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ADVANCEMENTS IN DIGITAL BOARD MANAGEMENT: A DEEP DIVE INTO ONBOARD MEETINGS

Paroon Chadha, CEO & Co-Founder, OnBoard

Delve into the digital frontier of board management with this in-depth interview featuring Paroon Chadha, CEO of OnBoard Meetings. Discover the technical innovations, AI-driven solutions, and data security strategies transforming modern boardrooms. Explore the journey from Passageways to OnBoard and gain insights into the technology stack powering this cutting-edge platform.

OnBoard Meetings, a leading digital board management platform that helps organizations prepare, conduct, and analyze board meetings.

Paroon Chadha
CEO & Co-Founder, OnBoard

We would love to know about your journey. What were you like as a young child? Yeah, we have & maybe take us through how exactly Passageways happened?

Just for the audience’s benefit, I should accurately say the company that I run today is called OnBoard. The parent company is called Passageways. An OnBoard is a simple, secure, and effective way to prepare and run your board meetings. A platform that unifies and secures communication, all the workflows associated with the board meeting, the minute operation, resolution, and so on, and helps you engage extremely importantly with your board for collaborative and productive output from all our work that goes into the board well. That’s what OnBoard does. We work with about 5,000 organizations worldwide based here in the US. But to answer your question on how it all started, I grew up in New Delhi. After my schooling in Delhi, I went to Panjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, and did industrial engineering, pursuing engineering. In fact, out of school, I started working for Wipro. I worked for two years in a sales role, at Wipro, Hyderabad & then Delhi, enjoyed that time because it was ’99 and 2000, when Wipro was an extremely high-growth company led by Sultan, making waves all over the world. To be part of a high-growth at-scale experience was a formative experience in my life.

Two years into that role, I came to the US for my MBA at Purdue University. At the university, I found my co-founder, Chris, and started working on a business plan for a business plan competition at Purdue. That same business plan is what I’m still running 20 years later. Now, lots of twists and turns along the way. The initial product was an employee e-transfer product called Ensemble, which we sold two years ago. We ran that profitably for the first time in 10, or 12 years and then asked Chris. Chris was eventually so active that he wanted to do other stuff. He was gone. We pivoted into not the Internet, but the external part of it. We started working with people outside the organizations, the board of directors being the main one. In the years 2010, and ’11, Vintage, started to move towards on-board being the future of the company. It’s now become the flagship product line, and we’ve continued to see lots of success. Hence, on sample business to truly make that which sent the found better custodians to early true were… That whole business was instrumental in funding on board. We stayed track of all this buy until four years ago when we took the issue to Gapney and continued to invest non-board.

Then two years ago, we bought a business called East Scribe. East Scribe is also in the same governance space, just public governance meetings. Today, we are on board East Drive, another parent company called Passageways. We serve customers in over 60 countries. Employees are primarily based in Indianapolis, Midwest, some of us are based out of California. There’s a concentration of employees in Toronto, Markham. There’s a concentration of employees around London, in the UK, and then there’s a concentration of employees in Melbourne and Australia. That’s how we are organized.

Can you please tell us more about the platform, its core features, expertise, and maybe some of the main use cases of the platform altogether?

Yeah, absolutely. I talked about it on board, but all of this applies to East Cry with just one caveat. All public sector meetings are open meetings because of open, such rules. But the meeting has broadly the same trajectory. All of what allows you to prepare, think about the entirety of what meetings you have. Four meetings, six meetings, eight meetings, what do you need? Think about the agenda for every meeting, gathering around what’s not on the agenda will not get discussed. Building the right agenda is a key part of board interactions. Then once the agenda is finalized, the material is published for review, the support members then come prepared, publishing all the materials, applying the right time frame to get reviewed, and then you have the board meeting itself. In the board meeting, taking minutes, taking minutes approved, and then also thinking about all the output of the board meeting. That’s a bulk of work that the OnBoard platform allows you to do securely, certainly efficiently, and keep things simple. Because we don’t want to make a story in the board room. We want to be the platform that’s the backdrop while the business of business is the story in your board roles.

This is all before the board meeting and right after the board meeting. There’s another cycle of work, which is the annual cycle of work. Essentially, we should be thinking in the long term. The chief executive the leadership team and the board are also thinking about the future state of the organization. We start with the future state of your board. Do you have the right people, the right people, and the right experiences to help you to morning those future boards? Are you all reading the right stuff? Are you all reading room, the reading within the platform, which allows us the key seminal that you want everybody to read, you can share those. Then you also actively can think about the roles and the terms. There are a lot of committees often supporting the board, from the executive committee to the governance committee to the nomination committee. Sometimes the committee, sometimes the actual, nomination governance committee. Then there are often other committees, audit committees, loan committees if you have banked, and so on. Lots of those committees roll up to the board work as well, thinking about their agendas and, the people in those teams. All that is also done in the platform.

To give you a sense of this scale, working with 5,000 boards in 20 working days, six to six working days in a corner, you can imagine everybody has at least two or three meetings, committee meetings plus the board meeting every quarter. You imagine 15, 20,000 meetings in every quarter in 66 working days. On any given day, that’s the scale that we’re talking about, we work with 1,000 banks and trade unions. To give you a sense of that, that itself is a significant amount of work. When the financial crisis, keeps showing up every four or five years, we see the frequency of meetings go up and so on. We work with about 500 universities and hired institutions all over the world. We work with a similar number of hospitals and hospital systems. We work with over 1,000 nonprofits and lots of tech companies, lots of investment funds, private equity, venture funds, and such. That gives you a sense of who’s using these platforms. Often publicly listed companies, hundreds of those, private companies, companies that are like ourselves, we use our platform, and then nonprofits. Through our e-scribe product, we also accidentally have government entities.

These are city councils, local government, counties, some state agencies, and some national agencies, all using our platforms for their board work.

Got you. If you have to describe the three main challenges, three to four main challenges that your target customers face, and which one leads them to subscribe to on board altogether and your platform solves.

Can you please tell us about those challenges?

I’m going to talk about challenges that they know of and challenges they should think about that they may not even be aware of. That would be my next. First and start with, obviously,most people are looking at a board platform as a replacement for sending emails and Google Docs and PDFs and all these. It works by getting information from A to B. There are many ways to do that, no doubt. The real challenge here is, first of all, these are the crown jewels of the information. Even if you’re a private company, public company, or nonprofit, some of the information you share with the board has PII in it and it needs to be secured now. Security is the first and foremost why somebody should look at it. Number two in my book is you have a board and there’s a lot of time that goes into it, putting these board meetings and board interactions together, tens of hours every episode. You want to get a greater turn on your board work, which is efficiency. That’s a pretty important reason why I think you do this. Being able to collaborate on the agenda, being able to actively follow up in between meetings, and being able to think about the annual cycling work, so you engage the board fully is extremely important.

I think that’s the number two. The third reason in my book is liability. This is the one that’s underestimated. I would say if everybody just understood the liability they’re taking on from just how fast they’re at board work, they’re probably all buy a board, software, and both platforms. The reason for this is when you accidentally share information via email, even though it’s meant to be revenue information, what you share with your board, the fact is if a board member is using their corporate email and that email is scanned by IT, which often every organization does, you are waiving privileges right there without realizing. Happened over and over again. The V-work case is a good example. We know so much about V-work because one of the board members from Softbank used the Softbank email, which was scanned. And then when the lawsuit was filed and they ended up having some legal action between the tourist and the bank, all of that information became public information of the Spark discovery because the privilege was waived, unbeknownst to the board member who was doing it. The same thing happened in the, we know about the orders of what happened.

All the discovery words that boards often have to be mindful of and sometimes they have to contend with. You don’t want a non-discernator to end up doing something that brings about exposure to them or the firm. Exposure to them personally is also important often because when your email becomes part of the part of discovery, everything in your email box is out and available, and who knows what may end up being part of this process. It can often be very personal and embarrassing information as well as often been the case. So liability from this, liability from back and forth messaging with the directors, while a board platform, they give you a messaging system which is contained. After the board meeting, all these records are buried and what you need is all that you record. It’s just the board book and the minutes and the resolution and that’s it. You don’t need to save anything else. None of the annotations, none of the back-and-forth messaging. So none of that should be part of your discovery process. That’s why I say when you’re tempted to run your board meetings, you are bringing on liability, which could be tens of thousands of dollars.

You don’t want to break that down on your organization, not on your directors. That’s number three. Reason number four for me is
you have to think about professionalizing your board meetings. As a chief executive, and as a leadership team member, your board meeting has to be one of the truest interactions you have. Every CEO, worker, or five, yes to it. But when it comes to board meetings, you don’t invest the $10, $20,000 that you may invest in this is the small price to pay to instill confidence in the board members and allow for the best interaction in the boardroom. That’s reason number four. And the reason number five in my book is look, technology is a great regular. We know that from all of what we’ve seen. I think, especially in the boardroom, where there’s so much information density just by nature, there are often more books that are more than 100 pages to 100 pages. It’s a lot of books to read. I’m organizing it very well and deploying technology on top of it, for example, we have already released an AI assistant in our software. Now I have a chance to use technology not just to organize information, but to get the right summaries, create the right questions, be prompted, and talk to execs as well as board members.

That’s become the fifth reason in my book over the last year or so to think about deploying technology. These are the same reasons that everybody should consider when they think about board technology. I don’t believe these are the same things apply whether you’re in the public sector, I’m born, or you’re a private company or a publicly listed company or a non-process.

That’s interesting trying to see if are you using AI. Any other automation that the platform offers?

Lots of them certainly have. Look, the whole process is pretty straightforward. There’s an agenda, there’s a meeting, and then there’s the follow-on work. There’s a chance to be at the past meetings to be actively used for future work. That’s a simple example. Then there is a board that could be looking at the minutes right after the meeting, which is very important because good execution, the quality review, was discussed and make sure it’s reflective of what was actually to be followed up on. That’s actually the, again, automation part as well, where we can get the minutes routed and created while the meeting is on. Increasingly, we are looking at using technology to create those minutes for the boards as well. We have to provide a great avenue for that as well. There is a lot of modeling that you can do. What do you have on your board currently? What do you need? What skills would serve you well for the future state of the organization? If you don’t move a board member, they’re going to turn around. What skills do you now need? As you think about the new board members, when you bring in a new person, what does that board look like?

We have visualization around roles, talent, skills, and experiences. All of these are automated for you to get good at these important topics. Then there’s a lot of workflows, and conflict questionnaires, which boards have to fill out. If you had a conflict of interest and you declared it last year, pre-finding that for this year’s conflict questionnaire is very important. The directors don’t have to remember what did I in the questionnaire last time. What were the things? They just have to think about the Delta of lost submission and this submission. Helping and enabling all of that along the way is really what technology does. So all those are examples of things that are currently being automated.

Because of the niche trends that are going on, any other product development that’s on your roadmap?

I’d say at this point, we are focused on a couple of big teams.
The first one is AI, of course, enabling the platform at a platform level. We are pretty important. This intelligent agent will become a staple in the outiers. For the moment we are starting to see the early green shorts on what this technology provides, I’d say just think of a day when as you walk into the board meeting, you have a chance to accurately ask your intelligence agent to look through the last four board decks and all the information that has been shared, scan the competitive space, look at the macro environment, and tell you, What are the questions that I should be asking? What are some key risks to the organization? To have that information curated based on your experience and your skills is powerful. That’s something that I think even the best of us can do by ourselves perfectly for every board meeting. Now you have a chance to comprehensively dip into that, connective intelligence is available at the tick of a mouse and how it applies now to thinking about the next quarter, the next year, the next three years, as this technology develops, you’ll find more and more of AI getting incorporated.

We are also doing it in a way that is important to point out the board work. This is all confidential information, it’s distributed information. We are creating a way for organizations to be able to do that within our platform such that you’re not contributing to the large language models. You’re only able to pull out the intelligence from the LNMs like ChatGPT and such without sharing or contributing the organization-specific knowledge to the large language models to do it in a way that allows you to not violate bylaws. That’s a pretty key part of what we’re doing. Then, of course, the next set of developments in the board space that I’ve worked on it to do with the fact that governance work continues to get more and more complex. Every passing year, every passing quarter, sometimes these business cycles that are doing come at us faster and faster. With that in mind, I think boards are evolving. The boardrooms are evolving all over the world. Diversity is a big part of what every organization is trying to work together in the boardrooms. We are enabling that to our platform by giving you a good sense of your demographics in the boardroom, the diversity matrix that you can put together, and looking at what you currently have so you can work towards the right future set.

A lot of the stock exchanges, Nasdaq in particular, are not required to report on this. We are getting the standards that people have to report back on. But I think that ESG, specifically diversity as part of the G, part of ESG, is an important element of what we are progressing as well. These are several that we’re trying to do. Again, we do all of this without complicating the board work because the board work itself is inherently the most important objective here. To do all of this such that you are there when they need it, but you also prompt them with certain other things that they could be looking at. I think that’s where I feel simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I repeat that often to my theme. Keeping things simple is extremely sophisticated. It’s extremely important to us. How do you do that in the context of what we’re talking about? Some of the most complex work in the enterprise? That remains the focus of our pursuit.

Those are some of the things that we are not currently focused on.

You said that the much easier user interface, definitely like most of the well-established SaaS companies across the globe, the main focus is on the user interface altogether because that helps the users to a lot of extents. And that’s also one of the primary reasons that people stick to your software for now. I’ve seen across multiple industries, that if the interface isn’t good, even though you’re giving far more value concerning data and everything, people will draw.

That reminds me of my next question. What loyalty programs do you have to keep your customers satisfied and keep them for longer than you’re getting?

Great question. I don’t think we have any bad mullip on an actual loyalty program, even though it’s been a topic of conversation internally. What I want to say is being transparent with what you’re doing, what you’re offering, providing a sense of security, and what you do on the platform is something that we don’t turn around and sell to any vendor or monetize in another way. That’s been a big part of what we need to push on, stay true to, and stay to value. And then in addition to that, building an awesome experience, I think enables loyalty. That inspires loyalty. That enables the word of mouth that we enjoy so much. I should say that we are, at least I’d say that we are the most viewed application in our space. Whether you are an Apple, or the App Store, where we probably have 30 times more, maybe 100 times more reviews than our next competitor.

The other is the platform as well.

We have great traffic on the web. You noted that. We certainly are the second-largest provider by volume. I would even say it is easily the fastest-growing in the top four companies. So we have great momentum, but certainly the most number of reviews, highest rated on Apple’s App Store, Stoagrad, and all. You’ll see that there’s a trend and we are rated high as well. Then I think a lot of that is based on just approach to business and the fact that we have continued to stay and the investment more on the technology side. We are up against some of the competitors. They’ve been there for longer. They’re often larger platforms, but they’re older. Frankly, we were built for the multi-tenant, the mobile world, the world that we’re in that is fine like it’s difficult to keep up with if you didn’t build it like that. It’s by design of the architecture that enables us to move fast. Whether it was the Touch ID or the base ID or PIH and some integrations of a C60 or the integrations Office 365 and on each one of these innovations, we were the first in our industry, not because maybe we are faster and better anyway, but that’s not the primary reason in my book.

I think it’s because of the architecture. And architecture enables us to do those things faster. We have stayed away from acquiring 7, 10, and 15 companies, mainly because we’re in a very pure pursuit of building that experience that inspires and enables the best board work that an organization can do. And two, it requires technology investments that have to be in alignment. You don’t want to create a Frankenstein of an application because then you lose the pure pursuit that you were on. The commercial pursuit could sometimes actually confuse the user experience just because you bought this application, you bought this company, and now you’re trying to jam it all together. We’ve been very disciplined in our approach towards that.

That’s terrifying. Your online reviews do talk about these things. I’ve seen it on G2. The existing users that you have, are putting word out for the platform altogether about the user interface and whatnot. It’s good to see that that will be your prime focus altogether. Another one, we know because yours is all B2B. So what channels do you leverage for your lead generation? I know organic for a fact, but what other channels do you use?

Primarily, I would say organic seems to be the one that’s out-of-home and everything else. We try a bunch of things. One thing I would say is that while we are a horizontal application, a board meeting is a board meeting with the manufacturing company a tech company a utility company, or a hospital, what we have done is we’ve become very good in a few terms. The sector that we target, is financial services, like the big sector. We’ve partnered with organizations in that sector and we’ve worked closely with independent community bankers of America and fine men. That’s why you find American Bankers Association uses a product, Independent Community Bankers of America uses our product, filing uses a product, the National Association uses a product, the Gradient National Association uses our product, and I can actively go on. We’ve invested in those verticals, because of which we have so many customers in that same vertical. While we have our product, we’ve true to a few chosen verticals. These verticals or sectors allow us to stay close to our customers’ needs, and engage with them more deeply and more meaningfully.

That informs our product strategy and allows us to amplify the word in that sense. Investing in partnerships has been a big part of what we’ve done. The channel becomes the partner in each vertical. Ngb is a good example. It’s higher ed. Higher ed, an association of governing boards, an amazing organization that we’ve now worked for nearly five years, maybe a day and above. They work with the top universities and hired organizations in the world, specifically working with the board of trustees. We partner with them and our products through AGP on board in the hired space, that partnership is actively reflected in some of the product directions and becomes a big part of differentiation in that space, showing up at the right places where we’re talking to people and learning from them fast and then do wins within the platform. That’s the other piece. Watermills, organic, and then working the ships in every sector. Then we’ve stayed true to a few GEOs In the US, Canada, New Zealand, AXA UK, some of the Pacific, the EMEA region, and then Asia, Pacific, the United States, we’ve not tried to be anything to everybody. There is a lot of discipline that you have to show when you do this.

For example, in India, I grew up in that place, the most populous nation in the world. I know it’s a big market. First hand, I know that. It’s a country that’s doing a bunch of stuff. Yet I’ve had to hold back the visceral reaction to let’s go there, it’s a big market, let’s invest. Mainly because we won’t be there wherever we are and do a great job and we are not there yet in India for a reason. I believe it’s a matter of time, but certainly, it’s an example of the discipline that you have to show to create these channels. It’s not about what you’d learn in my book, it’s more about investing in a few places, picking your spots, and being a good partner. Being a true partner is the company’s value. Whether it’s partnering with customers or partnering with my employees, partnering with my investors, or partnering with any particular channel partner, that is one of the things that we pay close attention to and we continue to do so. That’s why these are the two main dominant channels in my work.

I’m curious now, Paroon because you’re in such an interesting niche together. What is the churn rate in your industry? In your mind or industry altogether?

I don’t know what the industry churn rates are. I’d probably say it’s an industry where 90% retention happens on an aggregate. Maybe that may change with time here, but certainly, it’s a high retention industry, you’re much higher than industry-based. Depending on the segment and the geo over it, we certainly are high 9. And some verticals are just amazing, nearly full retention. We are a high retention pursuit. The reason is fairly straightforward to think about, once you commit to a good platform, people will just stay there. It just works day in and day out. We are not afforded a bad day. We don’t have bad days, knock on the word. But we certainly find out that on the other side of it, it is very helpful because once you born information starts to build out, and people get used to it. Often the demographic and the born’s room skew towards being on the worker’s side and their change of words, whatever they get used to, they want to stay with that, especially if they’re random and they can just do a good job. And that fascinates to higher attention. That’s one of the areas that I’ve always known if you do the right thing and I say what to do and do what you’re doing, this customer is going to be there.

I have customers who were born software to me 20 years ago, still as customers. That’s one of the most amazing, better than the people you talk to who can say this.

Every few of them have been loyal to us for over 20 years because now and then there’s something new out there in the market which might cater to your needs better, so we produce. But I think that the reason you have been able to retain for so long is for the last time that your Development really could. So you keep on adding new things and keep on evolving your product. I had again, their own experience with the company altogether. Cumulative might have resulted in much higher changes, but that’s there than to build this all together.

Absolutely. My very first customer was Purdue Federal Credit Union. I was a student at Purdue University, and my finance professor sent me to talk to the credit union in town. I’d just come out of India’s first year of being in the US, a year into it. I didn’t even know what federal credit union meant. Credit was a word that I wanted to get close to. Credit was another word that I didn’t want to get close to it. It’s jammed me. Union was another word, but they’re all jammed together. I made an effort on my part to pick up the phone and talk to them, and they became my first customers. Bob, who runs Purdue Fed, has been a great mentor and, awesome partner. They’ve been a customer for over 20 years. Just mind-boggling. Just go back and think about when you stay true to your customers and you listen to some of your advisors, amazing things can happen. For me, this is a very real thing 20 years from now, some of these customers will still be using this platform openly, and we’re not going to continue to go from scale to scale.

I have been charged with being very down to them in my thinking. I wear that in a bad one and off and difficult to do in this day and age. But that’s the whole month of my journey.

That’s the way, man. Do you have a few more minutes to bear with me? I would like to have a quick rapid-fire review.

Yeah, sure. Let’s do it.

What habit holds you back the most?

That’s a good one. What habits hold me back the most? I think if you’ve had my journey, wanting to give people a lot of second chances and third chances because people, by large, have been good to me. It’s amazing. Believing in people around you and giving them chances again and again, sometimes they just come back and hold you back because you just don’t have the time in these separate cycles that we are on. I think being clinical about holding people accountable is something that I continue to work on and I realize that holds me back sometimes. It’s been wonderful to see some of those turnaround stories too, and they are often few and far between.

Got you. What did you last search on Google?

I searched about your podcast and again, what are you guys all about? That’s what I thought about last.

That’s good. What career did you dream of having as a kid?

That’s a good one. I grew up in a household with a Photo Editor of Times Square and my group, I grew up in this place. I used to go watch cricket matches and I’m sitting on the boundary line and just got to know the cricketers growing up as well. And not so informed me I wanted to be a cricket commentator. I realized I was not going to be a cricketer. Even though I made enough crickets at school with them, others seemed like they could outrun me throw me, and outback me. But being a cricket commentator was one I fans certainly didn’t even try, didn’t even give it a shot. But that was my first career aspiration, if you will.

I wanted to become a Truck Driver because my family was into logistics as well.

Thank you so much, Paroon for all the time, and all the wisdom that you shared on today’s podcast.

Thank you, Harshit. I did appreciate it. Thank you. I enjoyed it. Bye-bye.

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