Bleary Eyed Investors

Sleeping in The Lobby Of The Melbourne MuseumImage by fredwilson via Flickr

I'm in a particular stretch of sleep deprivation this week. From Tuesday through the end of today, I will do five board meetings in three cities, do two cross country flights including one redeye. I just finished a 24 hour visit to San Francisco where I did seven meetings including two of the five board meetings. To make matters worse, I had to fly coach on the redeye back to NYC.

I'm not complaining mind you. I am sure entrepreneurs have it much worse than I do.

But in a situation like that, how do I plan to "be present" in the two board meetings today?

Well for one thing, I take board meetings very seriously. They are among my most favorite parts of the job and I get energized just walking into them. I make sure to drink a lot of water and avoid heavy food and caffeine. If I find myself getting tired, I get up and participate in the meeting standing up.

But most of all, I try to be even more engaged in the meeting, ask more questions, think harder about opportunities and challenges facing the company, and attempt to make the meeting more interactive. And that's what my game plan is today.

I've also found that many entrepreneurs come into board meetings sleep deprived. Preparing for a board meeting is time consuming and many entrepreneurs put it off until the last minute and then go into crunch mode to get it done. You know when that happens if you don't get a board deck before the meeting.

I would advise entrepreneurs to avoid that approach if at all possible. Get the board prep done a few days in advance of the meeting, get the deck out to the board, and then get a good night's sleep before the meeting. You might need it if you've got some cranky bleary eyed investors to deal with.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. RAM1

    Yep, that prep work is impportant to Board members as well as for the entrepreneur I’ve found. Helps them to engage their minds on the important and meaningful factors about the business and its important to me to be able to formulate some questions and see where the bodies are buried.I’ve also encouraged the companies of which I am a director to ditch the standard deck format and instead study and apply the concepts of Edward Tufte.The presentations are a lot more eye-opening and meaningful and get the thinking and dialogue really flowing well. Not the standard “cheat” for the presenter.Rob

    1. fredwilson

      where does one go to bone up on Edward Tufte?

        1. fredwilson


          1. Henry Yates

            Have been browsing the Edward Tufte site – found this:http://armsandinfluence.typ…Good summary of “Death by PowerPoint”I think ppt can be a good tool for managing a board meeting – it helps keep the group on the agenda. However, it is often used as a crutch and people often present or facilitate a discussion in a much more engaging way without it.

          2. fredwilson

            YupI like pictures but no words

          3. leeschneider

            Fred, anytime there’s a discussion of a good .ppt presentation I always refer them to the Apple Keynote events. Beautifully done slides, lots of pictures, very little text, and never a “cheat” for the presenter.

          4. fredwilson

            Yup. They are excellent

          5. hv23

            In that vein, http://www.presentationzen…. is a great resource for tips on design principles to keep presentations simple, clear, and engaging.

          6. GraemeHein

            Presentation Zen is a great book.What I’ve noticed is that too many people don’t use the notes feature for decks – put text in the notes and leave slides for illustrative purposes. Creates a document that can be distributed by itself as well as a presentation that isn’t horrible.

          7. pfreet

            If the BOD deck is all pictures, why bother to send it out in advance of the meeting? 🙂

          8. ShanaC

            Language is limiting. Some concepts just don’t translate well until you percieive them. I can write you a description of bread. Seeing bread (if you have sight) is a better understanding of bread. Touching and holding bread might explain bread somewhat more. Smelling and eating bread and having the full experience of bread probably would be best (especially homemade bread mmmmm)Even with data, seeing the entire set of books doesn’t tell you very much until you extrapolate something meaningful into other forms. Same goes with bread. The word bread means something when you eat it.

          9. Dave Pinsen

            “Language is limiting.”Says the woman who writes in torrents.

          10. ShanaC

            😉 I’m a young cheeky one, aren’t I. I could say that the great ones all write, but actually, I don’t know. I can tell you that language is limiting, which is why I have sat down for months straight and drawn every day, and why I am suddenly so interested in all things code, even though right now it is scary. Writing is a good way to just start out the sketching process, and to calm some anzieties, and work out some thought processes. I guess that’s why I am suddenly deciding to crowdsource what to do with the next year of my life. Less about the crowdsourcing, more about thinking through the issues in a calm manner through a written mockup.It’s usually writing-drawing-coding-object-experience. Just something I’ve observed. Not just me, who’se observed this either. It’s why I’ve been told to write by many people, the first person being an art teacher who thought I was having problems expressing myself during critiques (and those are brutal). Unless you disapprove of my torrents? 😉

      1. Yule Heibel

        Definitely look at Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint (“…slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis…”). Also check out any of Philip Greenspun’s riffs on Tufte here. Some good stuff there. I actually found a couple of typically wordy comments from me on Phil’s ancient 2003 blog entry, PowerPoint v. PowerPoint (well, my 2nd comment is long, anyway). And in 2006, Phil had a nice (and pithy) synopsis of Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence book, here. Phil isolates 3 key ideas from Tufte’s book, describes them briefly, lets the reader grok it and run with it. Consider it the Cliff Notes version! ;-)Oh, PS: I hope you get to catch up on some rest over the weekend!

        1. Dave Pinsen

          I think we now need an expert in design principles to aggregate all the presentation suggestions in this comment thread into one compelling PowerPoint presentation — or maybe several, and have a little contest for the one that gets voted the best.

          1. Yule Heibel

            @DaveinHackensack: 😉

          2. ShanaC

            Choose three colors and one tonal variation of one of those three colors, plus black and white(maybe) for shading for any image you have. Those three colors must act as your grayscale. Otherwise people will get confused with the visual hierarchy on the page. Choosing that you will have certain elements distinctly on the white end of life, or the black end of life creates coninuity, yet that’s not always obvious when you look at an image. Nor is it obvivious that your eye follows a grayscale along a page (up a page, down a page, left, right) so where you put your now grayscaled objects can either focus people’s attention or distract the hell out of them.When in doubt, take a screenshot, take it into Photoshop or the GIMP, and convert To Grayscale. You’ll see where your eyes are floating to on the page, including off the page! You’ll see if everything that should be highlightlighted, is highlighted. (It works in real life, I’ve tested this one with friends, they are often surprised by how grayscaling helps create visual hierarchy and that it can be done with color, too. Colors have gray in them.)

          3. Yule Heibel

            Sounds like a great recipe for managing the visual load, ShanaC – thx!

        2. fredwilson

          Thanks Yule. I’ll check out Greenspun’s stuff

      2. Dave Hendricks

        Fred – you don’t sound like you have much (enough) time, but in case you are serious you can learn from the master yourself:

        1. fredwilson


  2. Dave Pinsen

    “If I find myself getting tired, I get up and participate in the meeting standing up.”That’s an old Army technique. Back in basic training, they’d tell you if you felt you were falling asleep in a class, and didn’t want to get abused for it, go stand up in the back of the room.Question for you: you mentioned in a previous post that you were online on your flight out to SFO. Your battery lasts that long on your laptop?

    1. fredwilson

      virgin america from jfk to sfo has wifi and power available to every seat in the entire plane. it is the only way to fly. if i was president, i’d make it the law of the land 🙂

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Interesting. I figured you were flying some corporate jet out of Teterboro that had power outlets available. I’ve never seen a commercial jet with that, but it makes perfect sense. You get that on Amtrak, after all.

        1. fredwilson

          I’ve only been on one corporate jet in life. I like to fly commercial

          1. GraemeHein

            You like to fly commercial? I’m really interested in why you do. I have theories, and can see how it could be very beneficial, but I’d like to test the hypothesis.Everyone I know that flies regularly would pretty much sell their soul to be able to fly privately.

  3. timraleigh

    That photo says it all…

    1. fredwilson

      That’s from a vacation we were on a while back. My kids shot it

      1. timraleigh

        Ya, trust family to take the most honest pictures, maybe not always the ones we always like the best.

  4. RichardF

    I think the board pack has to go out at least 3 days before if you are expecting your non-execs to be able to give meaningful input.For the VC backed companies I’ve worked for, it’s been mandatory that the bulk of the pack has been distributed in good time beforehand, granted there might be a last minute addition if it’s pertinent. But stuff like financials, sales updates etc quite frankly can go out a week before.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s true and its best practice. But it doesn’t always happen

  5. RacerRick

    Also… don’t have a 2 year old and a 3 month old living in your house at the same time.

    1. fredwilson

      Been there done that but the two year old is now in college

  6. lazerow

    Love this post! I’ve been doing the same thing on the entrepreneur side this week. 2 cross country flights, a redeye, 13 sales meetings and I’m about to run into my board meeting and then speaking at a conference today and event tonite. (Yes, I got my board prep done a few days early). A few thoughts:1) Board meetings are not just for the board. They’re for the entrepreneur. They’re a critical point each month or quarter to get your thoughts in order and explain your rationale for doing what you’re doing. It’s an excuse to dig into the numbers and take a step back from the day to day to really understand what’s going on.2) Any entrepreneur that goes into a board meeting without a deck or supporting materials should be fired.3) I now know how to survive redeye flights and the day after: sleep as much as you can on the flight, take a 2 hour nap when you land and drink a ton of water all day.4) Do the board meeting prep a few days in advance. Don’t send it until the day before the board meeting. Why? (a) the board won’t read it in advance, or at least before the day before the meeting (usually); and (b) things change up until the meeting.Nice post. I’m surprised I didn’t see you somewhere in the skies over Nebraska.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the comment mike. I’m not gonna get that 2 hour nap but I wish I was

      1. lazerow

        Two things:1) I’d trade sleep for your portfolio.2) Lose the picture with your three chins!MML

    2. Mark Essel

      Great advice Michael.

  7. jason

    mindfulness might be a practice to consider. it can really help people “be present” – especially when they’re sleep deprived. at least it’s worked for me:)

  8. Ted Rogers

    After the Nov. election, Bill Clinton was asked for one piece of advice for President Obama. “Get enough sleep.”He said (paraphrasing) ‘the president’s job is to take in information and make decisions and you need to be well-rested to make good decisions.’ Clinton said that all his worst decisions came when he was sleep-deprived.Good advice for the corporate world, as well.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      I’m guessing President Clinton didn’t take his own advice. He probably does now though, after his heart surgery.

    2. Keenan

      I guess George W. didn’t get much sleep.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        I think he actually got plenty of sleep. How much sleep is Obama getting? He seems to be continuing a lot of Bush’s policies (on Iraq, Gitmo, the Patriot Act, the financial bailouts, etc.).

        1. Keenan

          It’s always harder to clean up the dominoes than it is to know them down.

          1. Dave Pinsen

            As long as this is the change you believed in.

          2. Keenan

            LOL!What’s it been 10 months? I knew expectations were high, but WOW! I’ll at least give him 2 years before I start judging. Just as I gave Bush. I’m less concerned with the name and party than I am with the effort and results.

          3. fredwilson

            Two years seems reasonable. I’ll join you in that timeline keenan

    3. fredwilson

      that is good advice

  9. ShanaC

    Ok, offbeat suggestions that I got from a Doctor. They’re very concerned with the way I sleep, so this kind of thing is normal for me.Spot on about the diet. Though I find personally i need more food to compensate. Also relaxing stretching/Strenthbuilding exercises-such as yoga. If you’re going to maintain a strange internal calendar for a while, fine. Just maintain it. ( I was doing a lot of night work and filming, and my classes were very late in the afternoon, so I just stayed up all night, I was sort of worried about it…)You may want to buy a bottle of time released melatonin to reset your clock when you are done with the crazy flight thing. It’s also about the staying asleep.And I regularly sleep in coach….It’s a learned skill. Learn about what puts you to sleep in terms of triggers, and use them to your advatage. Especially because you’ll never know where you’ll have to sleep.

  10. Mark Essel

    Best of luck catching some shut eye between hops/meetings. Sometime sleep deprivation unlocks my more outlandish creativity, who knows what wild input you’ll have? Are board meetings a mix of startup health checkups and strategy review? If so I can understand how interesting/important they are. From my perspective most meetings are tough to value (most of the time they disrupt work, so there’s always a cost, but not always a payoff).Ps imagine coach mid seat at 6’7″. Flights are horrific

  11. ShanaC

    Just look forward to a tomorrow night. That too. It may be hectic now, tomorrow will be a lot more self reflective. (My house smells like my favorite time of year, and I’m sure yours smells good too…) I can’t believe I forgot that. May you be written in the book of life.

  12. GL

    There’s only so much human badwidth. Looks like Union Square Ventures needs to bring on board another General Partner to deal with new investments….

    1. fredwilson

      or do less deals. bringing on partners is not a scalable solution either. at some point you stop being the firm you were.

  13. benortega

    I think everyone here would be ok with you NOT responding so quickly on their comments so you can try and get in a power nap.We need you to be fresh, otherwise, how will you be able to effectively listen and relay back all the good insights you’ll draw from those meetings??

  14. kenberger

    A friend of mine at Google in Europe swears by Polyphasic Sleeping some swear by supplements such as Melatonin.Neither has worked for me at all.There sure is massive oppty for investable innovation here!

    1. Dave Pinsen

      That sounds like what Kramer tried on that Seinfeld episode.Getting paid to nap is a pretty sweet deal though. Most jobs you’d get canned for that.

  15. GlennKelman

    Great post. I come into most board meetings a little bleary and this resolved me to stop.But since you mentioned that portfolio companies sometime work late to get ready, I wondered: how much time do you think your portfolio companies put into board prep? What’s the right amount of time in your opinion?It takes us a half-day to get ready — which is lot when you think about how many days you have in a month — and I used to fret that it was time wasted managing up. But it turns out that just bringing together all the facts of the business into one coherent story about what’s really going on is a useful, necessary exercise. I’d say 50% of the value of a board meeting could happen without the board being present at all.

    1. Dan T

      Absolutely. 1/2 of the benefit is knowing that you have to be accountable for what you said you were going to do 3 months earlier, measuring it relentlessly and being honest with yourself about your progress. Your point about making sure the management team drives the prep is also key, so it’s not just the CEO story. Forces everyone to get on the same page and well worth it.

  16. Roman Giverts
  17. markslater

    thats what you will look like come sunday when the brady clinic comes to the meadowlands;)

    1. fredwilson

      i’m going to the game mark. i fully expect to get our clock cleaned. but i will be rooting hard for the jets anyway.

      1. markslater

        congrats – i was getting my slice of americana here yesterday…

        1. fredwilson

          that link is not working for me unfortunately

          1. fredwilson

            wow. where is that from?

          2. markslater

            Loudon NH – Nascar – Father-in-law works for Nascar so press passes for the brit! if you have not been to one of these – it is surely reccomended – it is the greatest single slice of americana in one place at one time.Commentator yesterday was explaining that tony stewart was having a poblem with his right rear tyre but that the pit crew were not telling him – and the commentator told tony to ‘check twitter buddie!’

          3. fredwilson

            nice!i went to a nascar race in charlotte north carolina a few years backwe were in the infieldit was the loudest thing i’ve ever experienced

  18. Glenn Gutierrez

    Hard core.

  19. charlie f

    Fred, as a member of the million mile club and someone who is rooting for your continued success, let me share that the obvious. The pace you’re on is not sustainable, it’s unhealthy, and straining on the relationships that make life special. If USV has a board, it just may ask the partners to share how the firm is going to sustainably scale to the opportunity.

    1. fredwilson

      Its a good question charlie, particularly since I don’t believe that VC is a scalable businessAnd even though I plead guilty to working at an unsustainable pace, I do make a lot of time for the things that make life special.Right now is a time of opportunity for me and our firm. So I feel like I have to go for it. But clearly I can’t do this way for the long haul

  20. Itzik Ben-Bassat
  21. Monty Kalsi

    Charlie – Hope you are having good time.

  22. Luis D Arbulu

    not sure if you noticed, but the ad that showed on Google Reader for this was the following (courtesy of doubleclick):…Is that perfect ad-targeting or what?!?! (I used to work in AdSense so I feel a hint of pride)WRT to board meetings – I’ve been in a similar trend lately: Austin, Boulder, Berkeley, etc. Advice: learn to sleep in cabs, planes, and airport lounges

    1. ShanaC

      Yes, but not always in trains nor buses unless you are the last stop. (I’ve gotten off in the wrong place that way) Where confmy clothing and pack something nicer ro take out, and a toothbrush, will help this process.

    2. fredwilson

      What’s even more funny about that ad is my wife and I just bought a new mattress for our bedroom. We looked at that mattress but went for another brand

  23. Mark MacLeod

    Wish all investors treated board meetings this way. Too often they’re just management broadcasting to investors. No value add.Here’s my recipe for a great board meet:

    1. fredwilson

      Great post!

    1. fredwilson

      That is an interesting riff. I’m not going to talk publicly about that particular situation though

      1. Guest

        Completely understood. It was sent in the vein of sharing information that might have been of personal interest. Even in the neural network of social media we can only be in so many places at once.