Anu Hariharan on Managing a Board

by Y Combinator7/24/2019

Anu Hariharan is a partner at YC. Today’s episode is about her recent post, How To Manage a Board.

You can find her on Twitter @anuhariharan.


00:15 – Why Anu wrote How to Manage a Board

1:45 – Board composition

3:45 – Adding independent board members

5:45 – The responsibilities of a board member

8:30 – Productive board meetings

12:10 – Sharing materials before the meeting

13:00 – Bringing executives into the meeting

15:15 – Dealing with board conflict

17:40 – Following up after a board meeting

20:30 – Dealing with difficult board members

23:15 – Reality distortion

24:10 – Agustin Feuerhake asks – What does it take to be a great board member?

26:40 – Dave Bailey asks – To what extent should the board culture reflect the company culture?

29:00 – Connor Abene asks – How do you think about adding board members who haven’t worked in your industry but you think are good?

32:40 – Rhina asks – Could you address managing a board during product market fit time/ pivot times?


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Craig Cannon [00:00] – Hey, how’s it going? This is Craig Cannon, and you’re listening to Y Combinator’s podcast. Today’s episode is with Anu Hariharan. Anu is a partner at YC. Today’s episode is about her recent post, How to Manage a Board. You can find it on the YC blog, and I’ll link it up in the description. You can find Anu on Twitter at @anuhariharan. A quick YC announcement, if you’re interested in doing Startup School this year, signups are open The course just started, and the deadline to sign up is August 4th. Select companies who complete the course will also receive $15,000 in equity-free funding. You can sign up at, and I’ll link it up in the description. All right, here we go. Okay, Anu welcome to the podcast.

Anu Hariharan [00:43] – Thank you, Craig. Thank you for having me.

Craig Cannon [00:45] – This one is about board management. You’re recent post, “How to Manage a Board,” did really well, and I think people have some extra questions, and also if they haven’t read the post yet, we can kind of break down some of the bigger ideas today.

Anu Hariharan [00:57] – Sure.

Craig Cannon [00:58] – Let’s start off with, why did you write this post in general?

Anu Hariharan [01:02] – This is actually being one of the top three questions asked by pretty much growth-stage founder in the YC portfolio. This often comes up especially when they’re raising their Series A and right after the Series A, because it’s the first time in the company’s life that you are forming an official board with an outside director. Why the outside director? The definition is A, they’re an independent board member or an investor who typically let the Series A joins the board. CEOs and founders tend to be very nervous about this board composition because let’s be honest, this is the first time you have a formal board that has the ability to decide the performance of senior management, including has the ability to fire the CEO, which often is why provokes anxiety. The number one question we get asked is “I now have a board, what should I do? How should I interact with this board member?” As my board expands, “How should I run my board meetings?” It comes out of this anxiety. We thought collectively as the YC partnership, that it would be helpful to share best practices of YC companies that do this really well. That the rest of the community can benefit.

Craig Cannon [02:23] – Let’s start with board composition. If you’re a founder, let’s say you have one co-founder, how would you think about creating a board?

Anu Hariharan [02:32] – That’s a great question. We’ve seen different approaches. There is no right or wrong approach. The most common approach is your board typically, before you raise a Series A is to compose of both the founders or if you have three co-founders, all three. Dometimes seed investors take both seats. That’s not something we’ve seen as common, especially among the YC portfolio. The first time an outside director gets added is usually the Series A round. At the time of the Series A, if you have two co-founders, it’s typically both co-founders and the Series A investor who led the round and joins the board. As the company scales and continues to raise future rounds, you tend to add three to five outside board members over the course of the duration, so around three to five years. Typically the B or the C investor also gets a board seat. As you start getting closer to going public, the board composition actually tends to change quite a bit. When the company goes public and you can see this because this because Dropbox, Zoom, Pinterest, they are recent examples of companies that have gone public, you need to have seven to nine board seats. At that time, you tend to add three to five independent board members. Also because A, you’re looking for industry input or specific operational areas where looking for feedback. Closer to IPO, you need a firm compensation committee, audit committee which require independent board members to participate. The composition really changes as you go closer to IPO.

Anu Hariharan [04:04] – But since the vast majority of companies are in the early to mid-growth stage, what is really important for you to know is you may have a three to five people board, of which you and your co-founders have a board seat. Typically, two to four investors who join your board.

Craig Cannon [04:22] – Now it’s not uncommon to folks to add someone they’ve worked with in the past. At what point does that person get added?

Anu Hariharan [04:28] – Yes. This is a trend we’re noticing that’s changing. Especially with more recent YC companies. We’ve seen that more recently, YC companies tend to add an independent board member in the Series B. Which is slightly earlier than what we’re use to see in the past. In the post I articulated three examples which was Atrium where Justin Kan added Michael Seibel to the board who he knew since college days, but was also his co-founder at Henrique and Pedro at BREX added Victor Lazarte, who built a very successful gaming company in Brazil, and has known them since the age 16. And he joined the board since the Series B. The third example is Fair. And all the co-founders of Faire added Brian Grassadonia Who leads Square Cash who was also the former boss at Square. And Fair has a huge FinTech element to it, given they do net 60 day financing for the retailers. And so they felt it was important to get Brian. And I believe Brian has been on the board since the Series A. Even if you look at other examples like Adam D’Angelo at Quora, he added Matt Cohler in a Series A as part of the financing, but he really knew Matt Cohler from Facebook. He knew him for a very long time before Matt was brought onto the board. In all these examples, what see is the desire from the CEO for a deeply trusted board member who would be able to help both the founder and the company as they scale. And yet, is 100% independent and willing to give direct and honest feedback that would be helpful for the company.

Craig Cannon [06:14] – We should break down why that. Obviously, I can understand why trust matters. What are the actual actions of a board member, for folks who don’t know, and why is it extra important that they can give them honest feedback?

Anu Hariharan [06:27] – If you look at what is the job of the board today, or what is the founding team, or the company look up to for a board? It’s really three things, right? It comes down to helping hiring senior management, and evaluating management, and essentially the founder’s performance. Second, is corporate actions, like approving options and comp and other plans. Third, is giving a lot of input on strategic positions. That’s really if you break down what are the three big responsibilities of the board, that’s what it comes down to. Now what happens in a startup? As you scale, you’re still in the scaling phase. And you’re in the learning phase. So a lot of the decisions you make may not be right. Over time, hopefully you’re more right then wrong. But definitely you’re not going to be 100% of the time right. You’re moving at 300 to 500 miles per pace. As a result, essentially a lot of things are going to break, not all your processes are going to be intact. The CEO’s often feel anxious that they need to get everything right, and need to present to the board that there are no questions to be asked. That is just not possible. It’s essentially impossible. It’s true for any successful startup. Nobody had a line that went straight up and to the right. Everyone one had some roadblocks at some point. That’s where the CEO is really looking for a trusted partner with whom they can bring up anything and everything on their mind. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. As you scale, the CEO especially becomes more lonely

Anu Hariharan [08:06] – and often is not able to even bring up certain issues, or bounce off ideas with their own team. They find themselves in a vulnerable position. If you feel the same way with your board, then you have to work really hard to find people outside of those two avenues with whom you can bounce ideas off. To have a trusted board really helps you. Because if you feel comfortable bringing up to your board member all the things that are going wrong, and get their input, not necessarily their help in making a decision, but their input on how to handle these things, or even maybe articulate your thought process and ask them for feedback. If you don’t have that trust, then it’s going to be really, really hard. And so that’s why I think there is this deep desire for getting a trusted board member on board with whom you can discuss all your downs as well and not just your ups.

Craig Cannon [09:02] – It’s a good example of how these boards and also your investors are at the end of the day, not your boss. It’s still you running the company. How do you structure a board meeting to get the most value out of it? Because at the end of the day, you’re still making the choices, you’re still pushing the company forward. What are you looking for in a really productive board meeting?

Anu Hariharan [09:22] – At the Series A stage, the board meeting really varies, because it’s still the co-founder’s, but it’s just the Series A part remember? So we’ve seen all kinds of patterns. I think the most common is you do a board meeting every six weeks, it’s still slightly informal, not too formal because you just had one outside board member. You may give it more like a status update with two or three questions. I’ve also seen situations where some founders have told me, especially when they have deep trust, like Adam D’Angelo with Matt, or Peter Reinhart with Russ at Accel, they would do weekly calls. It was more like a one-on-one check-in and sort of informal board meeting every six weeks. Where really the constitution of the board and the board meetings team changes is as the board scales as well, which tends to happen from the Series B. Because from the Series B, you’re typically in the growth stage. And that means you have strong product market fit, and you’re truly raising money for scale and your execution is all about maximizing the opportunity that’s in front of you. At that stage you really need to put some structure and discipline both in scheduling your board meetings as well as in the way you run it. So first is the scheduling. It’s important to set your board meetings way ahead of time, at least a year in advance. I usually tell founders, “Keep your board meetings in person.” Usually board meetings are once a quarter, definitely if not all board members should be present in person. It’s way more constructive that way.

Anu Hariharan [10:53] – Second, is that you need to have a structured agenda for each of those board meetings to get the most out of it. The number one rule of the thumb is don’t make it a status update. Really invest the time in defining and aligning on what your key performance indicators are, key metrics are, and align with the board early on on what that is, and use that for the first 30 minutes of the discussion. If you have a structured set of metrics that you measure to understand the health of the business, and your board is well trained to understand that, that should really be 1/3 if not less of the meeting time. The bulk of the meeting time should be around one or two strategic topics that you want input on. It could be on anything. But it has to be something that’s actionable and tangible for the moment, or at least two months away. For example, in Gusto’s case, which we shared in the post, we had in our last board meeting, two really meaty topics. One was the team had spent and enormous amount of time coming up with their three year strategic plan on what Gusto should do, which involved a future product roadmap, and it was in what key positions and on which products they would work on, and ones which they wouldn’t. Then the second part of the discussion was related to that, the engineering team build out that they need to do to help support the three year strategic plan and to identify what the gaps are. The reason why they spent a lot of time at the board meeting level for feedback on those

Anu Hariharan [12:23] – were twofold, on the product roadmap was more to really share their thoughts process and for the board to push on their thought process. It was from the lens of, “Hey we’ve been in the weeds for the last 90 days, and we feel we’ve tested… Hey you board, you are seeing this for the first time and so push us. Ask us all the questions we haven’t talked through.”

Craig Cannon [12:47] – Related to that, just to pause really quickly. How much of this material are you giving the board beforehand? Because you’re saying they’re seeing it for the first time, but they’re sort of not, right?

Anu Hariharan [12:56] – That’s a great question. Most of the board deck goes in both Gusto’s and BREX’s case a week before. But the strategic topic, Gusto in this case, because they wanted a fresh pair of eyes, actually didn’t send the product three years strategic roadmap until the day before. It was pretty fresh. It was done deliberately. They gave a heads up around that. They said, “We are going to spend 45 minutes of the board meeting on the three year strategic plan. We have a view, but we want fresh pair of eyes to push our thinking, and so we’re going to send them materials only the night before. So if you can read it up in the morning, that would be great, but you can come prepared with questions, or we will update you during the meeting.”

Craig Cannon [13:39] – Now what about specific topics. Say you’re talking about something related to the engineering team, the CEO might have like a good picture of it, but not the full complete picture, so when it comes to bringing one of your team members into the meeting, how do you think about setting that up, should they stay the whole time, go for a segment, what do you do?

Anu Hariharan [13:57] – Yeah, so that again, it varies. We’ve seen both scenarios where in one case the CEO usually likes the exec team to be present for the entire meeting. So that they’re able to see the feedback that the board is giving not just on their topic, but on the entire topic. It helps, right? Because all the execs get a good sense for the entire performance of the company, helps with more leadership alignment, and there is no such thing as after the board meeting where the CEO has to go and say, “Well the board member leader told me this, versus told me that for during your session.” Whereas they’re just seeing the whole thing just as much as the CEO is seeing. The approach I tend to prefer, and this varies, it’s not a hard and fast rule, but in most cases it works, is bring some portion of your exec team for some portion of the meeting. And the reason I suggest that versus having the exec team for the entire meeting is when you have the exec team in entire meeting, somehow it turns into a status update more often than not. Even when you’re presenting a strategic deep-dive, the exec thinks, “Oh, I’m presenting to the board and this is stressful, and I need to make sure we’re doing a good job.” It’s no longer a brainstorming session. It turns into more, “I need to make sure I’ve answered all the questions.” It takes time and practice, and so to make sure that there is really good meaty feedback, it’s helpful that the execs come in for some portion. I also do think even if the execs are present for the entire portion of the board meeting,

Anu Hariharan [15:25] – there has to be at least 30 minutes of the board meeting for closed session, which is with the CEO and maybe the co-founders. But more often than not, over time, it becomes just the CEO. And then that session, it’s really important to focus on get a collecting frank feedback from the board on how the company is doing, and even collect feedback potentially on how the board meeting went, and on what the CEO’s performance, as well as the exec’s performance.

Craig Cannon [15:55] – Okay, so the picture you’re kind of painting now is of an ideal board scenario. What do you do when there’s conflict, investors don’t agree with each other, inside members don’t agree with you as a CEO, maybe you’re the CEO on an island and maybe everyone disagrees with you. How do you navigate that?

Anu Hariharan [16:11] – By the way in most board meetings, you’ll be surprised most people don’t agree. I often say that you should measure the performance of a high performing board just the way you measure the performance of a high performing exec team. You don’t want an entire exec team saying yes to the CEO or the co-founder for everything. Therefore you should not expect the board to say yes to everything. Because if you set the tone, that way you’re not maximizing their collective experience and getting input. At the end of the day as a CEO, it is absolutely your decision. You have the moral authority because you’re closest to the business and what is right for the company. It’s important for you to hear the different viewpoints. And so conflicting viewpoints is a great thing. And I think setting the tone for the strategic topic upfront saying the next two sessions in this meeting are going to be these two topics, and I welcome debate. I’ve seen the best CEO stand up and say that. And they encourage conflicting views. And so you can see often board members seeing a view and another board member directly conflicting with pretty much saying, “I heard you, but I disagree, and here’s why.” And that’s great. And if you see someone has to keep time check. As long as you’ve collected the inputs, you can always say, “Okay we’re not going to get to a decision at this point, but I hear the conflicting viewpoints, and we need to go back, and do some work, and come back. So let’s take this discussion offline, and move to the next topic.”

Anu Hariharan [17:39] – That’s totally fine position to get to. And in fact, if you feel you have heard new conflicting views that you’ve not heard before, it is important for you to reflect on it, maybe take even a week or two to reflect on it, further refine your decision framework, which we shared in the post as well, and say why you’re picking a decision. At the end of the day, the board, just like your exec team is looking for your articulation as a CEO on your rationale for why we are going with that particular path. To the extent you’re clearly communicating why you decided to pick that path, they will be fine with disagreeing and commenting behind it.

Craig Cannon [18:19] – What’s the best practice around following up? So say you and I are debating on something. “Like you know what, maybe I don’t have all the data here.” A week later I email the board members? Like what’s the best practice there?

Anu Hariharan [18:30] – Again it varies, but I’ll give you a real example. So on one of our boards that I’m on, the CEO presented the plan for budget for the next one year. And usually you need the board approval for the budget. And the CEO presented three scenarios and the board was divided. The CEO wanted to go with scenario two, and the majority of the board felt they should go with scenario one, and except two board members that felt they should go with scenario three. So how do you handle a situation like that? There’s no way you could get that result in the board meeting. So CEO said, “Okay, I hear all your feedback, we’re going to take this offline.” And they literally made a list of all the conflicting viewpoints and why different people are advocating different scenarios. Within a week, the CEO sent a note to the entire board saying, “We are working on addressing each of these questions so that we can make the right decision for the company, and that will take three more weeks. At the end of three weeks, we will set up calls with each one of you in week four. And in week five, we will do a combined board call to work on a scenario.” That plan was clearly articulated one week after the board meeting. And in the three weeks, the CFO went and spent a lot of time collecting market data, external conditions, which were inputs they needed to really understand if scenario one or scenario three was right. And then they did one-on-one calls with each of the board members.

Craig Cannon [19:55] – Why isolate folks? Why did they choose to do one-on-one, rather than the group call first?

Anu Hariharan [19:59] – Because in that particular case, there was too much opposition for two different scenarios from the different board members. It was important to make sure each board member felt they were heard, but also that the company truly understood their opposition, right? Because in a group setting when you’re trying to collect all the conflicting viewpoints, you have only 45 minutes, you may miss the depth of the question. But they still did a combined board call.

Craig Cannon [20:26] – At the end.

Anu Hariharan [20:26] – At the end. And then the whole team worked on a scenario. And by the way, that clearly articulated, in that case the CEO actually disagreed with 1/3 of the board. But he clearly laid out the logic for why he went that particular scenario. The board went behind him. In fact, it is a great way of even documenting your decision making. As a CEO, over time you can reflect on the quality of your own decision making to understand how well you’ll be able to credit in the midst of uncertainty on what the right path is for the company.

Craig Cannon [21:01] – Okay, so now what if we’re in a scenario where a board member is not helpfully disagreeing with folks. A board member is like, in your opinion as a CEO and maybe as a co-founder as well, actively harming the board, or the company, or maybe another board member. How do you go about getting that person off your board?

Anu Hariharan [21:20] – It’s not unlike laying a one-on-one with your execs, when execs don’t work hard. But it is harder to fire a board member, really hard. That’s why I say you should do a lot of upfront work on is this the person you really want on your board? But if you’re stuck in that situation, step one is about giving constructive feedback to the person. The most important things CEOs need to realize is your board member also wants your company to succeed. Their incentives are aligned. After all, they put money and they advocated for an investment within the firm. Yhey want the company to succeed. I think it’s about taking them offline, maybe going out one-on-one for a dinner, and giving really constructive feedback. And it may be you may, and don’t make it personal, but I’ve often seen that CEOs struggle to give constructive feedback to the board member because they view the board member as a boss. But sometimes it’s important to tell the board member, especially if you feel this, which is, “Hey, your way of communicating in the board meeting demotivates me, and that’s not helping me be effective as a CEO.” And sometimes they need to hear it. And it’s okay to say that. And so it’s important that you take them out and have a one-on-one, be very constructive about the feedback, give examples. And if it’s emotional as the example I stated, be very honest about it. Because they want the company to succeed. And you are probably as a CEO, one of the most important key members to help set the company up for success.

Anu Hariharan [22:59] – I think it’s important to try that. And if that doesn’t work, and they’re not willing to work, then try to work with the other board members. Try to calibrate whether it’s just your perception or if it’s reality by talking to other board members. I’ve seen situations where other board members have stepped in by giving advice to the CEO, but also calling the other board member to say it’s destructive. The third option, as I said is if you’ve tried everything, and you can’t just make it work, but if you’re a company that’s doing really well, and is going to be an important company in the portfolio for the VC firm then you can go to someone else a the VC firm, someone senior and ask them for a replacement because you’ve tried everything. So those are some of the three options. Having said that, there’s another important point I want to make here, which is as CEOs, your company is your baby. But sometimes there’s something called reality distortion. You believe too much in the potential of the baby without really looking at all the blind spots, and if the entire board is going the same feedback, maybe you should pause and think why is that the case? You know honestly in one or two situations I’ve seen this where if the founder really has doubts, then they bring in exec coach to one or two board meetings. Yhey ask the exec coach to observe the board dynamics. Yhe exec coach has even done, 360 feedback of the CEO, or with the board members, and that’s actually helped improve the situation tremendously.

Craig Cannon [24:37] – Great, all right, so we have a handful of questions submitted from LinkedIn this time. I think people, I don’t know, like to get into your DMs to give more intimate questions. Agustin Feuerhake asks, “What does it take to be a great board member?”

Anu Hariharan [24:56] – Well, I can only share examples of great board members that I have seen. You know Micky Malka is one from Ribbit who is on the board of BREX. I have always seen him proactively ask questions and proactively refrain from stating his opinion. He really does this well to make sure that the decision is the CEO’s and not his. He wants to empower the CEO. This actually helps establish trust. He has enormous amount of experience looking at payments companies and so when Henrique asks the board, “What should my typical credit loss rate be?” It’s very easy for him to say what the number is. But instead he would give examples from different companies’ portfolio, and he would state the pros and cons of each, but he would stop from giving an opinion. If any question comes up in the board meeting, sometimes he would even go as far as asking them, “Are you asking me for my opinion or do you want us to test your decision process?” and I think that’s a very important nuance. Because no CEO or founder should ever think that it’s the board’s job to make a decision. It’s is not. It is absolutely the founder’s job to make a decision. It’s the board’s job to empower the CEO to make a decision. I think to the extent, board members really understand that, which is we are here to help the team as much as we can, to really push their thinking, and to empower them with as many examples as we can that we see from across our portfolio or from the market. The decision is the CEO’s and we need to respect that.

Anu Hariharan [26:47] – That, I think is what truly differentiates a board member. Having said that, it doesn’t mean a board member should not state his opinion in certain situations. I do think it’s really important to hold everyone to the highest ethical standards, and if you see as a board member, something that’s going wrong, be it in the way the company is approaching sensitive topics or even culture or diversity, or even regulatory framework. It is the job of a board member to state their opinion at that point.

Craig Cannon [27:19] – Cool, related to that, Dave Bailey asks, “To what extent should the board culture reflect the company culture?”

Anu Hariharan [27:26] – I thought that was a really interesting question. I haven’t though a lot about it. But if I look at the boards that I’m on, I do feel that the board culture tends to reflect the company’s culture. Let me take the example of BREX. I often say BREX’s culture if you look at their first 100 to 200 employees, they have a large percentage of first generation immigrants. It’s not that surprising because Henrique and Pedro are from Brazil and they moved to the US pretty much to join Stanford and started BREX within a year. If you look at BREX’s board, all of us are first generation immigrants. And now is that necessarily culture? No, but I think if your CEOs tend to gravitate towards certain board members, you tend to gravitate towards individuals you respect, and probably individuals you would work with. That’s the same lens you are using in forming your team. The board tends to reflect how your company operates. The board members individually probably share the same values as you do. Similar example let’s see at Convoy. I always say Conwoy’s culture stands at most for transparency. And they really care about community. And if you look at the board members they have, they have YC on the board, and we obviously care a lot about community. Reid is the other board member from Greylock who built an awesome LinkedIn community. So you can see that as CEOs, you will tend to gravitate towards individuals who probably reflect your core values. And so I think if you form a really effective board and you pay attention to who you’re bringing on to your board

Anu Hariharan [29:12] – it’s more important to make sure that their philosophy in life and the culture and the values that they aspire to as an individual aligns with you as founders.

Craig Cannon [29:23] – Yeah, I think that’s important. It’s a nuance, but it’s an important one. Okay, so Connor Abene asks, “Everyone wants board members that can bring value to their company based on their past experiences, but how do you differentiate someone who may have limited experience in your particular industry, but you feel could still add a ton of value to your company?” The underlying question here is someone who hasn’t worked in your industry, you think they’re good. Should you have them on your board?

Anu Hariharan [29:50] – Yeah, great question. I probably, my view is going to be very different from a lot of people in the Valley. I often tell founders that when you’re looking for a board member, the board member is going to stay with the company for 10 plus years or longer. The median type IPO is now 11 years. If it’s going to take that long and it’s so hard to remove a board member, then there are only three things you should look for in a board member. One, as I said in the post as well, trust. Do you really trust this board member and can you see yourself working with this person and trusting them for 10 plus years? That only comes with time. You can learn some from back channel, reference checks, by asking other founders who they’ve worked with. Now the second element I say is what are the things as a company you will need for 10 plus years that won’t change? There are really only few things. One, is you’re going to fundraise often. This board member really help you figure out and give input on when and how to fundraise, how to run the process, can work with other investors as you’re raising large amounts of capital? You may do acquisitions down the line. Is this board member really good at helping you give strategic input, advise, and figuring out what it takes to run a process, or even when inbound interest comes. That’s what I call as doing the VC job really well. Second thing you really need as your company scales, no matter where, I mean even if it’s 10 years down the line is hiring execs. Can this board member help you hire great execs?

Anu Hariharan [31:32] – And the way to test for that is do they have a strong network? Does the platform or the firm they’re part of have a strong network? Are they able to get introductions for individuals that you would want to have in your exec team? That’s the only thing that scales. The third thing is the job of the board member is really to push your thinking on strategic decision making. How good is their strategy decision making? When you’re spending a lot of time figuring out whether you can trust, you should really evaluate is this person asking really the right questions that push my thinking that I haven’t thought of? Or is just extremely smart and can ask questions that can help flesh out which path the company needs to take. Those are the only things that scale with the company. And so if you’re looking to add a board member who’s going to be with your for 10 plus years, those are really the three things that matter. Everything else, you can get in other fronts. You can add an independent board member for a time that you feel you need functional area experience. Some companies or operations haven’t any and they look for board members especially from Amazon for operational input. You could add advisors. You know, BREX has done this really, really well. They have a set of advisors for each function who advises their executives. They have a list of advisors from marketing, they have a list of advisors for product, for engineering, for sales, and these are really scaled execs who coach their executives. There are other ways to get industry experience,

Anu Hariharan [33:04] – but the core function of the board, the three things I articulated are the only things that matter because those are the only three things that last over 10 years.

Craig Cannon [33:14] – That’s great advice. One more question. Rhena asks, “Could you address managing a board during the product-market fit/pivot times?” How would you go about managing your board when the product’s not really working yet, you might go about changing the whole thing? Like how would you?

Anu Hariharan [33:31] – I think that this happens, right? It’s rare after the Series A, but it does happen. It’s happening even with a few YC companies. And I think the important lesson that goes back to the trust. If you trust that board member, and the board member wants you to succeed, it’s about being honest with them and saying, “Look, I have really spent time and I think what I am building here is niche and it’s not going to be a big opportunity, but I have this other idea, which I think really has meat to it. and if you’re supportive of it, we’d like to go down that path.” What’s the greatest example of that? Stewart with Slack. I mean this is exactly what he did with Accel and Andreessen Horowitz, and Slack is a pivot from the original idea. But I think it’s important for you to bring the board member in, to trust them, and you will be more often surprised than not. Board members love it when the founders themselves realize the opportunity is small, and that they’re willing to try something new to make it big. Often the board members worry that, “I don’t want to really tell them that their baby’s ugly, and that they can actually take a different path.” and so you bringing that up, especially if you identified the right board members and you can trust them, they’ll be more than supportive.

Craig Cannon [35:00] – Great, all right well so if folks want to read your post, it’s on the blog and thanks so much for coming in.

Anu Hariharan [35:04] – No problem, thank you.

Craig Cannon [35:06] – All right, thanks for listening. As always you can find the transcript and video at If you have a second it would be awesome to give us a rating and review wherever you find your podcasts. See you next time.


  • Y Combinator

    Y Combinator created a new model for funding early stage startups. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($150k) in a large number of startups (recently 200). The startups move to Silicon