Inflective Havoc
Reflections on Our Big Entrepreneurial Times from Jan Horsfall

Startup Workout – Fast, Simple, Tight, Focused

I had one of the more enjoyable board sessions I’ve had in a long time last night on the 11th floor of the 1st Bank Building in beautiful Colorado Springs.  Spectware, with founders Eric (CEO) and Tabitha (CFO) Skinner, were updating us on their rapidly growing business as a SAS platform for crane management (which eventually will lead to broader verticals in heavy equipment management). We also had on hand the coolest thing ever added to a board session: their brand new baby girl. Let’s just say the entire family is committed – and in reverence to the meeting, ‘Lil Skinner never uttered a peep.

The thing that struck me about the meeting and the subsequent follow up is the same feeling I get when I see people committed to their health: uptick in speed; plan simplicity; tight execution; focused on the priorities necessary. While the structure of the meeting mimicked a lot of start up board sessions (re: all young entrepreneurs with a board should read Major Henry M. Robert’s completely revised edition on the topic of Parliamentary Procedure aptly titled “Robert’s Rules of Order”), the outcome was representative of what’s required of a lot of modern, under-resourced, seed-stage companies like Spectware. In fact, even though the company’s small, each time we finish with these sessions I get the sense they shed their skin and move forward faster, tighter, focused.

Part of what we need to remind ourselves of as board members – especially with start ups, is that we’re there to help the company. Too many times, I see this exercise turn into (a) board members who can’t help themselves from beating on the start up at every turn (read: not helpful); (b) board members who don’t do their homework; (c) board members who become complacent; and (d) board members who don’t do much more than cover their ass. In Spectware’s case, we don’t have any of that as far as I can tell. The board is there to help the company. Part I of the equation.

And the second part of the equation involves what I love about Spectware – and it’s a lesson for all young companies – in that they constantly remind us as a board that they love to listen and they expect us to be helpful and committed to providing direction (hence the term “Directors”). So while the board process itself is still a work in progress and an education for Eric, the outcome of this past session shows why Spectware is going to win. The flurry of emails this morning – and subsequent phone calls ‘around the horn’ – show that not only does our board want to help down to a one, but that the Skinners are listeners – and doers. The issues we identified late last night are already being filed down with a passionate set of next steps in the areas of revenue generation, brand positioning, capital raising and overall industry thought leadership (Eric’s going to be on the cover of the #1 selling crane publication later this month). Everybody – each board member and each employee – has a set of clear deliverables which when executed will again allow the company to molt its skin before moving on – sleeker, faster – with a refreshed set of next steps.

So instead of looking at the monthly board session as a necessary evil, look at these sessions – with commitment up front from all parties – as refreshment for the company. Stop – think – refresh. Then go back to the Startup WorkoutFast, Simple, Tight, Focused.

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3 Responses to “Startup Workout – Fast, Simple, Tight, Focused”

  1. Great article. It really gives a good sense of what that meeting was like and the “realness” of the entrepreneurs.

  2. Jan,

    Great post. For the entrepreneur, I would learn from Jan input;

    A. Before adding a person to your board, get to know the person very well. Who are they, where are they in life, why should they be on your board, how are they going to help your company, etc. If the investor is assigning the person, then ask all of those questions to the investor before they assign a person to make sure it’s a proper fit.

    B. Learn to interact with the board, it’s back and forth conversation and not a one way conversation. Ask members of the board to take action to help you and the company. They are there to help the company and this means more then being a chair warmer.

    C. Take criticism with a grain of salt and view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. There are many different personalities out there and the board is truly there to help, it’s nothing personal. They have more experience with business then you, so while it might make sense to go left and the board is stating you should go right… there is probably a good reason.

    D. With C stated, don’t be a wimp, it’s YOUR company. Remember, Apple board got rid of Steve Jobs, boards aren’t always right. If you see ‘left’ as a better opportunity then learn to explain it better and arm yourself with the real information to show why your way is better. BUT be honest with yourself and the company, to much of your own Kool-aid can lead to death of the company, your position, and more.

    E. Interact with your board outside of board meetings. If you are new and need help, call on a board member to provide guidance. As Jan stated, Direction is what Director do… they will help direct you when needed even outside of board meetings but do your hardest to get the information and answer before contacting them. They have life’s outside of your company.

    Again, great post Jan.

    Regards,
    Charles

    • Wow. My blog should have been longer! Ha! Simply dead-on additions to the way we should think about board interaction. Love “D” … I’ve seen some great ‘lefts’. Still, if the board and co are working hand in hand, usually the direction can be appreciated and ‘approved.’ “E” is also clutch: it’s where the real learning always seems to come through for all parties. Less formal – more intense and intimate in terms of subject matter.


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