but more by many “entrepreneurial apprenticeships” which were not only rewarding professionally – but also provided some of the best friendships in my life.