The Posse team in Manila. Credit Posse.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the issues I’d encountered while building an outsourced office in another country. We’ve now expanded to a team of 14 in Manila, and we recruited everyone there using processes similar to those we use at home. I’ve worked out of the office there and have come to know each employee. We hold regular team lunches at our Manila office, and the whole company meets once a week by video conference. As a result, I had the impression that we were building a strong company culture across both offices.

Carlo Parungao, for example, is a big friendly guy in his early 20s who is a member of our Manila team. He researches and enters the details of all the new shops that users feed into Posse, and at our video meeting each Monday, he reports on the previous week’s achievements with a massive smile: “Hello Miss Rebekah. This week I researched 680 new stores, 40 more than last week.” This last Monday, however, Carlo wasn’t at the meeting. Our office manager in Manila, Jenny Muncal, told us that he was on bereavement leave for a week because his brother, who had been suffering from leukemia, had died.

I know something about leukemia: Two years ago, a member of our team in  Sydney had been stricken with it. He had spent four months in the hospital and a few more in and out of chemotherapy. One year after his diagnosis he’d made a full recovery, and he took a year off to travel the world. We all followed his adventures on Facebook. I researched the condition at the time and learned that some kinds of leukemia have a survival rate of better than 70 percent. Carlo’s brother died because his family couldn’t afford treatment.

When Jenny told me the news, I was angry. If one of our colleagues in our Sydney office or our New York office had a brother with leukemia, we would have rallied and supported the person in any way we could. I had been striving to build a company culture where that closeness would extend across both teams. And yet we hadn’t even known what Carlo was enduring. I wished we could have helped in some way, and I thought about what I might have done. Could we have raised money on his behalf? I felt I’d failed as a leader and as a person. Our company culture should have supported Carlo when he needed us. This led to bigger questions. Most of us don’t accept that one of our fellow citizens should die because of their inability to pay when a life-saving treatment is available. We feel a responsibility to our family first, then our friends and the wider community.

But when we build teams in countries with economic circumstances and standards of living different from our own, what is our responsibility to those employees and their families? What is our responsibility to the communities they live in? As entrepreneurs, we face some difficult questions. What is a fair amount to pay someone who lives in a much poorer country? What standard of living do we want for our teams and their families and communities? How far does our care extend? Then we have to balance this with our obligations to our shareholders to keep costs down and productivity up, a serious issue for start-ups like ours with limited cash and time.

I don’t have the answers, but I think these are important questions. By building a second team in Manila, we’ve succeeded in employing more people and moving much faster than we would have had we done everything in Sydney and New York. I think we’ve done a good job of creating a strong company culture there; their work is exceptional, and the team members certainly seem passionate about their jobs at Posse. But I’m sure we can do more. We’re probably among the first generation of entrepreneurs to face these questions. Sure, outsourcing has existed for a while, but at big companies, the person in charge is likely to be disconnected from the lives of individual employees. By contrast, I know each of our Manila team members – I hired them and I speak to them every week.

It’s still novel for early-stage companies like ours to operate with a second team in a lower-cost country. The approach brings opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors who can develop businesses faster and at lower costs, and for an overseas work force that can learn the process of building and introducing global products. It’s a growing trend, and it means we are training an army of entrepreneurs in these countries, some of whom are already competing with us on the global stage. Today’s cost savings may lead to a worldwide equalizing of opportunity. Building and leading a team in a less prosperous country has taught me volumes. I’ve been fortunate to meet ambitious young people like Carlo, and in the future I plan to do a better job of developing closer ties across multiple countries.

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I met recently with a large Silicon Valley venture fund. My company is not raising money at the moment, but the fund had heard about Posse and reached out to me online. Since I was in town anyway, I decided to meet with the fund’s investors and build a relationship. I showed them some slides and talked about our vision for Posse. They seemed engaged. They asked questions about the various insights we’d gained and pivots we’d taken. And then one of the executives leaned toward me and said, “You’ve shown a lot of persistence. Just like when you were seven years old selling flowers on the side of the road.”

His partner then started talking about my experience building a radio station in my early 20s and the various bands I’d managed in Australia. I was floored when they asked me whether, before our meeting, I had done the power pose I had written about in a previous blog post about body language. Two senior executives from the other side of the world knew my life’s story and didn’t mind reciting it. I felt naked.

The first time anything like this had happened to me was four years earlier, when I met with a music company in New York. That time, someone whom I didn’t know asked about an event I’d organized several years earlier in college. The question was relevant but a surprise — he had researched me on the web before our meeting.

That night, I did a web search for myself for the first but not the last time. I discovered links to a handful of articles that mentioned episodes from my time as a band manager. Some related to nonprofit work that I’d done but all too many quoted me saying “no comment” following misbehavior by some of my bands. That was not the brand that I wanted to present. Knowing that such web searches before meetings would become more common, I decided to take control of my online brand. Here’s what I’ve done.

1. Think about why

If your only concern is that people will conduct searches on you before meetings, you may just need to create a LinkedIn profile so they will find something that you want them to see. For me, though, the purpose of building an online brand was bigger. I wanted to raise the profile of my company in order to win clients, attract users and raise capital.

I have also decided to be open about the company’s struggles so that those who are interested will come on the journey with me. As a result, they are more likely to be supportive, rather than critical, when we experience those inevitable difficult times. Finally, I wanted to raise my personal profile to set myself up for whatever I decide to do next.

2. Define your brand

In 2008, a close friend shared with me a notebook in which he’d written down his personal values. This made me think a lot about my own values, and I decided to write mine down, too. The process forced me to focus on who I was, how that would affect my decision-making and what persona I would project to the world.

As entrepreneurs we create brand values for our companies but often not for ourselves. By writing down my values, I defined my personal brand and made it easier to make sure that my values are projected across everything I do online. This included the way my own blog is written, the types of other publications I write for and what I post in social media. As with a company brand, I try to ensure that the message is consistent.

3. Understand that social networks are the new calling cards

If you are on social media, people are going to check out your profiles. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will come up first, often in that order. LinkedIn is a great opportunity to showcase your achievements and connect with prospective partners and clients. I now do all of our recruiting through LinkedIn, searching  through profiles based on current or previous employment. When I reach out, I’m aware that everyone who considers replying will read my profile, too. On Facebook you can set your posts to private but, since my brand is about being transparent, I’ve made my profile public. Of course I have to be careful not to put stupid photos up.

An old boyfriend once became annoyed with me because I refused to set my Facebook profile to “in a relationship” with him because I was embarrassed by some of the photos he had on his profile. The photos weren’t of me, but I worried about how they would reflect on me. Maybe I was too sensitive (he certainly thought so).

4. Pay attention to what comes up first in Google

One reason to write a blog with your name in the URL is that it’s likely to pop up first on any Google search. It’s also helpful to have a name that isn’t common. I’m lucky with my first name, which has a less common spelling, and my blog ranks high if you search “Rebekah Campbell.”

If I had a more common name, I might elect to include my middle initial to make it easier for people to find me online. I would try to get the .com URL address for the name and then build sub pages using other terms that people might search for when looking for me. For example, people might search for “Rebekah Campbell Posse” and so I have a web page at rebekahcampbell.com that should rank first if anyone searches that combination of words.

If there were bad things written about me online (there aren’t), I would try to create new listings that would rank highly in Google and push the old links to the second page of search results. If you search your own name and nothing comes up, or if an early link displays something you’d prefer to keep under wraps, consider creating a LinkedIn page. It always surprises me when I see politicians who have problem headings on page one of their Google results don’t have a LinkedIn profile.

Of course, transparency does have its downside. In the same venture capital meeting I mentioned earlier, one of the executives brought up my interest in American politics. He suggested we might want to discuss my views at a future meeting. I smiled and, without thinking, let it slip that I’m looking forward to 2016 and that I’d love to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The room went silent, and I could tell instantly that they didn’t share my enthusiasm.

Over all, I’ve found building an online brand to be a great investment in time. It can be disconcerting to be reminded that anyone who’s interested can find out pretty much anything they want about me online. But the positives have outweighed the loss of privacy. In any case, I don’t think any of us can choose not to pay attention to our online brand.

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Rebekah Campbell getting Bill Tai to sign up to join the Posse board along with Rick Baker.

When I started Posse, I knew nothing about company boards or their value. The family lawyer who helped establish our companies suggested that I create a board before I raised our first investment round and that I try to find some high profile people to join it. His objective was to make the team slide in my presentation deck look as impressive as possible. Off I went to enlist some big name folks to join my not-yet-established company.

Within a month, I’d assembled a board of eight, including myself, and we called a meeting. A friend lent me his boardroom, a big office in the city. I expected a casual, friendly affair where we would chat about business and strategy and they would agree to introduce me to some potential investors. I was in for a surprise.

First of all, they wanted to know everything: How much money did we have in the bank? What were the liabilities? The budget? How many people had visited the site the previous week? The previous month? How long had they stayed? How much money had we made? And so on. I wasn’t prepared, and it was overwhelming.

After a couple of hours of grilling, I gained a sense of what a board expects from a founder. Before beginning Posse, I’d run my own business for eight years and hadn’t reported to anyone. In time, I came to appreciate the rigor of reporting. Before the next meeting, I made sure I sent out the cash-flow report, budget, metrics, and a presentation outlining what I wanted to talk about.

Six months in, our group hit its first challenge. The business had started well; we’d raised some money and gained traction. Everyone became excited, but no one had any experience working with start-ups. Their main understanding of the industry came from watching “The Social Network.”

Unexpectedly one director presented us with a proposal involving a full-time job and a lot of equity. The group wasn’t sure how to react. He left the room while we discussed his proposal, and when we rejected it, he was hurt and embarrassed. He quit the board and sent us a huge invoice for his time, which we spent a year fighting and eventually settled.

Some members of our original board were excellent and are still active today. Others drifted off. They harbored an expectation that we would be a huge hit within months, and when hard work set in, they disappeared. Some stuck around and were destructive when things didn’t go their way.

I learned how unpleasant the work environment can become with the wrong board in place. But I’ve also learned how empowering the support of the right board can be. At a recent meeting, after closing off a round of funding, we were working on a strategy for the next phase of Posse’s development. Our board has helped me prioritize objectives, recruit team members and raise capital when needed. The group has the right mix of experience to know when we’re on-track and to guide me away from making (too many) mistakes.

Some of my friends with similar companies have avoided creating a board outside of the founder group. That’s because the board does have ultimate control over the company and who runs it, and many entrepreneurs find this threatening. As a sole founder, I have found my board to be incredibly valuable. In fact, we would not have survived without them.

But putting the right group together is challenging. Three years in, I’m on my third lineup, after experiencing the best and worst of what boards can do. Here are five things I’ve learned the hard way.

1. Make sure your directors have the right experience

Many people imagine that a board should consist of gray-haired gentlemen with high profiles in the business community along with friends who will invest in the business. My original board sounded impressive, but many were impressive in the wrong industries. They had no experience with the challenges a start-up like ours might face. So I received bad advice which led us to hire the wrong team and spend too much too quickly. A couple of our early directors had never used Facebook or Twitter. They wouldn’t even join the business we were trying to build.

Today, everyone on the board has expertise in different areas of early-stage companies in our space. Including me, we have four directors: Bill Tai, Silicon Valley start-up evangelist and investor; Lars Rasmussen, a co-founder of Google Maps; and Jeremy Colless, an Australian venture capitalist. They know what other businesses are doing to grow, engage users, monetize, and save costs. Most days, a board member emails me with an idea or opportunity that wouldn’t have occurred to me. And through them, we can access almost anyone we would need to help our business.

2. Make sure you invite people you like and trust

Directors have a power. They decide who leads the company, what deals to do and when to exit, so you must all share the same vision. You must know they will do the right thing, that they will stick around and support you when you hit tough times. One year into Posse, it looked as if the company might fail. One member of my board turned on me and influenced the rest of the group. I wrote about how this internal fallout almost ruined us and how I wound up sacking the entire board in an earlier post.

I spent a lot of time with each of our existing directors before I asked them to join. I knew I could trust them to act in the best interests of the company and to stick it out. We’ve had hard times, but I can honestly say that our group pulls together and digs in, no matter the circumstances.

3. Keep the numbers small

We have four directors on our current board, including me, and one regular observer who acts like a director but doesn’t vote. It’s a tight group: Everyone knows the others’ strengths; everyone is committed to making Posse a hit. I’ve heard that the reason to keep boards small is to ensure that as founder you won’t be outvoted. I suggest that if you think this, you have the wrong board or you’re the wrong founder. For me, the benefit of having a small board is that I can spend time with each person regularly. There’s no delay when we need to make an important decision. Everyone is in touch with what’s happening and can contribute.

4. Set expectations up front

It’s easy to procrastinate when finalizing deals with advisers and directors. Everyone is there to be helpful, and at the start, it doesn’t seem worth negotiating to pay them a share of nothing. The problems kick in after a few months when things start going well and you realize that you and they have different expectations about payment. Most start-up directors expect to receive equity rather than cash; I’ve found the standard rate — in Sydney, Australia, anyway — is 0.5 percent to 2 percent, vesting over two years. Some want to be paid their standard consulting rate plus a bonus (often double) when payment is taken in equity rather than cash, but I haven’t done any deals like this because I don’t want to feel like the clock is ticking when I need help.

You must determine what you expect of directors. How will they help with fund-raising, strategy, introductions and the like? If appropriate, you might want to agree on how much time they will commit — although when you have the right people on board it’s likely they’ll bug you with ideas and suggestions for how they can help. Although these conversations can be awkward at the beginning, I’ve found that the directors who are best at negotiating their own deals are the ones who are most helpful when I am negotiating deals for Posse.

5. Be transparent and organized

Your board should be the one group of people with whom you can be completely transparent. It’s their job to help you work through challenges; they must understand those challenges if they’re going to add value. At one of the first meetings of our new board, I announced that the product we’d created wouldn’t scale. We had to go back to the drawing board and try something else before we ran out of money. No one flinched. We put a process in place that would devise a better strategy. I’ve also found that board meetings are much more effective when I’ve put time into considering the agenda and have written a presentation to talk through.

At my first board meeting, I learned what directors expect from a founder. It took me quite a while to work out what founders should expect from their directors. Our board helps me refine our strategy and operation plans; they’re constantly suggesting new ideas and making introductions; they’ve been involved in fund-raising; they hold me to account and oversee the governance of the company.

The names on our board are impressive but that’s not why they’re there. A top-notch board of great people with relevant experience and a shared vision has made my founder’s journey easier and more fun.

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