Utilizing Your Board with Richard Lebovitz
Richard Lebovitz is the founder and CEO of LeanDNA, an Austin-based AI platform and Next Coast portfolio company. As part of our E2E: 20/20 series with our portfolio CEOs, we spoke with Richard about utilizing your board's expertise. Read more of our E2E content on governance here.
What has been the biggest benefit of working closely with your board?
For me, the board has always been helpful because when you’re an entrepreneur, you get wrapped up in the day-to-day grind. Anybody who says it’s easy is wrong, it’s not, you have so many roadblocks. But at the board level, you have people working with a lot of different companies and it’s great because they provide a birds-eye view on what doesn’t work with other businesses. I’m a bit more conservative than other entrepreneurs and I like to get things a little more perfected before I turn up the gas and go faster. However, with a board, I’m more comfortable going faster because they’ll help us avoid bad mistakes. Without the board, we only could have learned these lessons through trial and error.
How can you make sure board meetings are as productive as possible?
The number one thing is to make it easy for the board to give you productive advice. It’s my job to make their job easier, so before each meeting I always ask myself: How do I present things in a way that allows them to give us good advice? These guys are busy and jumping around between 10 to 15 companies, so that means not a lot of PowerPoint slides or hiding any information, because who does that help? You want to get as much useful information as you can from them so it’s up to you be transparent, know what the issues are and ask for help where you need it. Think through those questions in advance and ask for targeted advice. Specifically, I like to pick a particular theme for each board meeting and drill down with the board to really talk about how to solve that issue.
What was something you struggled with building your business that your board eventually helped solve?
Changing the sales process was a critical step that we wouldn’t have been able to do without our board. We started out with these 25-page sales proposals with details about the complexity of our product and how it compared to competitors, etc. We would cite case studies and customer reviews because when you’re pitching a new product, your instinct is to give as much information as possible to help them make a decision. And yet we were struggling with exciting clients on our new product. Then one of our board members who came from a totally different industry with a lot of experience in marketing recommended that we change our sales pitch to a quick and simple approach. Since our best edge is our product, he recommended we skip right to that. So we went from a 25-page proposal to a simple one-pager and essentially going straight into a demo during the pitch. You wouldn’t think it would make such a big difference, but it really did. Once clients realized how easy it was to use and implement the product, they were significantly more likely to purchase it.
How did your board recommend you maintain this positive change in the sale process?
We started mapping out “a day in the life” of somebody that uses our product. We looked at the challenges they faced after purchasing our technology and then instituted a very tight relationship between our sales and customer service teams. When the salespeople got to see the product through its implementation phase, and the issues our clients experienced when expanding its use, they had a lot more ammunition when they went back to cold calling and trying to close new customers. The board is great at making sure we have the right processes like these in the place to be successful. A lot of startups typically aren’t great about making sure these measurements are being monitored once you close a deal. What happens after the customer signs? A board can be great at helping pick which aspects of your business to monitor and track in order to ensure success.
Richard is the founder and CEO of LeanDNA, an Austin-based lean technology company that focuses on the manufacturing and industrial sectors. He was previously the founder and CEO of Austin-based Factory Logic, Inc. (acquired by SAP), which he started in 1997. He is also a board member for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME), and is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and Instructor for The University of Texas at Austin.