The Agile Board

Mark Suster wrote a post about boards of directors last week in which he coined the phrase "the agile board."

I love that phrase. Too many boards meet once a month and that's it. I am on a few boards like that. Some boards I am on only meet six times a year and there is very little involvement between meetings. Those companies might as well not have boards.

I am also on boards where everyone is highly engaged between meetings. These boards are active in email discussions with the team, they are active in recruiting, business development, even strategy. They are agile boards who add significant value.

Entrepreneurs can have it either way. They will generally dictate what kind of board their companies have. Like Mark, I prefer the agile board and I think an active and engaged board ultimately works out much better for the entrepreneur and the company he or she is building.

So go read Mark's post and learn about how to create an agile board.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Fred Kapoor

    It all sounds nice, ideal and very effective from the business point of view. But the truth is that when it comes to forming the board of directors, it is already very difficult to gather responsible people willing to work together based on the same principles and towards the same goals. Let alone getting to form an agile board of directors. Do you know of any good tips for this?

    1. fredwilson

      yes, a board of five members is ideal for most companies, certainly allsmall and medium sized companies where there isn’t a lot of committee workif you include the founder/CEO, then there are four other slotsi would put two other entrepreneurs with significant experience on the boardand one or possibly two investors, but the investors must have highlyrelevant domain expertise and be very experienced and seasoned board membersif the founder is not the CEO, then the founder, the CEO, two entrepreneurs,and one investor is ideal

      1. reece

        Fred, in your experience are all board members in place immediately upon financing or can this happen over time?If company X is funded tomorrow, the investors may get a board seat, but the founders may want/need time to find/secure the right entrepreneur board members.Also, when a company has 2-3 founders, is it best to just have one representative on the board?

        1. andyswan

          No. The founders should fight for as many seats as they can control. So should investors. The board goes beyond “helpful people” and into “voting on major business decisions” when things get serious.

          1. reece

            Makes sense.

          2. Matt A. Myers

            That’s a bit scary eh when an investor will have an agenda.. I guess just make sure to have other board members who don’t have bias towards the same investments as investors/board members do?

        2. fredwilson

          yes, you can wait. but don’t wait too long. see Erik’s comment in this thread about this.

      2. Matt A. Myers

        Could you not consider an investor also as an entrepreneur slot?

  2. Dan Lewis

    Off-topic, perhaps; if so, I apologize and feel free to ignore:To what degree should the board interact with employees? Take three situations: Founders and first few (<5) employees; when it’s an early stage business, fewer than 20 employees but more than 5; when the company is between 20 and 50.

    1. fredwilson

      there is no one way on thisfirst and foremost, the founder and/or CEO needs to be comfortable withboard interaction with the teamif that is in place, then early on, it is with most everyoneas the company grows, it is mostly with the senior team

      1. Matt A. Myers

        I think this is great if a message can make its way directly to the person or people who need to understand it, versus through someone.However, I would certainly say there needs to be a follow-up with the person by-passed. Just to make sure all changes, modifications can be passed up the line so someone looking at the whole picture can make sure it still fits or if some other related things (or unannounced plans perhaps) will need some rethinking, etc..

    2. Harry DeMott

      Different board members all are going to bring different skills and experiences (hopefully not just money and deal structuring experience) and so keeping those ideas centralized to me makes little sense. Not sure you want board guys sending out blast e-mails – but if the board member has a technical background and wants to speak to the CTO – why not. A marketing guy should be able to talk to the product team. I figure as long as the board is being proactive and helpful it makes sense – but when they start overstepping you have to reign it in (like contradicting the management team or going around them on decisions) I’ve tended to communicate with team members by e-mail – and generally cc the CEO or founder so they know who I am talking to and why. If there is an issue – I trust they will tell me.

  3. Kevin

    Do entrepreneurs resist this? So long as people weren’t just meeting to meet and were trying to help I’d think it’s great. The more help and viewpoints the better. I can imagine how that could be intimidating for some people though — they may not want to feel exposed to the board at all times. If the team and attitudes are right though it’s a big win I think.

    1. fredwilson

      yes they donot all, but some do

    2. Paul Carney

      You are right, Kevin. It all depends on the personality of the CEO. If the CEO wants to learn and grow, they will welcome involvement, even if the board is asking tough questions. But if the CEO does not have confidence (or hides behind a fake facade of confidence), then he/she will do everything to keep them at bay. It is all a matter of approach and my style would be to learn, grow and listen.

  4. andyswan

    Entrepreneurs really should sit on the board of another company or two. A friend’s startup or a local small company. Be great at it.Learning how to see a business from “outside the glass” will help your own company in a ton of different ways, will help you understand and respect the role of the board, and will help you demand more of yourself and your board as you go along. Plus, it will begin to open up a world of connections and new ideas.There is no substitute for getting your hands dirty.

    1. fredwilson

      i totally agree andy

    2. Mark Essel

      Every time I get my hands dirty I learn. Great idea about sitting on other boards.perspective makes people more effective

    3. Tereza

      So true Andy.

    4. Gorilla44

      I don’t think that an entrepreneur fully engaged in his own company has time to be on another board or two and do a good job.

      1. reece

        In theory, but the best entrepreneurs “make time” (I literally mean produce more hours in a day), especially if it’s to learn and advance their own business.

        1. Gorilla44

          This is going to piss off a bunch of you, but whatever, I don’t work in IT.I see how much all of the regulars post on this blog. (I’m amazed that any of you actually do any work. Some of you post 15-20 times in a day.) I guess if you have time for that you have time to run a company and sit on a few boards.

          1. reece

            If you don’t see the value to entrepreneurs in this community, then you’renot getting it. There is tremendous entrepreneurial force here.Sure, some people post a ton, but Disqus makes it easy.This response took less than 30 seconds.

          2. Fernando Gutierrez

            If you feel something is important you can always make time. Having energy can be an issue, but we all lose a lot of time in things we could pass without.

          3. ErikSchwartz


          4. ShanaC

            If you look closely what happens is there is layering of comments and people post at specific times- the reason has to do with how the comments interfaces with email. people post in spurts without actually being on the page, while answering a whole slew of other emails.

          5. Tereza

            I used to go to a lot of events (you can check my blog for experiences with that). But no longer!It’s way more time efficient to do Disqus/AVC. I was losing 3 hrs in travel time per event. This is an extremely fast way to hook in meaningfully with people you would want to know, as an entrepreneur.It gets better when you blog as well, because then some people find you. And so far I must say that the people who found me were 100% value-adding to my network (and I had a pretty good network to start with).I also read fewer news websites than before. I don’t have to. That’s time saved.I feel more confident in meetings because I feel ahead of the issues.Not to mention that if Fred responds to one of your comments, then in your convos with outsiders you can drop his name. Woot!Finally, it’s so darn easy and you can dial in up or down on the day or topic that works for you. How often are you out and between meetings with 5 minutes to kill?Net net for me, it’s a quite large time savings and a great improvement in network size, quality, knowledge, confidence, and name recognition.I just wrote this while standing in line at Whole Foods for a sushi platter to bring to one of my advisors, who’s sitting shiva; an essential for my professional and personal relationship. Anything else I could’ve been doing in these minutes would’ve been lower value- add for me.

          6. Matt A. Myers

            Plus, I find it’s nice because it’s a different mental gear from the other work I’m doing … slows my mind down – even maybe is a bit meditative. 🙂

          7. Dave Pinsen

            I thought bagels and lox were SOP for that. Did you at least get Philadelphia rolls?

          8. Tereza

            Lemme tell you something. That sushi platter was empty in less than 10 minutes.Even the shrimp. <doh!>

          9. Dave Pinsen


          10. kidmercury

            whole foods ftw. and i agree the disqus experience dramatically increases efficiency. if folks can’t keep up with the conversation, that just means they’re youngsters who don’t know how to use technology…..

          11. Tereza

            …Or can’t type fast!

          12. Dave Pinsen

            +1 for a funny and irreverent comment. As with most things funny, there’s an element of truth to it. If you’re posting here (or on another blog) 15-20 times per day, then maybe it has become a time suck for you. But judicious participation in commenting communities like this one can be productive.One specific example I can offer, from my own blog, from last week. I wrote a post about how I used one of my web apps in a beneficial way and got a couple of questions about it in the comments. I was ambivalent at first about spending the time to answer the questions, as doing so was somewhat tedious. But I did, and it turned out I answered it to the commenter’s satisfaction. And he subscribed to the app site that day.

          13. fredwilson

            i think that sometimes too gorilla44but its so damn easy to reply via email. i bet most of the active commenters here don’t visit the blog more than once a day

      2. Matt A. Myers

        Learning constantly is an integral part of entrepreneurship. Sitting on board member is invaluable learning and experience.Mind you, I haven’t done it yet – but I look forward to it.

  5. Mark Essel

    Mark updated that post Fred based on good comments from Nivi and Brad,The Agile Board

  6. Harry DeMott

    Great topic. I still have no idea why VC’s or anybody else would want to sit on a board if they were not going to be fully engaged in helping that company as often as possible. With so much written about operating strategy in small companies and the need to constantly rethink and pivot – you would think that everyone should view their board position as an almost part time job at the company. That’s kind of the way I look at VC investing – allocating capital to companies where you would like to work

    1. fredwilson

      Sometimes you have no choice. You sit on the board to monitor an important investment even though the company holds you at arms lengthIt sucks

  7. RichardF

    Good post from Mark, I missed that one.One of the things he pointed out was making sure that everyone on your board should know how to position you correctly when speaking to outsiders which I think brilliant advice.The other thing that I think is very important is that your board actually use your product or service regularly (where they can, not always possible I know).Apart from you Fred, I know that Brad Feld is very proactive in using and talking about his investments products.

  8. Louis Adekoya

    A bit meta but perhaps there’s an opportunity here for a startup to build a product dedicated to collaboration and communication between board members.

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t the issue is the tools so much. Its attitudes

  9. kidmercury

    lol, so boss whose side you in the solon vs horowitz beef? suster is with solon….i suppose you have a conflict of interest in this matter given the big showdown set for TC disrupt…..btw, i’d really like to organize a way for determining a winner of that event, and i’d like to allow for speculation on the matter (i am fan of ben but i think his side is inherently tougher to defend and so i am definitely long wilson in this beef)…..i asked arrington and schonfeld for some help in creating markets for the event, but they ignored me on twitter….pfft….but in solon vs horowitz, i don’t think i can evaluate a winner. i enjoyed ben’s post because it was a bit provocative, although as i am not a VC, i naturally did not find it offensive in the least. perhaps i would feel otherwise if i was a VC, i don’t know. what do you guys think? whose side are you on?

    1. Matt A. Myers

      There’s no better time than than now, so I wanted to ask: was there a start to when you started calling Fred boss? :)I always appreciate what you say, though I don’t know the details of events you generally bring up, but you certainly play devil’s advocate and you seem to be a good challenge for Fred. 🙂

      1. kidmercury

        fred hired me as a bouncer, so that’s why he’s the boss. here’s the link:…if you click the link to suster’s blog, you’ll see mark suster links to marksolon. solon dissed ben horowitz in that blog post. this was in response toben horowitz dissing the entire VC community. you can find it all if youclick on the link to mark suster’s blog in fred’s post, and then follow thestory from there.

    2. fredwilson

      I am embarassed to say I haven’t read the two posts

      1. kidmercury

        understandable boss, especially if you’re in email bankruptcy and thus attention starved. Perhaps worth investigating before fight night at TC disrupt. Could give you a psychological edge.

        1. fredwilson

          can you help me out with a couple links?

          1. kidmercury

            lol, gladly!… – in that link, suster links to a post from mark solon dissing ben horowitz. suster speaks favorably of solon’s blog post, calling it “brave, honest, and accurate” (his words). this suggests suster is taking solon’s side of the beef.… – that is the post in which solon disses ben horowitz. it is a pretty lethal blow with snide remarks. he concludes with a profanity-laced warning to ben: “don’t s#&! where you eat.”… – here is the original post from ben that set everything off. he is basically asking for a beef with the title: “Four Things Some VCs Do That I Don’t Like.” ouch.

          2. fredwilson

            alrightmaybe i’ll weigh in this weekendweekends are always good for blog beefs

          3. kidmercury

            lol that’d be great! we could go viral with this one…..i could see josh kand roger jumping in on this too…..brad feld, jeremy liew…..maybe evenron conway will setup a public blog just to chime in…..

          4. fredwilson

            I lean towards Ben’s point of view in this debate.VCs exhibit all kinds of bad behavior but we get away with it because wecontrol a lot of capital that entrepreneurs need and wantI have made all the mistakes that ben outlines and learned his lessons thehard wayI hope VCs will read his post and look in the mirror and change theirstripes

          5. kidmercury

            oh boy….well folks, fred and ben may disagree on matters related tostartup weight, but they agree on what constitutes proper VC behavior.suster and solon have been deeply offended by this but fred and ben make noapologies for their views. it will certainly be interesting to see how thisbeef unfolds, as well as who jumps in next.

          6. fredwilson

            Ben was not accusing them of bad behavior specifically. Not sure why they need to take offense

  10. Scott Carleton

    I can certainly see the benefits of an agile board. But I can also see how I might resist it when choosing members. If I was real gung ho about my product and my vision, I could see myself intentionally choosing board members who I could marginalize easily. Making a successful product requires remembering that its whats best for the customers and not whats best for me which therefore requires picking board members who might not only disagree with me, but also voice their opinions often. Hopefully it doesn’t stifle progress

  11. Mark Barry

    I too love the phrase “agile” board. Brad Feld also posted a similar blog on giving your VCs assignments –

  12. Matt A. Myers

    I can’t fathom someone running a company Not tapping into as many resources as possible – especially investors with massive experience and quality contacts behind them, and board members if they are gaining equity wouldn’t almost break their back to help. I’d tap that like crazy!! 😛

  13. Kevin

    I agree, Fred. Your post makes me think of Facebook. I think Facebook should adopt an agile board. The company is run by young people without families who have no capacity for empathy with their main demographic. When 30 something women post pictures of their kids, they expect that they will not be public. A good board on Facebook would inject that empathy into the executive team and tell them to stop sharing these women’s photos of their kids by default. A board is supposed to be a huge value add, not a caretaker and housekeeper council of elders and Facebook jumps out at me as having a completely passive, caretaking board.

    1. fredwilson

      sometimes it is hard to have the impact you want when you are a board member

  14. kenberger

    Book recommendation (related to the Agile part): Rework much becoming the new bible of how to work, live, eat, breath in agile ways.

    1. Jose Paul Martin

      Read it… they strongly recommend having NO meetings ! (makes sense). But they’re going to the other extreme… just pushing their product as a great alternative. (Disclosure: I use highrise).

  15. Aviah Laor

    back to the chasm.

  16. Brad Dickason

    Could not agree more that a board with high engagement, quality discussions, and everyone on the same page of building something amazing, is essential. Unfortunately, these types of board members (and startup members sometimes) are hard to come by!I think that the eternal paradox for young startups is finding the ‘right’ board before running out of capital.Although it would be great to always go with your favorite VC who totally ‘gets’ it and goes hands on, the reality is that many VC deals are out of necessity and seem more like an arranged marriage – one happened to have money when the rest turned the startup down.Having attended board meetings like the latter, I have to say it is worse than just an apathetic board. While the agile board can mean success for a great company, the board who constantly disagrees selfishly means death for any company.

    1. ErikSchwartz

      Board members who see the inevitable pivots of a startup as signs of weakness.The “seagull” board member who flies in (usually late) for board meetings, shits in the meeting and then flies off not to be heard from again until the next meeting.Bad investors are not worth having.

      1. Jose Paul Martin

        LOL! Love the term!

    2. fredwilson

      so true. less VCs and more entrepreneurs makes for a better board

      1. Jose Paul Martin

        +1 Sometimes I feel that if we’d just step back and allow the team to run the business – it would be better (I follow Warren Buffet’s principle here) – but then I’m in private equity, with more established players….The real focus or keyword is “agile” and that means a lot…

  17. ErikSchwartz

    This is why it matters who your investors are, they end up on your BOD.It’s really easy after pitching for a while to when you finally get a positive response to take their money without doing proper due dili on the investors. If you get a bad feeling? Walk away. If they want (need) unusual terms? Walk away.From the annals of “Painful Lessons Erik has Learned”

  18. ErikSchwartz

    One other thing…Pin down the independents before closing. If they refuse to consider any independents that the founders bring to the table then walk away.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s good advice erik

  19. paramendra

    Microsoft, on the other hand, had the smallest Board for the longest time, but I get your point. I’d prefer an agile board. Instead of having trophies, you actually have contributors. One persistent question though would be as to how the Board strikes a balance between being helpful and being overbearing.

  20. Mark MacLeod

    I think its important to separate value-add, strategy and guidance for a CEO from governance. There is no reason why, as a VC, your value add should be limited to the frequency of your board meetings. It should be ongoing. In that case, meeting less frequently but to cover the more typical role of a board is just fine

  21. anshul gupta

    nice post

  22. tj nahigian

    Fred, how many boards are you on? I think one problem with the early stage model is that early stage investors sit on 10 + boards. if those boards meet quarterly, thats 40 meetings / days gone. if they meet once a month – thats 120 meetings / days. it makes you think about how early stage investors balance the amount of boards they are on with finding new investments. my suspicion is unfortunately companies that are not doing well don’t get nearly as much attention as the companies that are performing well. furthermore – i suspect that early stage vc’s don’t spend much time working with their portco’s on things like recruiting, BD, and strategy.

  23. suvie

    Thanks so much for the mention! It is interesting how many people don’t think of simply being kind as acting in our own best interests – most of the time, we feel that acting with kindness is giving others the upper hand, especially at work. But when I look back on the most important relationships I have in my career, they’re often based on mutual respect and kindness.

  24. agileconsultant

    Most management boards could do with being agile. Too many meet for the sake of meeting and only ever agree on what the next meeting will contain. If they adopted the agile approach of the entrepeneurs and decided on things as and when they needed to, then industry would be a far more dynamic place

  25. kidmercury

    lol, not enough hours in the day! we may need to crowdsource them.