As startups grow and face new challenges, their ability to manage board meetings effectively (and the divergent needs of their VCs) becomes a pivotal skill in steering the company towards sustained success. In a recent session with Notion Capital CEOs and Founders, Matt Welle, CEO, and Tasha Geurts, Chief of Staff, shared their experience of managing their board. 

Mastering Board Management with Matt Welle, CEO of Mews (Resources)

As startups grow and face new challenges, their ability to manage board meetings effectively (and the divergent needs of their VCs) becomes a pivotal skill in steering the company towards sustained success. In a recent session with Notion Capital CEOs and Founders, Matt Welle, CEO, and Tasha Geurts, Chief of Staff, shared their experience of managing their board. 

Please click the button above to receive the webinar, the PDF of the slides Matt presented and a copy of Mews board template.

Setting the scene

Back in 2018, when Notion Capital invested, Matt Welle, first-time founder and CEO, faced the challenge of his first board meeting: where to begin, who should attend, what to prepare, what to say. With a complete lack of prior experience, Matt turned to Jos White (General Partner at Notion Capital) for advice, his newest board member which marked the start of a journey that would transform the way board meetings were conducted for the company.

Matt's initial approach involved building a deck and presenting it live during the board meeting. However, he quickly discovered the challenge of keeping the meeting on track as the VCs diverted the discussion based on their specific interests and concerns. Navigating the interruptions and steering the conversation back to the topics Matt wanted to address became a common struggle.

As the company progressed through different funding rounds, more VC voices entered the room, leading to more different needs and even more distractions. The composition of the board changed and so too did the topics they wanted to discuss, so what began as a founder-led presentation evolved into a collaborative effort involving the entire leadership team.

The journey from the early days of a two-slide presentation to the current 60-slide monthly board deck was not without its challenges. Demanding more time and resources, it proved to be a valuable investment in driving a cohesive narrative, aligning the leadership team, the board and ultimately the whole company. 

Navigating the time crunch!

The board pack follows a single template to ensure consistency from month to month. This approach allows board members to anticipate the flow of information, eliminating distractions and facilitating a smoother understanding of the presented material. 

The monthly ritual kicks off with the internal distribution of a clean template at the beginning of each month. While revenue figures are typically known on the first day, the challenge lies in compiling the detailed costs breakdown. With approximately 16 to 17 different entities contributing to the Profit and Loss (P&L) statement, the process is intricate and time-consuming.

The timeline to prepare the board deck is a race against time. 

The P&L figures usually arrive around the 12th or 13th of the month, leaving a limited window to craft the detailed slide templates and commentary. To address this challenge, Mews plans all board meetings to occur five days after the 15th of each month for the entire year, providing just enough time for preparation.

Compiling the deck involves various layers of the organisation. Mews divides submissions based on departments, with separate teams handling the Go-to-Market, Finance, People Team, and Research and Development (R&D). Recognizing the slower movements in R&D and People Team, the company shifted from monthly to quarterly presentations for those departments, reducing over-reporting and distractions. All other departments report monthly.

While the P&L offers a straightforward narrative based on numbers, the Go-to-Market segment poses unique challenges due to its multifaceted nature and subjective elements. Matt invests time before the deadline to ensure his understanding and to create a consistent storyline, ensuring a cohesive and impactful presentation during the board meeting.

With eight M&A deals under its belt, Mews acknowledges the importance of keeping the board updated on ongoing and potential deals. This information, along with other critical updates, is seamlessly integrated into the comprehensive board deck, making it a robust and essential document.

Matt emphasises that the board deck is not just a presentation tool; it serves as a comprehensive reference for the entire company. Redacted versions are shared internally, providing context to the team and reinforcing a sense of ownership among employees. 

Additionally, the deck plays a crucial role in engaging stock option holders, aligning them with the company's strategic goals. Interestingly Mews runs a shadow board meeting quarterly with all vested options holders to create a strong sense of ownership.

The timeline:

  • A clean template is sent out at the start of the month.
  • Financials are available on the 12th.
  • Deadline for all submissions is the 14th of the month. No exceptions!
  • Product & People quarterly updates are solely the responsibility of the Senior Leader.
  • Sales, Marketing & Customer Success monthly updates involve all VPs.
  • FP&A is auto-generated.
  • The pack is finalised on the 14th of the month.

Telling the story through video, aka “avoiding annoying interruptions from your investor directors”.

Board meetings often involve live presentations, lively discussions and lots of interruptions. CEOs have a story to tell - the lows and the highs - but often have to deal with interruptions and distractions that steer them off track. Matt found this very frustrating: “There's an important story to tell in the way that I want to tell it. I don't want board members to be able to ask questions as I’m speaking, taking me off track. We ended up spending two hours of the board meeting, going through the presentation, going off track and back and forth and it was such a waste of time.”

Matt took the bold decision to pre-record the board pack, facing some resistance at first. Matt continues: “I want to get the full story out from beginning to end. Let's start with go to market. What are the numbers that resulted in? What's the people's story? What's the m&a story? I want to provide a consistent narrative without interruption.”

At the same time board members need to be able to ask questions.  

Mews uses Loom, a video recording tool, which he has grown to love. Loom offers unique features that make it a standout choice for board communication. Matt appreciates the ease of use and the ability to cut, paste, and pause during recordings and critically for the board members to insert comments at specific points in the video. This adds another layer of engagement, preventing a barrage of questions without context. Time with the board is a precious commodity, so the pre-recorded content before the actual meeting and the active Q&A beforehand allows all concerns, confusion and clarification to be addressed in advance, allowing the board to spend their valuable meeting time engaging in meaningful discussions and debating rather than reviewing slides. 

The process?

  • On the morning of the 14th of each month Tasha Guerts (Chief of Staff) and Matt review board materials, consider questions the board will ask and record the video that day.
  • They use Loom which allows board members to capture their questions according to a specific time stamp, which ensures we have the context for their questions.
  • The CFO provides the financial narrative. Matt covers everything else. Approximately 45 minutes in total.
  • The board pack is NOT presented at the board meeting, so all Q&A with the board is handled prior to the meeting via email.
  • The content is scrubbed for anything confidential and then shared internally 1-2 days after the board - a PDF of the pack and an excel file for the financials.
  • The board pack, video and excel file for financials are sent out on the 15th.
  • The board meeting is typically 5 days after the content is distributed.

Quick and straightforward questions are promptly addressed, allowing for a seamless exchange of information. On the other hand, inquiries deemed as strategic or complex are set aside for live discussion during the meeting. This ensures that the board meeting is dedicated to high-level, strategic conversations rather than mundane number-crunching.

To further enhance the efficiency of board meetings, Mews has introduced a secondary portion of the deck specifically designed for live discussions. This segment is reserved for addressing strategic questions that have arisen in the advance of the meeting as well as deep dive topics. This ensures that the most critical discussions receive the attention they deserve, fostering a more interactive and engaging boardroom experience.

Managing the board meeting itself

In a recent reflection on a four-and-a-half-hour board meeting, Matt highlights the challenge of anticipating the duration of discussions. Despite initially expecting a shorter session with only two topics on the agenda, the meeting extended due to significant discussions around Research and Development (R&D), Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), and the planning of the 2024 budget. 

Matt often thinks there will not be enough to discuss: “So last week, we held an in person board meeting and I went in thinking, well, we've got only two topics, we're never going to make it through four hours! But we did and then some, because we had big R&D and M&A topics, as well as 2024 budget planning. So we ended up taking four and a half hours! I do always consider in advance what are the t things that I want to spend time on. Because if it becomes an open buffet, they'll talk about the thing that they care about, but it might not be the thing that's most important to the business, rather for their curiosity or assurance. 

Matt is adamant: “The board is not solely to reassure our investors, it's for us all to add value to the business.” 

Matt emphasises the importance of pre-thinking strategic topics to ensure the board meeting adds maximum value to the business. By collaborating with key team members, like Co-Founder Richard Valtr, before the meeting, Matt structures the agenda to prioritise critical discussions. This proactive approach, combined with the video communication and Q&A, allows the board to focus on the most pressing issues that require their guidance and insight.

The transition to video presentations for board decks prior to the meetings was not without its challenges. Indeed some board members were concerned about this and took a while to embrace the change. But now acceptance and engagement is strong and the team can use analytics to gauge that engagement and keep their board directors on track. 

The Cadence of Board Meetings throughout the Year?

The cadence of board meetings at Mews is structured to ensure consistency and meaningful engagement, offering a blend of in-person sessions and regular calls.

  • Monthly Video and Deck Recording:
  • A video and deck are recorded every month, maintaining a consistent rhythm in communication. While some months may have lighter content due to the shift of R&D and People Team discussions to a quarterly cadence, the regularity of these updates serves the purpose of keeping the board informed and engaged.
  • In-Person Meetings:
  • The board convenes in person three times a year, strategically choosing different locations aligned with Mews' offices. These in-person meetings serve a dual purpose – fostering cross-pollination between leadership teams and providing an immersive experience in diverse locations.
  • Calls:
  • Complementing the in-person gatherings, there are three or four additional calls throughout the year. The timing of these calls is thoughtfully planned to avoid the intensity of the summer months and to coincide with critical budgeting periods. This balance ensures that the board remains well-connected and informed without overwhelming monthly commitments.
  • Individual Calls with Board Members:
  • Recognizing the multifaceted role of board members, especially since many are also investors, Matt facilitates separate individual calls held every two months, allowing for dedicated time with each board member. 
  • In these hour-long sessions, Matt Welle, Richard, and the individual board members engage in private discussions, delving into the nuances of the boardroom dynamics and understanding the behind-the-scenes narratives.

By carefully orchestrating this cadence of board meetings, Mews strikes a balance between consistent communication and strategic engagement. The combination of monthly updates, in-person meetings, and individual calls ensures the board is well-informed about the company's operations but actively involved in shaping its strategic direction. 

Effective communication is at the heart of successful board meetings.

  1. Highlight the Essentials:

One key aspect that emerged from feedback was the need to provide clear highlights and lowlights. From the CEO and from each functional leader.

  1. Succinct and Impactful Language:

Matt emphasises the importance of concise language in presentations, steering clear of verbose slides that distract from the main message. Each section of the deck, whether it's marketing, performance, or any other domain, undergoes meticulous language consolidation. By minimising unnecessary words and focusing on impactful messaging, Mews aims to deliver a presentation that resonates with the board.

  1. Consistent Language and KPIs:

Maintaining consistency in language and metrics is a core principle. This ensures the narrative remains unaltered from month to month, fostering trust between the leadership team and the board. 

  1. Navigate Financial Discussions, but give unfettered access to the data:

When it comes to financial discussions, the CFO takes the lead in narrating the financial story of the company. Mews provides detailed P&L files to board members, allowing them to delve deeper into the financial intricacies. The key, however, is to stay at a top-level overview during the deck presentation while always addressing crucial aspects such as cash flow and fundraising needs.

  1. Macro to Micro:

A unique approach at Mews is to start with macro-level industry trends before delving into company-specific details. This macro-to-micro methodology ensures that the board understands the broader context before immersing themselves in Mews's internal strategies and performance metrics. This approach flows from the top, but filters through to every section.

Board members are people too!

Recognizing that an air of fear and mystery surrounded the board, Matt decided it was time to humanise the board and promote transparency.

He explains: “I realised that people were terrified off the board, because we talk about them, like they are deities in the clouds they will never know. And that fear is not good for them and stops them being transparent. 

Matt now combines the physical board meeting with his leadership off-site, which happens in the same city, immediately after the board meeting creating an environment where the two groups can interact organically: “We ensure there's a dinner that overlaps the board and the leadership with table plans for each dinner, making sure that every person sits next to a different board member every single time.” 

In addition, at least one of the SLT is invited to take present at every in person meeting:  “Recently we had our CPTO come in and talk about the 2024 roadmap. And then there was a long debate that happened about a product acquisition that we were doing, we spent about an hour on that. But like it gives them access to the board members, he also gets a sense for who are the board members that have something to add for him. So he, for example, now has regular calls set up with one of the board members because he feels that that person could add a lot to him. So it's really built a lot of bridges between the board and the leadership team. We've kind of made them human, which allows for a better context setting. And also just more honesty.”

This intentional mingling fosters a more personal connection, demystifying the board and making them approachable, but also far more valuable.

Beyond the boardroom, this strategy has cultivated bridges between board members and the leadership team. The once perceived deity-like figures are becoming approachable mentors and collaborators. 

Level up your board, just as do with your senior team

For most fast growing SaaS companies their board is heavy with investor directors and often light on operational, industry and strategic value. 

Matt explains: “Our board is heavy with investors. It's good, because they've seen lots of businesses, but I don't like the double agenda and the misalignment as they are focused on their fund cycles while I’m building a business for the next 20 years. So I realised I needed to make changes.” 

Matt recognises the ongoing necessity to rebalance the board composition. The initial board structure leaned heavily towards investors, a configuration that brought some valuable insights but also conflicts and disappointments. For example Matt found that engagement on topics like culture or ESG initiatives wasn't resonating, and the board lacked expertise in crucial areas. As Mews ventured into FinTech and evolved into a comprehensive platform, gaps in knowledge emerged, particularly in sectors like FinTech, hospitality, and enterprise sales.

The addition of Melissa DiDonato, with her enterprise sales background, marked a pivotal moment. However, the void in hospitality knowledge highlights the need for further diversification. When discussing potential product acquisitions, the absence of a voice with deep expertise in hospitality leaves the board in a defensive position, requiring them to educate the room and justify their decisions.

To address these gaps, Mews is actively seeking independent board members to bring unbiased perspectives, untethered from short-term financial gains, offering a more holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise. The goal is to infuse the board with voices that prioritise the long-term narrative and bring essential insights from the hospitality and technology sectors.

Making changes to board composition is not easy, but is incredibly important, if the board is to remain a strategic asset to the business.

In conclusion

The transformations and innovations Matt, Tasha and the rest of the Mews team have introduced to their board communication and management are impressive, but so too is their commitment to challenge themselves to constantly improve. One can be assured their board meetings are well informed, strategic and far from boring!

Useful Resources

you also may like to read
Powering hotels into the future - why I invested in Mews
February 1, 2024
This is some text inside of a div block.
No items found.
you also may like to read

Get the latest from Notion Capital. Sign up to our newsletter.