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15-Minute Board Deck Prep: A Faster Way to a Better Board Meeting

Joseph Garafalo
Posted on
December 10, 2020
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You shouldn’t have to spend multiple weeks per year preparing for board meetings. Unfortunately, that’s the norm for most SaaS startups. But what if it only took 15 minutes to prepare a board deck for your next meeting? There’s a way to make it happen.

When I was leading finance operations for Palantir as it grew from a $2.5-billion valuation to a $20-billion valuation, it would take us weeks to prepare for board meetings. Every quarter, our finance org would lock down in a war room for two weeks and pull the leadership team in for a few days just to finish the board deck.

This sort of process to prepare board decks is the norm for SaaS startups—and that’s a huge problem.

When your finance team spends multiple weeks per year preparing for board meetings, they’re constantly falling behind the business instead of getting ahead of it. They should be automating workflows and guiding strategic business decisions, not spending so much time creating board materials.

Give your finance team a chance to be proactive instead of always reacting to business needs. With real-time access to current, accurate financial data, board deck prep only takes 15 minutes.

Why Startup Board Deck Prep Takes Weeks Instead of Minutes

Startup leaders lose so much time while preparing for board meetings because of the effort it takes to aggregate financial data across the organization.

Your board meeting is prime time—the moment your entire organization comes together to align on the numbers and report on how specific functions contribute to the overarching business strategy. But because all of those numbers live in siloed spreadsheets, it takes the average SaaS business one to two full weeks to get all the data needed for a board deck.

That first week is usually low intensity. You spend time gathering requirements needed from different departments and coming up with the overarching story you want to share with the board.

The second week is where you buckle down to:

  • Calibrate the business compared to the previous board meeting,
  • Spin up financial board materials in spreadsheets by pulling data from critical business systems,
  • Figure out our percent-to-plan for budgets versus actuals,
  • Distribute the board deck three to four days ahead of time so board members can review and come up with questions, and
  • Investigate several cuts of data and update financial models to pull answers together based on board member feedback.

Those final few days before the official board meeting, after the CEO has had deep preliminary conversations with individual board members, get intense.

Your board members challenge the assumptions in your materials and dig into your forecasts to come up with crucial strategic questions. And rightfully so—it’s their job. But there’s a problem.

Board decks only show aggregated views of data, so when a board member asks to dig into something like your revenue retention by customer cohort or your CAC efficiency by customer segment, providing additional bottom-up cuts of data can turn a simple question into a number-crunching exercise that could span hours (if you’re lucky) or sometimes days (if you aren’t so lucky).

The end result is a deck that gets everyone on the same page and helps unlock the strategic value of your board—it just shouldn’t take so long to create.

The Secret? A Platform That Connects Teams with Real-Time Financial Insights

How do you turn the high-stress, two-week board deck prep process into a quick 15 minutes? You enable real-time visibility into your financial data and get as close as possible to the holy grail of board decks.

“The Holy Grail is a board pack that is assembled by your assistant who simply prints the cover sheet(s) from weekly management-team reports and staples them together.” — Bryan Schreier, Partner at Sequoia Capital

The reason this has been so difficult, is because traditionally financial data has been siloed across many different places across the business. That’s why it takes so long getting up to speed with each department’s numbers and another week overhauling spreadsheets to reflect the latest.

The 15-minute version of board deck prep hinges on your ability to draw financial insights straight from those critical business systems. And Mosaic integrates with your ERP, CRM, HRIS, and billing systems to give you that real-time visibility.

That way, when a board member asks second- and third-level questions about a specific metric or forecast, you don’t have to spend high-stress hours or days reworking models and spreadsheets before the board meeting—you can look at flexible cuts of data and get precise answers with a few clicks.

Mosaic simplifies the process of generating the most critical board materials, including:

  • The Current State of the Business: The key financial numbers that go into your Executive Summary. For a SaaS startup, this usually includes cash in the bank, runway, and total bookings since the previous board meeting (or a similar top-line leading indicator).
  • Financial Forecasts: This component of the board deck answers one key question: What will your business look like next year?
  • Top-Line Metrics: Your ARR and MRR numbers are the most important top-line board materials. But you should also highlight other metrics, such as churn and retention, according to what’s most important to your business, whether that means measuring in terms of gross dollar retention, logo retention, or something else.
  • Burn Rate: For venture-backed B2B SaaS companies, this portion of board deck materials is all about showing what you’re spending, where you’re spending it, and how long the money will last.

This is about as close as most startups can get to what Sequoia’s Bryan Schreier calls the holy grail of board deck prep.

Providing this level of insight in your board deck with 15 minutes of prep work requires deep control of your numbers—not only when a board meeting is coming up, but every single day.

Align Your Board Deck Prep with Real-Time Business Data

We built Mosaic so that anytime a board member asks a question about your materials, you’ll have immediate access to the answers—and a way to package those answers so collaboration is easy.

Our Canvas feature gives you a sandbox for telling these stories and collaborating with both internal stakeholders and board members. It automatically generates the charts and graphs you want to present to the board so you can focus on commentary that paints a clearer picture for board members.

When you stop wasting all your time aggregating data and creating visuals, you’ll have the freedom to quickly create a board deck with real value.

Get the Most out of Your Board Meetings

While we can't provide a play-by-play on how to run a board meeting, we do recommend that every startup embrace Satya Patel’s “No Surprises” rule for board meetings. He says, "As major investors in your company, it’s a failure if we’re hearing significant news for the first time in a monthly email update or at a board meeting. No Surprises means that everyone has the same information at the same time so they can react as a cohesive team."

But the usual board meeting prep process doesn’t work with the No Surprises rule and there's no one size fits all when it comes to a board meeting template. It especially doesn't work when you’re cramming the entire process into a two week period right before the meeting. Instead, you might come out of the board meeting with more new questions than answers and miss out on the strategic value that your board could provide if they had access to better data.

Mosaic makes your financial data readily available at all times so you and your board are never surprised by the quarterly deck.

Want to learn more? Request access to the platform so you can see how easy it is to generate everything you need for your next board deck.

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