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An Alternative to Board Decks Some Seed VCs Actually Prefer
Based on feedback from our portfolio and the broader startup community, NextView has created pre-formatted board deck templates for seed-stage startups. Included in that deck was something that caught some folks by surprise.
While there was indeed a PowerPoint template to use, we also built out a proposed Google Doc or Word Doc to use as a direct substitute for actual slides.
As I’ve written in the past, board decks and board meetings can waste loads of time at the seed stage. These startups are still super raw, lacking the piles of data and charts going up and to the right (or really in any direction) that are conducive to the stereotypical board deck.
So, rather than try and fill time unnecessarily and create a lengthy deck just because you’re “supposed to,” many investors will often suggest that a founder create a simple one-sheeter that might start small and build over time. Perhaps this turns into a bigger deck down the road, or perhaps it remains a running log where all important meeting updates are saved.
Regardless, this document is a viable alternative to creating decks at the seed stage, and we wanted to deconstruct what that might look like below. (Obviously, this is NextView’s opinion. You should still work with your board about what format they prefer.)
A Seed-Stage-Friendly Board Update Doc
Here’s an exact, step-by-step breakdown of how we’d recommend structuring it. This is pulled from NextView’s board deck resource, which was compiled using a combination of real startup board decks and input from my partners and me.
Place the most recent meeting notes at the top of the doc with the date of your meeting. Over time, as more board meetings pass, this removes the need to scroll all the way down just to see today’s update.
Section 1: “High Level Summary”
This is a short section that we’d recommend structuring in one of two ways.
Option 1: In a few sentences, summarize some of the major progress made and/or challenges uncovered. Include both positives and negatives for a more productive board conversation, which is especially critical in the seed stage since nearly everything is in “figure it out” mode. You should also include three to five bullets that list critical updates or data points.
Option 2: Divide the section into two smaller sections — “Highlights/Big Wins” and “Challenges/Setbacks.” Below each, list the must-know details such that your board can read and understand ahead of the actual meeting. The Challenges/Setbacks section should be completely transparent to set up a candid, productive discussion. Good seed-stage investors understand that the first 18-24 months of your company’s evolution will be very raw and rocky. They should be ready and able to guide you through some of those challenges.
Here’s an example of the High Level Summary, using Option 1:
Section 2: Housekeeping
Bullet out a few of your housekeeping items. In most cases, this section will be “read only” in that it may not be discussed in person. However, these are important updates for your board to know.
Examples of housekeeping include the following list, though not every item will appear every time:
- Finance: Cash out date, burn rate, 409A valuation, cap table, common/preferred stock dashboard.
- Team: Hires, fires, departures, responsibility changes, major promotions, and your org chart. The latter is especially important for that first meeting to give your board a sense for the current team struture and personnel.
- Office and Logistics: Potential moves and cost (rent plus dollars per square foot plus lease length), insurance, healthcare, legal, and other services.
- Previous Meeting Recap: High-level overview of last meeting, with action items, owners, and completion status.
Note that “housekeeping” doesn’t mean “not important.” Finance is mission critical, for instance – it just appears on a recurring basis. Hiring is also essential and may appear regularly, though it will fluctuate in volume and urgency.
A seed-stage mobile startup’s housekeeping section might look something like this:
Section 3: Core Metrics
The seed stage is all about traction. The goal isn’t to suddenly self-sustain and generate tens of millions in revenue immediately following a seed investment (though nobody would argue if that happened). Instead, smart founders focus on learning and on accelerating that feedback loop to gather data, iterate, and find initial product/market fit. In doing so, a few core metrics inevitably emerge depending on the product and the model. For ExampleCo, our fictional mobile startup, these core metrics might include app engagement, user growth, user retention, active users, and so forth.
So, for this section, list 3-5 metrics, along with relevant data points, charts, graphs, or tables. You should also include a 1-2 sentence description of what’s happening.
Section 4: Product Roadmap
Some VCs, including us at NextView, are willing to invest pre-product. (If you’re wondering how those decisions are made, here’s how we approach pre-product companies.)
Even if there’s some kind of product in the market during the first round of financing, it’s probably to be unproven. Thus, one of the major focus areas for the startup and the board will likely be product development.
To convey that succinctly, use a section in your doc that lists out 2-4 major product milestones, with some light context as needed:
Section 5: Hiring
This could slot into housekeeping, but each hire makes such a huge impact on a seed-stage startup that we believe this warrants its very own section as well. And don’t be shy about stating any requests for help.
Section 6: Current Priorities/Discussion
Unsurprisingly, this where the bulk of the meeting discussion will take place. List the 3-5 biggest issues and priorities to review together as a board. Be sure to include some light context in the doc as well.
At this point, it’s worth clarifying how this document will likely be used by your board. Rather than reading it meticulously during the actual meeting, each member of the board should be expected to read it ahead of time. Thus, you probably won’t spend much time discussing the sections above compared to your Current Priorities/Discussion (and perhaps the product roadmap or hiring, though they could reasonably slot into the current priorities bucket).
An example using our fake mobile startup:
Section 7: Burn, Budget, and Runway
At this point, the document starts to wrap up. For your fully fleshed out financial section (compared to the housekeeping section above), we recommend simply linking to a shared Google spreadsheet. It’ll likely be used as an FYI only, rather than a full discussion point in the meeting, unless your board sees anything glaring.
Section 8: Key Concerns/Help Wanted
This is where you summarize all action items and any major questions on your mind. You want a section that points directly to tangible ways your board can add value in the near-term, even if it’s just as a sounding board for some of your bigger concerns. (Hopefully at least one of your directors can serve this role, particularly at the seed stage when everything is unknown and everything is a test to find answers and traction.)
Get Your Copy of These Templates
In all, the above sections form a viable update to your board (though you should still iterate based on the specifics of your investors and company). For a the entire board deck template, click here to start a download of the PowerPoint file.