Nominating my Board of Direction

Face-to-face collaboration is a must for me.

Readers of this blog know that I’ve started working on my next company. I have a number of ideas, but I need people to work through them with me. When I’m working with people I respect in front of a whiteboard, the results of the effort are tight, well formed business ideas. If I’m by myself in front of the same board, I’m like a gorilla with a can of spraypaint.

mona lisa
With People Without People

To avoid the crippling insanity of solo work, I’ve been scheduling as many conversations as humanly possible – essentially hopping from stone to stone across Rio del Loco. These past months have been a pride-swallowing endeavor to reach out to anyone and everyone for feedback.

So when a couple of close friends suggested I assemble a “personal board of directors,” it got me thinking.

The concept is to have a group of people who know you well, and who will help you steer your life in the right directions. Unlike a company’s board of directors, your personal board is accountable to you – not your investors or shareholders. They help you stay true to your values and purpose, and make sure you avoid bad decisions.

Want to rebalance your life? Talk to the board. Considering writing a book? Board. Thinking about becoming a goat herder in Bhutan? Board, dude.

The idea – attributed to Jim Collins – is a good one. For one thing, we all need honest input. Close friends and family will love you no matter what, but they’re generally overly supportive and lacking context. You need tough love from people who know you well, will hold you to high standards and can help you connect the dots between your values and complicated career decisions.

When I started thinking about how to set up my personal board, I looked for examples. But it turned out I know as many people with personal boards as I know people into noodling. So I came up with my own structure:

Who are my board members?

I’m recruiting people with different perspectives who understand me at a deeper level. I’ll protect identities, but here is a description of the six people I have enlisted so far:

  1. A former CEO like me who is 17 years older; he can laugh at my mid-life rantings.

  2. A colleague I have worked with for years who understands my humor, style and ideal culture.

  3. A good friend whose life and values are similar.

  4. A fellow tech investor, life explorer and running friend who helped come up with the idea.

  5. My first business mentor and good friend who brings a strategic, non-Silicon Valley mindset.

  6. My uncle’s life-partner, a former CEO who knew me before I could walk, and one of my favorite people.

I’ll probably add one or two more, but more than that seems excessive.

How will they help?

  1. Complex career thinking: As I age, life questions become a richer composite of desires and character traits (just in case you couldn’t tell from this blog). I need sound advice.

  2. Big questions: My team will help with transitions, freakouts, life planning and general brainstorming.

  3. Raw inspiration: An additional source of motivation when I need it most.

  4. Accountability: People to hold me to big goals when no one else is there to do it.

What I wouldn’t use them for is feedback that’s too specific to the business. My fear would be that they start acting as company advisors, and not personal advisors. Or worse, they’d get emotionally invested in the success of the business. Feedback on business ideas at a high level (and in relation to me) is good, but there needs to be a line in the sand.

How will my personal board work?

Interactions: Most of the input will come in one-on-one sessions. And I’ll be sending out status updates just to keep me on track with my own goals.

Group meetings are an option, but I find most of them to be a goat rodeo. Occasionally, a dinner with folks could be a good way to get focused feedback, especially if there’s a presentation to share. But I would try to make it interesting (like wine tasting or perhaps an actual goat rodeo).

Compensation: Free meals, good karma and a lifetime of favors from me.

I’m just starting the process, but the people I’ve asked have been overwhelmingly supportive. We’ll see if it turns out to be a short-term need or a long-term lifeline. Either way, great meals with great people are not a bad thing.

Loneliness can be a tough thing for entrepreneurs, even after the company becomes an 800lb gorilla (with or without spraypaint). Having people there for you seems like the best way to end up on the right side of the river.

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