Exploring Personal Boards

All companies have a board of directors, a group of individuals who represent the interests of shareholders in the company. This board is tasked with making strategic business decisions, ensuring that the company is properly managed, and making the final decision on things like executive hires and fundraising rounds. Overall, the board of directors plays a critical role in managing a company.

Recently there has been a trend to build your own “personal community”, the group of individuals with whom you interact on a frequent basis. I have been thinking about how we can extend the concept of a personal community to a “personal board of directors”, a formal board of individuals who can help you make major life decisions and help you navigate through difficult events and experiences in your life. This article will serve as an introduction to this concept, and how I would structure my own personal board of directors.

Unpacking Personal Boards

The concept of publicly traded people is being explored in more depth (I am also a publicly traded person). Essentially, you offer shares in yourself in exchange for allowing people to help you make decisions in your life. While this model does bring significant accountability and motivational benefits to the publicly traded person, many people are unable to commit to the level of transparency needed in order to maintain their status.

Personal boards are a group of around 6–12 people who help you make more informed life decisions. Whether you are deciding on a career transition, whether to pursue a new relationship, start a new project, your personal board would be available to provide actionable advice based on their experience with you. While we already develop mentorship relationships with people across our career, a personal board offers a more formal arrangement that prioritizes information-sharing, accountability, and decision-involvement.

Throughout life individuals are tasked with making a series of large decisions that fundamentally impact their future, and many people do not have the information they need to make an informed decision or need an outside opinion before making a final decision.

The aim of a personal board would be to help people get instant advice on the decisions that they are faced from people who have close experience working with the individual. These people will have a special insight into your life, whether they have been a co-worker, a role model with whom you work with, your friends, or someone who can offer an informed perspective into your life. By involving these people in your decision making, you can be exposed to a plethora of new ideas and opinions on the decisions that you are making, which can help you analyze an opportunity from all angles and understand how the people you care about think about it.

Why start a personal board?

One of the most important benefits associated with starting a personal board of directors is that you can get honest and actionable advice on your future. Your personal board exists to advise you on your future decisions and help you navigate any opportunities or challenges that you are faced with. Because they care about you succeeding, they will be more likely to provide unfiltered and honest feedback on your life and a specific decision. This means that you can further analyze a potential decision and benefit from an honest perspective, rather than an opinion that takes into account solely what happens if you fail.

This benefit can be further amplified by building a diverse board. If you develop a diverse board of directors then you can realize a large number of different opinions on particular issues you are facing. This means you can be exposed to new cultural input on a potential decision, as well as how it would help you in the future from a community and networking value. In addition, diversity brings exposure to new ideas and concepts. Therefore, developing a diverse board of people with different backgrounds and characteristics will help you better unpack a particular decision and ultimately make a more informed choice.

In addition, developing a personal board allows you to benefit from more accountability in your work. Your board will be very interested in seeing how your progress in your life, from the success of your decisions to the progress you are making at work and on your projects. Members of your board will likely want to get more involved with your day-to-day life and will check-in more frequently than a mentor would, which will help you stay on track and do all of the work that you hope to complete.

Personal boards also provide you with a concentrated source of motivation. Your board will check-in with you frequently and are interested in seeing you become successful in your life, which is most likely the reason that they are on your board in the first place. Your board members will help encourage you to do the work that makes you feel happiest and be there if you are ever doubting your abilities. If you face a roadblock, then your board will be able to help you overcome it and help you realize the impact that the work you are doing could have on your life, and potentially the world.

Another benefit of operating your own personal board is that you will be able to grow your network quickly. As your board develops, you will most likely start to ask for warm introductions from board members to people who can help you become more successful. These introductions will allow you to cultivate strong relationships with people you are interested in, and benefit from the wisdom that they can provide you.

This benefit would be especially useful if you are a young person looking to break into a career. Your personal board would be able to make meaningful introductions to people who can help you learn more about breaking into your desired industry, and may even be able to help you network with prospective employers. This can be coupled with the advice that board members can provide you with regards to your future career and how to navigate the interview process to provide you with an unfair advantage over other candidates.

Starting a personal board also opens the opportunity to bring all of the wisdom from people who are most familiar with you into one room (or remote chat, for that matter). This means that you can benefit from the collective advice that they devise based on their experience with you, and allow your board members to discuss your direction in a collaborative chat — which can yield more insightful advice on the end.

Your personal board will also be available to provide you with peer-support throughout your unique path. Whether you are starting a new project, considering a career change, or contemplating a change in diet, your personal board will be there to provide you with in-depth mentorship and advice that can help you make a more informed choice. Pitching your ideas to your board will also help you approach a decision from a new angle, and consider in more depth how it could impact your life, in collaboration with your shareholders.

Every board member will have a distinctive talent to bring to the table. Your friends will be able to provide motivational and personal support, your co-workers will be able to provide you with professional support, and experts will be able to provide you with a broader perspective on your life and a specific industry. Starting a board has a low barrier for entry, so you can get started right now.

Starting a Board

Before starting a board, you should first talk to people that you already know. This is important as being on a personal board is a big responsibility and you want to make sure that they feel comfortable with you before accepting the position. The first thing that you should consider when starting a personal board is the value that you can provide them and the value they can provide to you.

Your personal board will consist of two-way relationships with board members and yourself. Therefore you should ensure that you elect board members who can provide you with detailed and useful advice that is relevant to your life at the present moment. For example, if you are pursuing a career in software engineering, you should ensure that you have at least one board member who has experience in this industry. In addition to them helping you guide your way into a career in the industry, you will be able to talk with them about their job and allow them to share their own deep knowledge and wisdom, which will make them feel more valued as a board member.

Furthermore, your board should consist of people who work in your respective field. This means that you can benefit from perspectives based on the intricacies of the industry that you are working in, and understand how you can prepare for any changes in the industry. For example, if you are a full-stack web developer, then electing a web developer for your board will allow you to ensure that your decisions make sense from a logistical standpoint and are more informed. This will ultimately allow you to make more informed decisions.

You should also consider inviting a friend to be on your board. This means that you will have someone who can provide you with advice based on their day-to-day experiences with you, and who can guide you in the right direction based on your past behavior and patterns. However, your friends are more likely to say what will make you happier rather than what’s practical, which is why inviting one friend should be sufficient, at least for your first board.

Finally, you should also invite any personal advisors, mentors, or co-workers to your board. These people will have more professional experience with you and will be familiar with how you work and approach certain goals and tasks. This is important as they can give you an expert opinion on any career-related decisions based on their experience working with you on a professional level.

Upon making a list of prospective board members, you can then start reaching out to people with information about your board, what they should expect of you, what you expect of them, and how the arrangement will work. It is crucial that you provide prospective board members with all of the information they need so they can provide you with the best advice possible and can interact with you at all opportunities.

Board Compensation

Corporate boards generally compensate people through a salary model in order to attract the highest-quality candidates — a monetary transactional arrangement. This option is not necessarily applicable to personal boards because you would be dividing your salary and diverting most of it to your board. Therefore, personal boards could use the concept of Income Share Agreements (ISAs) in order to reasonably compensate their boards for success.

The biggest reason for using ISAs is that it aligns the incentives of both the person and members of the board. The board members will make more money only if they provide you with advice that helps you succeed, and you will only pay your board members if they have guided you to success. This means that board members will provide more actionable and detailed advice as they have a literal stake in your future success, and should also result.

Another way that you could compensate your board would be through offering them pro-rata rights in your next venture. This would mean that if you were to raise money for a company that you have started, then your board members would have the legal right to participate in the round. Pro rata rights may also allow you to attract better board members as they know that their advice would have a direct impact on how you pursue a company and allow them to get more involved if you succeed.

However, your personal board may not be compensated. Helping someone make better decisions will have a significant impact on their life, and the feeling this brings will often be enough to encourage the best talent. If you are an ambitious individual on track to succeed, then people will volunteer to participate in your board because seeing you succeed will make them feel happier and as if they have been part of real change in the world.

Board Relations

Maintaining a personal board requires you to develop strong relationships with all of your board members. Business is powered by connections between individuals, and starting a personal board is no different. The most important aspect of maintaining good person-to-board relationships is ensuring that you are transparent in your progress and provide board members with the information they need to provide you with effective advice that can have an impact on your success.

If you have had a productive week, then your board members can celebrate your wins with you, which will make them feel as if their advice has had a real impact on your life. On the other hand, if you have had a very poor week, checking-in with your board members allows you to break down the obstacles you are facing into more addressable components, which will help you overcome the issue. Your board is there to provide you with advice, not to criticize your actions and progress. They will be there to celebrate your successes and guide you through any issues you are experiencing when times are tough.

Another way to develop good board relations would be to convene the whole board on a frequent basis so they can discuss your success as one body and help you set actionable and measurable goals for the future. You may decide that a formal presentation every two weeks is optimal, or you may think that a monthly update is more appropriate due to the long timeframes involved in seeing the tangible output from your work. Whatever you decide, getting the whole board together offers you the opportunity to present your progress to a group of people who are passionate about your success, which will help you understand your own progress from a new angle, and benefit from the thoughts of your board members.

Having a productive board meeting will be dependent on the structure that you develop. Before you host a board meeting, you should be sure to issue board members with a few bullet points of information based on your past progress so you can start discussing what is important as soon as possible. This may take the form of an informal email or a more structured document that outlines your goals, progress, and what you want to discuss in your board meeting.

You should also develop a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for yourself before the board meeting, and discuss them with your board during the meeting. KPIs will make it easier for both you and your board to measure your progress and set actionable and achievable goals for the future. In addition, developing a set of KPIs will create consistency between meetings and clarify what you are working on developing with your shareholders. KPIs may include social media followings, salary, your position at work, et cetera.

You may also decide to grant decision-making power to your board. This power does not need to binding, but you may ask that the board votes on particular decisions so you can get an overall understanding of how they feel on a particular issue. This also will make board members feel more involved in your life as they have more power to guide your decision-making, which can help with board member retention and overall engagement in your board. You may also elect for some of these resolutions to be binding so that board members can feel even more involved and you can show to the board that you are committed to their advice.

The logistics of starting a personal board are a little more complex. If you are going to convene in person, then you may choose to rent out a local conference room for an hour or two every month. If you are going to convene online, then there are a few tools you should consider. For video conferencing, you could use either Zoom or Daily.co, two platforms that offer a strong free version and are easy to use. You may also decide to use Slack so that board members can get in touch with you at any point when they feel they can help you. You may also decide to use Twitter, Email, or another similar method of communication for more informal advice.

One thing that is important to note is that your board will evolve due to changing circumstances. Changing your board means that you can adapt to new changes in your life and ensure that your board members can easily become engaged with the latest in your life. This may take the form of changing your primary means of communication or developing a different structure for your board meetings. Continuous iteration will also make it easier for you to keep up-to-date with your board, even as your life gets busier, which will create a more effective and efficient board.

Conclusion

The concept of personal boards is very new and is open to interpretation. Some people may decide that an informal personal community is more appropriate because they are unable to commit to a higher level of involvement by others in their life. Establishing a board of directors is all about your specific needs. If you think you would benefit from more formal presentations like a company’s board of directors and include more structured check-in updates for board members. However, you may think that your board should be more formal and therefore forego some of the formalities aforementioned.

Creating a personal board allows you to stay more accountable, provides a source of motivation, and ensures that you have the advice you need to succeed when you experience a problem. The best part is that setting up a personal board is easy to do, and, in fact, you can get started right now. Talk to people who you think would be able to provide you with insightful advice on your future, and decide on how your board would be structured.

Lastly, make sure that your board meeting doesn’t become a bored meeting.

Thoughts on Personal Moats

Personal Moats, commonly referred to as “unfair advantages”, have become a more prominent topic of conversation recently. On a high level, a “personal moat” is that thing that makes you stand out from the crowd, whether it be due to your experience, network, or something else.

The best personal moats should be durable to change and will be something that you can build over time. Your personal moat will become a critical part of your life, and will inevitably be the thing that makes other people want to talk to you. If you have a unique insight to share, then you will be the only person someone else can go to for that perspective. Companies also have their own moats, although they refer to the economics of the business.

I have been developing my personal moats since the age of 8 upon further reflection, but I have not been conscious of that point until very recently. Below I will list the things that I consider to be my personal moats, so you can consider what your personal moats are.

Focus on a particular subject matter. Go deep. This seems obvious but the best way to develop a personal moat is to focus on a particular subject matter. One cannot become a master of everything. I personally focus my time on business, economics, and technology — the areas I am interested in learning more about and have been working on for the last few years. Discover what you can be great at if you invest the right amount of time and resources, and consider how that aligns with your goals in the future.

Listen to podcasts and consume as much content as possible. I listen to two podcasts every morning, and while anyone can do this, audio can provide a new way of communicating a particular issue, and can help you complete your thoughts. When you have finished reading an article, consider looking for a podcast with complimentary views to reinforce your knowledge, which will help you retain the knowledge and develop a larger picture of an issue.

Maintain a healthy body. This is a difficult one, especially if you are in a routine of eating poorly. If your diet consists of a significant amount of caffeine, sugar, and carbohydrates, your ability to retain information will be limited and you will find it difficult to focus on work for prolonged periods of time.

An investment in your body is an investment in your knowledge and future productivity. Get enough sleep. Exercise when you can (even if it is just taking a 10-minute walk). Eat more substantial and healthy food. Meditate. These habits can be hard to implement but when they are a part of your life, you will be a more productive person, allowing you to focus on what matters most to you.

Build a company. Arguably this is one of the easiest ways to develop a personal moat. Even if your company fails after a few months, starting a business requires a significant amount of in-depth thinking and creativity to ensure survival in the future. This type of thinking normally asks that you think differently about an issue and consider it from all angles to stay ahead of the game. Build a company in an area you are passionate about, and you will learn so much.

Be productive. This one ties into everything mentioned in this post. If you have a spare minute, try to do something constructive. This could be related to your job or a hobby that you have. Doing something that you enjoy can help you relax and learn more about a subject that you are passionate about. Be that person that people see as productive and efficient. If you are struggling to think about the work you want to do, then reflect on your life. This is an investment in your future productivity and thus falls into this category. I try to do as much as possible in a day and if I have nothing else to do, I will take some time to research my passions.

Jump on new opportunities. As humans, we are conditioned to avoid unreasonable risks. Getting in on the latest opportunities involves risk. People need to consider the benefits of an opportunity, rather than the costs if it fails. The people in this mindset normally are the ones that think positively and show a stronger motivation towards a particular cause. Be the ambitious one and don’t be afraid to do something new. In fact, I encourage that you try to do something venturesome and enterprising every day, no matter how small, and use the experience that gives you to your advantage.

Do something different. The ideas that nobody is pursuing or thinking about make for the best personal moats. Think about the issues in the world that you think should be solved that have no reasonable solution, and then think about how you would fix them. If you do something completely different, it will be more difficult for people to catch up and you will always be ahead of the game. The pioneers of a revolution always have the most unique insights on the issue they are trying to solve.

Personal tracking. I have been looking into personal tracking for the last few months, and have started tracking key metrics in my life on Airtable. While many are subjective, the practice has allowed me to identify my most productive periods and the factors that contribute to decreased mental states and motivation. This data has helped me become a more happy and positive person, and also affords me the opportunity to track my progress in a tangible and measurable way. Furthermore, this data has allowed me to avoid putting myself under unnecessary pressure and further understand what I am actually capable of.

Build an inspirational community. The people you spend most of your time with are a reflection of you. Immerse yourself in an environment with people who inspire you. This is not always possible, but you can always read about other people (or listen to podcasts about them). Your community will be there when you need help to offer assistance, provide you with feedback on your latest ideas, and also allow you to formulate your ideas into a more cohesive plan. Talking to someone is an underrated way of refining your knowledge.

If you are thinking about what your personal moat could be, do some research online for “how-to guides” or a group of other people who are doing the same thing. If there is such content available, it means that there are already other people with that unique characteristic or ability, which makes for an ineffective personal moat.

Building a moat often involves doing something that others have not done before. Don’t be afraid to look crazy. How do you think people reacted to the work of Steve Jobs when he completely changed the way we interact with phones in the start, or Thomas Edison when he developed a loud but innovative way to illuminate a whole house? Take some time to reflect on what your unique edge is, and build upon it.