Face To Face Board Meetings

I was talking to the Gotham Gal today about board meetings. She was talking about a board call she had participated on and I asked "why didn't you do the meeting face to face?". She said, "you're right, we should".

In the past week, I've traveled to Ljubljana Slovenia and today to Boulder Colorado to attend board meetings. It's a lot of travel but I don't think you can do it any other way. If you are going to be on the board (as opposed to a board observer), I think you have to attend the meetings.

I don't have a perfect attendance record in my almost twenty years sitting on boards, but I've made the effort to be there in person and I estimate I'm at the board meeting 80-90% of the time.

This is one of the reasons VCs like to invest locally. It's a breeze for me to attend all my NYC boards in person. I wouldn't think of doing anything else. But getting on a plane, flying to the west coast and back to attend a three hour board meeting is always a big "ugh". Of course, you can build a whole trip around it and I do that. You can also do multiple investments in other cities and try to arrange all the board meetings for the same couple days. I do that too.

The benefits of being there in person are too many to list, but I'll name a few. Looking someone in the eye and seeing the body language will tell you so much more than a voice on a speakerphone. Being there and spending face time with the team, other than the CEO, is also hugely valuable. And building board chemistry can only be done face to face.

Last night we did a board dinner before the meeting today. We talked a little business, but it was mostly catching up on each other's lives and summers. You might think that is wasted time. But it is not. Boards are like every other group. You need the people to like each other, enjoy each other's company, and be able to work well together. Board dinners and board retreats are the best way to accomplish that.

So that's why face to face is a requirement for me when it comes to board meetings. There will always be the urgent call to approve a transaction or deal with a crisis situation. And those are almost always calls. But the regularly scheduled meetings should be in person.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. bfeld

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ll see you in 45 minutes.

    1. fredwilson

      i’m getting an espresso at Amante at 7am. want to pick me up there instead?

      1. Henry Yates

        who needs twitter when you have disqus!

        1. ShanaC

          🙂 Coffee geek scene in soho and brooklyn not your game though by the sound of it?

  2. Jeff Hilimire

    This is a great point and one that I think extends outside of board meetings alone. I’ve had to learn over time the importance of face-to-face meetings rather than phone calls but mostly instead of email. The generation I grew up in (I’m 33) is so reliant on technology to communicate that we often forget that there are some things that are better discussed face-to-face.I brought up once before to you about video conference and how we’ve used that successfully at my company, but when it comes to more important conversations or meetings, I completely agree with you.

  3. paulhart

    Pretty much everything in business is relationships. Doesn’t matter if it’s getting to know your fellow board members, learning more about existing or potential clients, or understanding what motivates the individuals in your work environment.Effective execution can’t occur without a good-quality, pre-existing relationship.

  4. Farhan Lalji

    Hi Fred, do you have a science to how many boards outside of NYC you’ll sit on? How many investments outside of the US you’ll make? Or does the company drive the participation?

    1. fredwilson

      no formulas for that but the hurdles are higher for non NYC boardsturns out the returns are higher too, a HBS study recently showed that

      1. Farhan Lalji

        Wonder if the returns are higher because you put the hurdles higher? Got a link to the HBS study?

        1. fredwilson

          Not here on my bberry. But that’s the most logical reason why this is the case

      2. ChuckBerry

        that’ll be the home bias hammering you, but surprising to hear it affects NYC rather than just the valley.(i always invest in overseas stocks, and never bet on the home team at the game)

        1. ShanaC

          Quick question about the study, did they choose firms across the country or just firms out of NY, and I am wondering how the ties to NYC VC to NY Banking and Law help , and the only way to know would be to see the study.

  5. rajjr_tx

    I think this is one of the reasons that folks outside SV are at a disadvantage with the VCs. I understand it. The convenience of being able to attend your board meetings and still sleep in your own bed at night is compelling.I’m either going to have to find the rare VCs willing to travel (like yourself), or buy into the SV myth and move to CA.

    1. John Minnihan

      I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but if you look at the comments thread here, you’ll see responses from guys at Foundry Group (Brad Feld) and Spark Capital (Bijan Sabet).Brad is constantly traveling visiting portfolio companies; watching Bijan’s tweet stream just briefly shows he does the same thing. Between these three VC firms (including Fred’s Union Square), you have Boston, NYC and Boulder / Denver covered WRT local stuff. But these guys have investments in – and travel to – Seattle, LA, and points in between frequently.There’s no need to buy into the myth that one must relocate to San Francisco or the valley to attract VC. Make quality connections & your location – wherever it happens to be – will be significantly less important.

      1. fredwilson


    2. fredwilson

      How about a VC where you live? All VCs prefer local opptys

      1. John Minnihan


  6. bijan

    completely agree.I’m in SF for a one day turnaround because of a three hour board mtg yesterday. but i packed in my day like crazy and saw a bunch of folks that I needed to see.I wish I could stay longer and meet more folks while I’m here but i need to get home to see the arctic monkeys tonight 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      You’ve got your priorities straight bijan!!!!!

  7. Scott Kurnit

    Totally agree. At a minimum the first half dozen MUST be done in person. Best, if they all happen f2f but at least you begin to know the flow, facial expressions, exasperation etc. over the phone if you have some pattern recognition from the initial f2f meetings.

    1. fredwilson

      Exasperation in board meetings? I don’t know what you are talking about scott 😉

  8. John Minnihan

    Totally agree, but with a twist.In my experience, there’s *no substitute* for the face-to-face time spent developing trust with the team. In my case, I’m referring to my customers.Sometimes that takes as little as a couple weeks, other times four or six… but once it is there, so much more work can be done without hopping on a plane. The relationships that are established on the ground can then be used to leverage the efficiencies of the network (the actual computing network), allowing me to do what I do (enterprise build systems & source control stuff).I get to participate with & influence these great companies – firms that wouldn’t otherwise trust their source code & internal systems to some guy sitting at a desk in Denver.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a lot like scott kurnit’s comment. F2F is critical at the start.With boards I think you have to stick with F2F but I do see your point wrt to customers

  9. Mihai Badoiu

    Building relationships require f2f. Google found this the hard way. After years of each team just grabbing whatever engineer/resource it could find in remote offices, about 1-2 years ago we went through a defragmentation phase where offices had to decrease the number of projects while increasing the commitment to each project.

    1. fredwilson

      When did that happen?

  10. Matt Blumberg

    It’s absolutely true. Great dinner last night, and we probably only spent 15% on company topics. But the first part wasn’t just social. It was catching up on each others’ lives and doing so through the lens of business. Both interesting and also valuable.

    1. fredwilson

      Listening to scott is always entertaining and informing

  11. Bill Davenport

    I agree — being on the operating side I tend to find that board phone calls tend to be more “update” type of discussions vs. a deeper dive into real business issues which happen in face to face meetings.

  12. Paul Johnson

    Fred, its very telling that while your someone who advocates for, and invests in, technology that helps us communicate in virtual ways – you always champion face-to-face communication as essential toy our success.Its an important point to make – Twitter, Facebook, SM, collaboration tools etc. exist to capture what we all crave – face-to-face contact. They never replace them, but sometimes offer the next best thing.

    1. fredwilson

      I might go as far to suggest the enhance the F2F. I met a dozen or more entrepreneurs last night at a bar. They all felt like they knew me and it made the conversations a lot better

      1. Paul Johnson

        Agreed. I was amazed by how easy the interaction was at a Mashable event here in Philly. The reason as we had all gotten to know each other already on Twitter/blogs.

  13. Adrian Bye

    Fred, I’d very much like to hear more about your thoughts on this topic. The world is becoming far more global now, but it seems few VCs are doing the kind of long distance investing you / Brad / Bijan are doing.. More info understanding your mindset and how you make it all work would be most valuable.

    1. Adrian Bye

      Sample questions that I’d love to learn more about:- how do you invest internationally in legal systems you don’t understand without getting ripped off?- how do you really know your portfolio companies are performing well?- do you ever drop by unexpectedly?- what kind of value do you provide to guys out in Slovenia?- why are you willing to invest in far away places when other VCs will not? Is it just board meetings? Are there other things you’re willing/able to do which they aren’t?

      1. fredwilson

        The answers to these questions can’t be done in a comment reply. Good fodder for the blog

    2. fredwilson

      I’ll work on a post. What we need is not me on planes. We need VCs on the ground in solvenia and croatia and hungary and dozens of other countries. That’s going to take time

      1. Adrian Bye

        that would be great to see.

  14. im2b_dl

    Fred I should say…isn’t it scary that you even have to post this…and I am sure somewhere people are saying in their heads all the excuses why it is not that important.

    1. fredwilson

      Well sometimes people need some prodding

  15. CYNCZ

    I agree that board meeting should be face to face. Looking at the member and their body language, face expressions answers lot of un-answered questions. I’m a big supporter of video conferencing and Web meetings but important meetings should be more fruitful if it’s face-to-face.

    1. Ade

      I find it amazing how little web-cams are used in offices. A meeting room full of people staring at one of those grey speakerphones in the middle of the desk should be ancient history.

      1. kidmercury

        i agree, although technophobia is a major culprit here IMO. i worked at what could be described in part as a software company for four years, and even there in an environment that was far more technologically savvy than most companies, implementing new things and getting employees to adopt them was a major hurdle — even when usability was addressed as best as it could. IMHO companies need an agent of sorts willing to force that type of thing through.

      2. fredwilson

        Google has videoconf everywhere

  16. JenC

    So true. When I entered the work force, reliance on email, technology in general, was minimal. We have definitely created efficiencies, but often at the expense of developing more personal relationships with our clients, peers and business partners. In many cases, we have become less efficient given our reliance on email as we get caught in never ending chains (shall we cc everyone yet again) when many items can be resolved with a simple 2 minute f2f conversation. There have definitely been instances where agency/client relationships have suffered because of the lack of personal contact – we have lost the “niceties” that often allowed us to more easily navigate through challenging situations. A friend from Paris once told me that “the way you do business is…uncivilized.” A little extreme, but point well-taken.

    1. fredwilson

      Drinking a couple glasses of wine at lunch with a client is clearly more civilized but every time I do that I’m shot for the rest of the day

  17. Seth Godin

    Fred, you never once missed a board meeting at Yoyodyne. It made a difference.

    1. fredwilson

      Is that true? Wow

  18. bussgang

    Great post, Fred, and I totally agree with this philosophy. Well-functioning boards are essentially work groups that operate as a team to solve problems – something that requires relationship-building, high bandwidth communication, trust and therefore face-to-face interaction. There are many benefits to having boards in different cities to expand your network and deal flow beyond your zip code. VCs who aren’t flying around to SF, NYC and Boston with some frequency are missing out.

    1. fredwilson

      Yeah, missing out on ‘circulating air’ as my son calls it 😉

  19. Peter Cranstone

    Fred,How long are you in Boulder – I’m just south in the Denver Tech Center – nothing like a face to face demo if you have time.Peter

    1. fredwilson

      I’m just seeing this now. I got hugely behind on everything this trip

      1. Peter Cranstone

        No worries.

  20. Rob Freeborn

    Fred – If you get a chance to do a video conference via one of the newer life sized HD systems such as Cisco TelePresence or HP Halo, you are going to wonder where these were all your life. There are a couple of service providers (I think Tata/Marriot is one of them) that will be rolling these rooms out nationwide. While they won’t replace face to face, it’s a pretty amazing augmentation.

    1. ShanaC

      You know, my dad cells non-hd videoconfercingfor which he custom refurbs. I think he can also host multipoint too. I’ve used it when I am around when he has to test with clients for installs in the NYC metro area and they want a space to dial in. It has its pluses and limitations. The images are very real looking, but it is a monocular view, and humans are binocular, so when you see someone in person for real for the first time, they look off. You also think in tests that you look strange, because it is not the mirror image that they show you. As a result, a lot of people tend not to make eye contact, even if you are on a large television. I personally find it difficult to keep composure and keep eye contact, because I can’t decide if I should look at the camera or the person on the TV. As a result, I never took to it. It is a love/hate technology with a learning curve.

  21. Nick Molnar

    Are there any VCs or companies here that use some sort of HD Telepresence (not iChat, or something budget) for board meetings. It doesn’t get you the dinner, or cocktail hour, but it does convey a lot more information than a speakerphone.

    1. fredwilson

      I’ve done it once or twice. I don’t like it.

  22. Frank Bonsal III

    VC has always been about the people; no better way to build the people connection than in person. One question. In a recession … who pays: for the travel, the meals, the coffee, etc? I suppose Cisco, Tandberg, Skype et al might induce a muted face-to-face tone in recessionary climes.

  23. Jason

    and i am sure having you on the board also brings the priceless value add of a network (so needed right about now), i totally would killsaw my 1st mm$ in NYC (though i don’t know how capital efficient living/working there would be), yet the lesson for me here is that i will go where whoever takes me and my internet machine… Fred, almost suredoneinternet internet internet! =)

  24. iToo

    Testing AVC

    1. David Semeria

      Copy that iToo. Over.

  25. marram

    Yes indeed. The real world is too high bandwidth to be replaced by social media.That’s why we’re bringing back old school face-time with friends. You really should check out Sponty, Fred:http://www.thesponty.com(discalimer: I’m a cofounder at Spont)

    1. ShanaC

      Sort of. The good side of social media is meeting new people. Loose ties are the best kinds. I have a party tomorrow night. I’m meeting someone there who is the ex-roommate of someone else I know. The commonality is a facebook wall post about Ella Fitzgerald. I don’t think I would have had the introduction or the balls to say hello had there not been this exchange on this wall about this quote about a line of an Ella Fitzgerald song being a perfect description of too many rainy nights.

  26. marshal sandler

    Excellent thoughts ! No body language can be viewed on the phone-A visit on a personal basis may consume time but it is a sign of respect of others and their views , it eliminates ok with corrections !

  27. johndodds

    The Dating Direct ad that was served under this post seems remarkably apposite.

    1. fredwilson

      Google is at it again

  28. JeffreyJDavis

    Fred -Chiming in from the other side of the table here. As a portfolio company operator, I also dramatically prefer the face to face board meeting. We have a pretty nice big screen videocon setup at our offices (not a Cisco Telepresence, but pretty high end). We’ve used it a few times, when the weather was really sketchy for travel. It’s nice to be able to have all your notes spread out in front of you as you pitch to your board via videocon. But it’s unnerving if your sponsor goes on mute for 15 seconds and is chatting across the table. Additionally, I get a lot of value out of reading the body language and watching which bullets they circle or pages in the book they fold the corners over. It’s much more educational for me to continue to learn how my equity sponsor thinks about the company and about value creation.In person is definitely the way to go. It’s why we fly from rural South Carolina up to our sponsor’s office in New York every quarter. Worth the time and $$$ for us.

    1. fredwilson

      Interesting that you travel to them. I prefer to go to the company

      1. JeffreyJDavis

        Our company is not in a supremely accessible location (Aiken, SC) , and air flights are not so reliable, so it just seems to work out easier for three of us (CEO, CFO, President) to travel to them then for the whole board to visit us.I’m sure each situation is different based on portfolio company location and board composition.

        1. fredwilson

          Got it

  29. Venkat

    Not being a member of this particular stratosphere, can you educate us on what, if anything, distinguishes board meetings from other high-importance consequential meetings? Are there more general meeting criteria that determine when it is worth spending the travel $$ to get all participants in one place briefly?My team of ~10 is spread across 14.5 hours worth of timezones, and I’ve often wondered if anything can justify spending to get them all together. So far, I can think of nothing, so I haven’t tried to make it happen.

    1. fredwilson

      Board meetings are regularly scheduled (monthly or bi-monthly) of the top managers and investors. Topics that are usually covered are strategy, performance, team, comp, financings, etc

      1. Venkat

        I know what board meetings are, operationally 🙂 Was wondering about any psychological differences that make face-to-face more valuable.

        1. fredwilson

          I’m not sure I understand your question. But the way I see it, board meetings are hugely important for a host of reasons and as such, they should be done face to face

          1. Venkat

            Never mind then. I am approaching the issue from the point of view of virtual-work trends, and am interested in going beyond people’s vague sense that some stuff needs to be done face to face and some can be safely virtualized. One of the ways I try to probe this is to ask people wherever I go about specific types of meetings (eg. technical meetings, interviews, performance reviews, ice-breakers, new-team-chemistry-creation…). I find that people cannot easily put a finger on the DNA of the meeting attributes that make it F2F-critical. Probably a social science research question…if somebody could codify this into a recommendation calculator that takes in 20 Q&A responses and pops out a “do this F2F” or “you can safely do this on livemeeting” type recommendations… there’s probably money in such an offering 🙂

          2. fredwilson

            I get it. Interesting approach

  30. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

    I so agree! In my first company we had a particular VC who would show up unprepared making it harder to get through the agenda. I was a pretty young CEO back then and didn’t fully appreciate the intricacies of board management, but it’s so important to get to know people on your board (and even your employees) outside of work. No matter how often people think they can separate work and their personal lives, it’s rarely done perfectly…one always affects the other and as a manager if you don’t appreciate that, you won’t be able to get the best out of someone and they will think you really don’t care about them. In my opinion anyway.

  31. iamronen

    This sent me back to a meeting in which I participated 2 years ago and really stuck with me… wrote it about here: http://www.iamronen.com/?p=…As I collected my thoughts and wrote that I also recalled your earlier post about long-term relationships (http://www.avc.com/a_vc/200… and I think it really complements this one:Amen on board retreats!

    1. fredwilson

      I’m going to read your post

  32. Steve Gonzalez

    social media and the rapidly increasing technology in teleconferencing makes it extremely easy to attend meeting all over the world without ever having to leave your office. However, I look at business and meetings like I look at poker, body language is everything not the cards you’re holding. So if you’re playing to win attend the meetings in person.Cheers,Steve

  33. John Risner

    Great post. If you can’t expect to attend BOD meetings in person, then you should not join the Board. F2F adds to much value. The premeeting dinners are great venues for industry/market discussion vs. deep dives into company issues at the meeting proper.While for profit boards need to offer a teleconf option, as things do come up that prevent F2F, the non-profit Board that I serve on eliminated proxy voting for directors and attendence by teleconf. This has made a great difference in Board engagement.

  34. fredwilson

    Usually the company pays and that is negotiated upfront. but that’s not always the case. I don’t get reimbursed for my SF boards at the moment