Published on Jul 1, 2021
When I started my career in finance many years ago, I never thought I would become an entrepreneur—a minority, female, non-technical, solo founder for a SaaS startup.
I’ve always been intrigued to understand the financial and managerial success of tech companies. While at Morgan Stanley tech investment banking in Menlo Park, I was lucky to work on some of the most legendary deals such as the Alibaba IPO in 2014. However, as cool as it was to work on these headline deals, I was getting more attracted by wondering what made these companies successful through their startup days of highs and lows.
That curiosity pushed me to venture capital and I joined GGV Capital where I got to witness the laughter and tears of many entrepreneurs from their seed stage to pre-IPO. Eventually, the curiosity grew so strong that it pushed me further from the passenger seat to the driver seat. So I jumped on to a leadership role of a GGV portfolio company to drive its global product and growth.
Meanwhile, because of my background in investment banking and venture capital, I also put on the hat of managing investor relations, capital markets, and board operations. After our IPO on NYSE, which I had the privilege to stand on the podium at the bell-ringing ceremony, our public company board became even harder to manage than it was as a startup board. And I was sitting in the front row seeing how that board challenge weighed down an aspiring management team.
The critical point came one day as I was sitting in yet another board meeting, watching a whole (virtual Zoom) room of some of the most important and resourceful people I know spending hours and hours just passively listening to the management team talking through the presentation slide by slide, which took many days and weeks for the whole team to scramble together, only to be deserted after the meeting.
Our management team’s interactions with board members have always been limited to the once-a-quarter “big event” board meetings that focus too much on the tedious reporting and too little on the important and strategic topics.
This is not only true for public company boards, but even more severe for startup boards. While public company boards have independent directors whose financial returns don’t align with the company’s, startup board members are mostly major investors in the company and have all the incentives to make the startup successful.
But compared to public company management teams, startup management teams tend to be less mature and less experienced on when and how to ask the board for help. Therefore, startup boards are generally not as useful as they should be—they only meet every quarter, until something bad happens and then they meet more frequently. The rare, synchronous, in-person board meetings are stressful, take weeks to prep and have low continuity. You present materials to the board, but most members don’t remember what you talked about last time, and don’t know enough to be helpful.
Boards are supposed to be the most critical part of the strategic and managerial success of a company, which in turn, should be the cornerstone of how the financial market and even capitalism works.
There’s got to be a way to make boards better. That was the moment when my entrepreneurial spirit collided with my financial experience and sparked the magic.
I’d like to design a board success solution that makes the board experience much better and more effective, both for the company and for the board members. I’d like to take what used to be entirely just the board meeting itself, and break it up into many steps that you can do more bite-size and frequently, including the synchronous discussion but make it more interactive, fun and useful. I’d like to shift the board dynamic to focus on forward-looking instead of backward-looking.
Besides, after the pandemic, companies are going to be increasingly distributed, and future boards are going to be a hybrid of in-person and remote experiences. Therefore, this is the perfect timing to adopt a new product that can redefine the board experience.
For startup founders and management teams, “board success” means it’s not about the board managing you, but about you managing the board and making the board more useful to you. The experience should be a continuous flow of updates, information, questions, and the sync meeting should naturally come out of that dynamic flow when necessary.
For investors who are board members, “board success” means a mechanism to empower you with clarity, control, and certainty for great governance. It requires a system for you to stay on top of how your companies are doing and how you can help. It also needs to make it easy for you to provide help and input whenever your companies need it the most to better set them up for success.
After months of hard work, today I’m proud to announce the private beta launch of Surfboard, a board success platform. We already have a group of selected founders and startups signed up. In a few months, we will open it up to a wider group of entrepreneurs.
If you are a founder who believes in the value of board in a company’s success, and shares our vision for how board should work in the future, please sign up on our website. You can also find us on LinkedIn and Twitter.
We are hiring all walks of mission-driven talents to join our awesome team. Check out our open positions!