How do you select the right board members for your startup?

By Desh Deshpande

(Editor’s note: This is Part-15 of the weekly video column with philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande, with excerpts from his book “On Entrepreneurship and Impact.” This column appears every Monday.)

Desh Deshpande

The right board plays a key role in any startup.

Board members jointly oversee the activities of a company or organization, and help the leader make the right decisions on major issues.

How does an entrepreneur go about selecting the right members for its board?

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this issue.

Entrepreneurs need good board members to help grow their companies.

You won’t be an exception.

You need good board members for various reasons. A couple of important ones are:

  • They help you think through the problems and brainstorm solutions
  • They provide the focus that is very crucial at all stages of the company.

At the foundational level, you want help from people who have done it before.

Board members who haven’t “been there, done that” suffer from two key problems:

  • They don’t quite realize how limited a startup’s resources are, and, therefore, don’t realize how important “focus” is in order to succeed. Instead of narrowing the company’s focus, they tend to want to look at all the possibilities that the company can do. They may come across as smart, but at the expense of adding more work for the company.
  • Sometimes they are frustrated entrepreneurs. They have a deep desire to do things, but haven’t done them yet. They start to practice their entrepreneurship through your company. Instead of letting you run your company, they think they are helping by getting involved in all the details.

A board member should be there to ask you tough questions, and to give you comfort that you are heading the right way.

Personally, I have transitioned from a life as an entrepreneur to one as a board member. In most cases, whenever an entrepreneur comes to me with a problem, I just turn it back to them and ask, “If you were me, how would you address this issue?” Ninety-nine percent of the time the entrepreneur has a better answer than anything I could have told her.

The main thing the entrepreneur is looking for is external validation, that someone else agrees with their particular decision. A lot of times, a key role for a board member is to be a mentor to the entrepreneur.

The role of a board member is a little bit like the role of a parent teaching a child to walk for the first time. You want to make sure that the child doesn’t fall off a staircase, but you also don’t want to chide the child for tripping on the carpet.

Having the right board members will amplify your capacity to execute. On the other hand, picking the wrong ones will cost you dearly down the road.

(About Desh Deshpande: During his entrepreneurial career spanning over three decades, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande has built several companies. He has injected his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship into a number of social impact initiatives in India, the USA and Canada. He has been recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments by many institutions including being named co-chair of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He currently also serves as a Life Member of the MIT corporation. He resides in Boston together with his wife, Jaishree.)

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