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Board Recruitment in Early-Stage Business

Board recruitment
Recruiting for the board in an early-stage company is a crucial part of the process and one that can have a vital impact on your success. However, getting it wrong can lead to an undue level of stress and, often, more worryingly, a lack of direction.

Your board is a critical part of your organisation and should dovetail with the rest of the executive team and other staff. They should align with your values and be on board with the organisation's vision.

However, that's not to say that the same people who start on your board will be there right through the process. As the business grows, your board should adapt to suit the company's needs. Those with the right experience for bootstrapping a company in the early stages and getting it off the ground will differ from those advising you as you transition to securing larger funding rounds or even moving towards an exit.

So, finding the right people at the right time to help guide and challenge you and the rest of the executive team is an important process. You need to make a few key hires and be aware of some core principles at each stage of the journey, which we outline here.

Early Stage Board 

Your board will be a small but hardy bunch in the early years. If you have a co-founder, there will probably be the two of you and a Chair. Depending on your level of funding, there may be representation from your investors. You don't need a lot, but at this point, you should start to think about what a future board will look like. 

At that stage, while you are not auditing your current board's skills, a skills analysis will help you outline the support you need at critical stages.


The first area you need to focus on is independence. From your Chair right through the board, you need to make sure you are recruiting people who can be impartial. They will bring authority from their specialist background, but they must advise the business with a level of independence that removes personal relationships. 

The main point here is to avoid bringing your friends onto the board, as the decisions that need to be made will require robust debate and must focus on the business's best interests. Something that can often get missed when personal relationships take over, and people are not held to account.

Added Value

This seems obvious, but everyone you bring onto the board must add value to your business. There can be situations where experienced operators find themselves on numerous boards by virtue of their profile or as a result of a referral, and they attend without contributing. 

In the same way that every member of your team needs to add value to your business, each member of the board needs to be contributing. A good chair should call this out, but if people are turning up without reading board papers and cannot debate the issues on the agenda or provide any additional value beyond the others on the board, it is time to review their role. 

Be Deliberate

As we've mentioned, the board is a critical role, and you must be very deliberate about who you bring on. A skills matrix of your board will prove very useful as you grow, and your demands on the board will change. 

Initially, it will be strategic guidance, but then you will require specific support around finance, marketing, new market entry, investment, HR and people, and even exits. So, creating a skills matrix will help you remain focused and deliberate on your board strategy to help you maximise your executive support.

Bought In

Just as you would with anyone joining your team, you need to make sure your board members fit in with the vision and values of the business. You will debate the various decisions and directions you take, but ultimately, what you stand for as a business and the vision everyone shares will guide many of the answers. 

If you have someone on your board who doesn't buy into that, decision-making will be challenging, and the board dynamics will be off. This is not to say that there should always be unanimous decisions; debate is essential as long as it's about two different approaches to achieving the same goal.

It All Starts With The Chair

Finding a good Chairperson is crucial for the success of your board. The right Chair will offer support and guidance but challenge you where needed and keep you on track to achieve your goals. 

As we mentioned, it doesn't matter if they are the Chair or another on the board; independence is crucial. You want someone who buys into the project and is as passionate about it as you and your leadership team. However, asking a friend or colleague to join as Chair will not give you the impartiality and accountability you need.

Experience is also crucial in the role of Chair. You must have someone leading the board who has been at the helm of an early-stage company before, perhaps in the role of founder or CEO if not already a Chair.  

While it's preferable they have knowledge and experience in the field you are operating, it's not essential. However, an understanding of the operational elements of a board is crucial. For instance, they will also know and understand the legal requirements of the board and ensure your company is compliant.

A company board should be a place for vigorous, constructive debate where everyone around the table contributes. A good Chair will ensure that these discussions take place but that there are actionable outcomes and they are followed up on. The Chair will also marshall the debate to avoid animosity and ensure a broad spectrum of opinions is heard.

So finding the right person to fill that role is not an easy job, but, as you can see, they are crucial to the success of your business.

Board Recruitment

Getting the right board of advisors is vital to any business, but getting it right for early-stage companies can make a huge difference. Start small, but bring on intelligent, experienced, like-minded people to challenge you and push you to get the results you know you can achieve, and you will see your business succeed.