It's really hard to advise a company when you don't have all the information--and no one has more information than the CEO of the company. Sometimes, you might believe the CEO is ill-informed, and you're a check on the amount of homework they've done to seek out solutions to a problem, or which metrics or signals they're paying close enough attention to. That's a really useful function for any kind of advisor, be it a board member, investor, or someone advising about a specific aspect of the company.
However, it's very tempting as an investor to get into the habit of telling the founder what you think about all sorts of things, before you've asked them for what they would propose as the way forward, or when you haven't even agreed on what's a problem.
Following this strategy as the CEO means that you're taking the advice of someone who, at best, has 1 out of 30 days of experience with the company via a monthly board meeting, and two, might be pattern matching for a bunch of other companies that isn't the company at hand.
Lots of different companies operate in lots of different ways--and they've done so across a lot of different environments. If you started a tech company 25 years ago, you did so before the internet was really a thing for everyone. If you started one 20 years ago, you did so before broadband was really a thing for everyone. It was just 15 years ago that no one had smart phones. It was merely 10 years ago that Facebook hadn't even cracked a billion dollars of ad revenue (It did nearly $40B last year).
So, even when you're talking to smart people who already built their businesses, they did so in very different environments, with different teams than what you have now.
As the CEO, you should be prepared to make decisions that you stand by and not have to go to advisors and investors with every issue. We're here to audit your thinking, not to do it for you.
Here's a good way to do that:
1) Have a way to organize the company's priorities over time and measure results.
Start with your long term goals, this year's goals, this quarter's goals, etc. Drill that down to goals for various teams. This is what's known as Objectives and Key Results. It's never to early to start using them. This way, everyone around the table, including investors, management, and employees can see the plans laid out, and have something to weigh in on.
This way, we can all be standing on common ground and we have an objective way to discuss what's working and what's not.
Processes always trump "gut" when you have the time.
2) Do your homework.
If something seems not right, and you don't know why, you should sit down and talk to a few smart people who've probably been through something like this before--and if you don't know anyone, definitely ask investors.
You're much better off asking investors for resources to do your own research than just asking what the investor thinks. If nothing else, it helps you build up a network of other founders and executives that you can count on whose experience dwarfs what the handful of your active investors have.
3) Present your observations, findings and proposed solutions.
It's not a useful exercise to just pronounce tactics at a board meeting without context, and certainly not to blindly follow advice because you heard it was something you should do.
What I find most useful is that you give us the opportunity to understand why you thought something was a) important and b) in need of change or improvement. Hopefully, it traces back to your stated objectives--in which case, it's something we all agreed on prior.
It also allows for an investor to see why you're focused on something and help you with prioritization--because maybe it's not something that actually needs to be addressed right now given your limited resources.
I want to hear what the CEO thinks first--before I respond to a question. If nothing else, how else is a CEO supposed to learn the responsibility of setting direction and making good decisions? It's too easy to just ask others for their opinions if you aren't required to make your case for something first.
At the end of the day, there are going to be hundreds of decisions I'm not around for as a board member, observer, advisor, etc., and the best thing I can do for a company is help the CEO create a process that makes them the best decision maker possible.