If you have the ambition to build a global, category-leading company, then you should take both governance and structure seriously from day 1.
What has constantly surprised me over years of involvement in early stage ventures is how little thought founders put into building both balanced and ambitious boards. There’s a clear correlation with successful venture startup outcomes that recruit and develop great boards. Unfortunately, I see many entrepreneurs base their board of director member choices around subtle ways to help the founders preserve deep control, versus including individuals who would put them in the hot seat more often, and push them to grow.
What venture-backed business founders need to come to terms with is the fact that once you take institutional money, it’s no longer purely your business anymore—even if you own the majority stake. You not only have a fiduciary obligation to do what’s right for shareholders, but you also need to be honest with yourself about whether you’re really being a venture business, or an epic lifestyle one.
As I mentioned in BetaKit, what keeps me up at night is “finding the right balance between aggressively going after global growth opportunities and remaining focused on executing our core business in multiple offices.” Boards that hold you both accountable and provide balanced perspectives can truly give you a platform to lead your startup through rapid growth. Asking the hard questions while pushing focused ambitions can help you move faster on the right things. Knowing you can get fired or removed from your own company if you don’t perform actually excites me, as it creates better alignment on goals, and a culture of urgency on core priorities for the whole company, not just founders.
In our industry, I think that’s a differentiator for us as HIGHLINE is structured as an operating company with a prime mandate to increase both HIGHLINE the OperatingCo value, and HIGHLINE’s portfolio value. Many accelerator models are programs of funds while others are non-profits with other objectives. All have their pros and cons, but I truly believe our governance, structure and economic incentives give us the best framework to obsess about evolving the accelerator model into a very valuable business.
Meet The HIGHLINE Board
Joining me (Marcus Daniels) on HIGHLINE’s board are four accelerator market veterans who have been instrumental in the accelerator evolution debate and drive to build a leading platform globally:
Leonard Brody isn’t only a “controversial torchbearer for this new world order”, but also a global entrepreneur, investor and digital media visionary. He has deep accelerator model experience where he helped start up the first accelerator in Vancouver, co-founded GrowLab, and advised hundreds of founders. His globetrotting pursuits gives us an edge on pushing ambitious initiatives such as being a leader with Startup Visa and connecting dots into new opportunities.
Amar Varma is one of North America’s foremost experts in mobile, is an investor in tech startups, and was a Founder of Extreme Venture Partners (sold in 2013) and co-founder of Xtreme Labs (sold to Pivotal Labs in 2013). He started one of Toronto’s first accelerators, drove its evolution into Extreme Startups, and has one of the best track records for investing in mobile ventures, period, pushing us and the founders we fund to create something excellent with innovative impact.
Michael Mahon from the BDC Strategic Initiatives Group has served both on the Extreme Startups and GrowLab boards over the years and has been a champion for a pan-Canadian accelerator platform. He has deep experience to help start and fund company creation platforms, venture capital funds, and to support Canadian founders. Beyond being a driving force to make the Extreme Startups/GrowLab merger happen, he’s opened countless ecosystem development doors for HIGHLINE to strengthen the platform.
Alex Baker was both on the GrowLab and Extreme Startups boards while being one of Canada’s leading mobile investors at Relay Ventures. He sits on several other accelerator model boards and for years has been a staple in pushing founders’ mobile roadmaps and helping them get institutionally fundable.
As a startup, you will always be under-resourced compared to your entrenched competitors, but you can gain an edge on experience and expertise with the right board. I think HIGHLINE’s foundational board is a core strength, and I’m thrilled that several other prominent global trailblazers have expressed interest in joining the board. I believe adding additional independent members over the next year will make us even stronger.
Over the course of this week we’ll publish more in-depth interviews with our board members so you can get to know both them and their entrepreneurial visions better.
As always, please feel free to DM me on Twitter (@MarcusDaniels) to continue the conversation.