Delivering Data-Enabled Innovation to the Board

Scheduled for: December 21st, 2021, 10:00 am PT / Category: Design Thinking

Can board management software and AI-based innovation make people on boards and their organizations more aligned?

Paroon Chadha is the co-founder and CEO of OnBoard, the board intelligence platform used by more than 2,500 boards in 32 countries, including boards in enterprise business, banking and financial services, higher education, non-profits, and healthcare.

He serves on the boards at Passageways, Big Brother Big Sister of Greater Lafayette, Indiana, University Simon Cancer Center, and TechPoint.

Chadha frequently speaks at conferences and has been widely published in several magazines. He led his company to be named in the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing businesses in America in 2008 and he was named in the Hall of Fame at Purdue University as a Purdue Innovator in 2013.



Tullio Siragusa: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Design Thinking Show by This is a new segment on We’re very excited to launch today. It’s our last show for the year and our first show of its kind today. And we’re talking today with a very special guest. I’m Tullio Siragusa, broadcasting from Southern California and joining me is the Co-founder and CEO of OnBoard, Paroon Chadha. Hey, Paroon. Welcome to the Design Thinking Show.

Paroon Chadha: Thank you guys. Thank you for having me here.

Tullio Siragusa: So what are we talking about in this new segment? We’re talking about innovation, strategy and, dare I say, empathy. Because at the end of the day, people want amazing experiences. They’re not just customers, they’re not end users, but they’re people – like you and me – who want to have amazing experiences. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about today and I have a series of questions to highlight CEOs of companies that have adopted Design Thinking and how they’re running their business, or at least their go-to-market strategy. So I’m excited to have Paroon with us. Let’s get started Paroon, please. If you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about yourself, introduce yourself, and then we’ll discover a little bit of OnBoard. Thank you, and welcome to the show.

Paroon Chadha: Absolutely. Glad to be here. Like I said, so grew up in India and came to the US for my MBA and, you know, started OnBoard as a, you know, class project out of Purdue. And, we actually started another product for employee collaboration. It was a SharePoint competitor, recently divested off of that business. But along the way, you know, in April of 2012, when iPads came along, a lot of the enterprises were thinking about going towards collaboration in the boardroom. That’s become my life’s work. I’m based out of Chicago. The company itself is based in a few different locations. Indianapolis is the corporate office. We do have significant presence in Toronto, and also in UK London and Sydney, Australia.

So, I’m currently actually in Southern California, which I feel like you guys are also based there. It seems like it at least. So, you know, outside of work I continue to push the boundaries of what can be done beyond just going digital in the boardroom to leverage the inherent promise of technology. I have a four year old at home, you know, a lot to actively work for as you think about what the future may hold for the next generation. I take that pretty seriously. And when I’m not working, mostly it’s actually, you know, business geek, news geek. I do a lot of mentorship. I sell on four different boards and when I get a chance, I do end up on the golf course every now and then.

Tullio Siragusa: Nice. Well, pleasure to get to know you a little bit. Tell us about Board. What is the company all about? OnBoard, excuse me.

Paroon Chadha: Yeah, so OnBoard exists to inspire and enable boards to do their best work. You know, board meetings are unique. They’re almost like a national team that comes together every so often. Think of the basketball team that goes to the Olympics. Now, every player is actually doing other stuff. They come together and then they’re supposed to win every four years with very little practice. It’s a unique business setting, but one of the most important business settings anywhere. So, if you think about a typical board meeting, there’s lots of complex information. There is informations security, there’s compliance to be kept in mind, and then there’s, you know, the need to actually keep meetings effective, informed, and uncomplicated. And that intersection is where we come into play.

So, we take boards from, you know, often the paper format into the digital world and then really kind of push them towards really harnessing the power of digital. So the entire board meeting from pulling together the agenda to actually really pre-reading, and then having the meeting itself on the platform. And then post-meeting there are lots of boards and assessments, and often surveys, and some disclosures, you know, organizing those work streams, making sure everything is accurately, exactly the way it should be to keep things humming while also keeping your compliance footprint where it needs to be. Board work typically ends up with a lot of litigation, and there’s always the chance of discovery. So one of our goals is to actually make meetings powerful and also make sure that we can keep you out of trouble.

Tullio Siragusa: Nice. Well, let’s get started with the conversation today. The topic you chose is “Delivering Data-Enabled Innovation to the Board.” And the question we’re gonna look to answer during our conversation is, can board management software and AI-based innovation make people on boards and their organizations more aligned? That’s what we’re gonna look to answer. So let’s kick off with the very first question today, and that is, what methodologies were used to develop the company’s go-to-market strategy?

Paroon Chadha: Yeah, to me, I think, it’s always been about finding product strategy. And once the product strategy is clear, the go-to-market strategy often falls out of it. For us, it’s been, you know, we serve about 2,500 boards all over the world. Some, I would say, at least about 20,000 meetings are done on our platform every year. So when you think about that, how do we find the right people? The boards that would be a good fit for our platform and where we could be a huge help and give them a good return. It started by first looking at the industries where boards tend to be well formed. You know, the usual suspects are financial services and healthcare, those showed up.

And then from there, when you start to think about it, the product inherently is horizontal. You know, whether you’re a church or you’re a school, or you’re a publicly listed company, you know, all of them have boards. We started to look at where we could find a real rigorous governance process and where we could improve that, and we could actually become allies with those teams. And really, it came down to finding the right verticals or sectors where the product applies quite well. And we specifically targeted a few, of course, financial and healthcare are important, but non-profits and higher-eds, and tech industry, those are the ones that, you know, are currently are our focus. Then we also looked at, you know, within these verticals, there’s hundreds of thousands of boards.

So how do we actively target the right segment of these verticals? You know, mid-market, to enterprise, to the nano/micro segment. So there’s a lot of work that went into that. Once we knew this is our target, our go-to-market strategy centers around finding the path of, you know, the most efficient path to get to that crowd. Often that leads to educating the customers on the web. Also lots of referrals in our business. As you can think about it, if you’re a board member likely you’re on other boards as well. So the, a big part of the go-to-market strategy is to really work with the most powerful boards in each one of those segments or verticals. And then from there, those board members can be mined to really get introductions to other boards that they’re on. And then at this point it’s also targeting a defined universe of organizations, which you feel like are, you know, that’s our “home game,” if you will, for us – where we’ll most often win. So keeping all that in mind, we pulled together what we call is our go-to-market, it’s a multi-year go-to-market strategy.

Tullio Siragusa: So I have a que – Just a follow on to that. The organization you use, like Lean Canvas or Osterwalder Strategic Mind Maps and things of that sort to validate, they go very wide and then they go very narrow. There’s different methodologies to develop a go-to-market strategy plan. Any specific tools or methodologies you guys have adopted to foster innovation? How do you go about fostering innovation in the company?

Paroon Chadha: Yeah, so, this is sort of the second product that’s actually scaled. We’ve also acquired a third company out of Canada called eSCRIBE. That’s a 50 people team that we acquired this year. We are a venture-backed company. In fact, bootstrapped for several years, until three years ago. I took some private equity money. And now, recently, earlier this year, we raised a pretty large round of about a hundred million dollars for really accelerating. And from an innovation standpoint, there are various exercises that one could actually undertake to really boil it down to what would be the most important priorities in any planning cycle. The ones that I particularly care for, of course, you know, there is information coming to you through the sales cycle, through the work that you do with customers, having rating each one of those interactions internally.

Paroon Chadha: So we know where things are working well, where we need to pick up our game. But then it, you know, with the private equity, you often actually get multiple companies that they’re working with and they’re able to actually cross pollinate a few ideas. One such idea actually has taken hold in our world, specifically actively targeting a defined universe of organizations where we are willing to do anything to get to know those organizations because we feel like if we got a fair shot at them, they will likely either adopt our platform or switch to our platform. And, you know, packaging to allow a foot in the door in each one of these. Those pieces have come together rather nicely for us. We are a very data driven organization. So if you think about lead scoring to actually account health scoring, each one of those are heavily dependent upon as we think about where to go next and what needs to be amplified in the organization.

Tullio Siragusa: And how do you go about designing those processes in support of delivering end-user value?

Paroon Chadha: Yeah, so broadly, I feel like organizations of our scale, they need to be ambidextrous. There’s equal amounts, you know, some proportion of exploitation of things that you already know. That needs to happen. So we know we are very good at signing up banks. We have about 700 banks as customers. Every one of those banks teaches us something, and just learning from that so we can exploit that in the rest of the universe of banks all over the world, that requires the organizational processes and the tech stack to be instrumented for that. And then there’s a second set of work, which is exploration, which is, you know, how do you open up new surface area for the future?

You know, I mentioned we started in the employee collaboration space and then pivoted towards the board collaboration. Somewhere along the way, if we had not done enough exploration, we would not even have picked up on this, now, the flagship of the organization. You know, this is the key pursuit. So I lead the innovation cycles internally, which means working closely with the product leaders and the engineering leaders who obviously look at not what is expected, wherever there is the unexpected happens in the business. So we find, “Oh, you know, we have a customer from a brand new sector. The “others” category, if you will.” That’s particularly interesting to me. So I dial into that, you know, often making calls to those new customers and new prospects to figure out what led them to us. You know, what’s the unique proposition that is finding traction at their end?

So this exploration piece, I lead. My leadership team is primarily in charge of exploiting what we’ve already proven. So with a well-formed thesis, I let my CRO and my CMO kind of just march to a business plan that we all agree on. But you know, the exploration is often done between me, the head of product, the head of design, and also, the head of engineering. We are all scanning the world for anything that may apply to making board meetings more efficient, more effective and uncomplicated. So that’s how you know – and that work is a little less defined and structured. It’s often coming together to see what are some things that surprised you recently, what are some comments that we heard, or, you know, some interactions that you did, what inspiration you got from somewhere else outside of this. I’ll give you an example.

So, board meetings tend to be run very tightly on a timeline. There’s no board platform, outside of OnBoard, which actually gives you a baseline on the agenda. So, you know exactly where you are and where you are supposed to be. This inspiration came from, I was playing golf with a customer of ours, and there’s often, on golf carts, it tells you how many minutes behind pace you are. It tells you if you’re five minutes behind pace and, you know, typically, right after that, you pick up whatever club you need to, and you don’t overthink that shot, and you kind of just go through it so you can catch up. So you’re not holding anything, anybody else up. That exact same thing led to us building a meeting baseline, which everybody in the meeting can see whether you are on pace or you are behind pace, or you have some extra time to really kind of just know, alter the way you interact. So we look in the exploration cycle of our business. We look for inspirations wherever they come from and try and see if any of those could be applied to our canvas, if you will.

Tullio Siragusa: I love that, you know, borrowing from real- life experiences in the case of golf, what have you. Great experience, bring that right into the work. You should be the Chief Exploration Officer. That’s the new role of CEOs. I love it.

Paroon Chadha: There you go.

Tullio Siragusa: <laugh> All right. Let’s continue on. Speaking of all this exploration, in alignment and finding ideas from real, everyday life, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in the process of aligning market needs while also differentiating yourself from competitors?

Paroon Chadha: Yeah. So this is the key question. I think all good strategies, they have to be differentiating, they have to be sustainable and they also have to be relevant. Otherwise it’s just a thesis that’s not going to actually lead to good results. So I test everything that we come up with against those three key important considerations. For us, look, in April of 2012, iPads were invented. Apple came up with iPads, all board rooms who were reluctant to go digital suddenly wanted to go digital because that was the perfect Christmas gift for the board members. And then April of last year is when COVID hit us, which meant every single board meeting turned digital. It’s not just the board meeting, actually, all the other work related to boards also turned digital.

Paroon Chadha: So, whether it’s recruiting new board members or onboarding new board members to doing some annual work like skills assessment, or board assessments, or disclosures, all of that had to be done digital. These are the key milestones in our space. What we try to do is think about how the journey of a typical organization is sort of, you know, it is what it is, you know? You can’t change it. How can we aid them towards actually kind of just building something that’ll be good for them. And really, in that context, all the differentiation comes from a highly focused strategy around being the most data centric platform to bring intelligence into the boardroom. So if you think about who do you have on your board? Can their skills be mapped out?

Can there be a chart that tells you what skills you have on your board? And when you juxtapose that with board terms, when a particular board member is terming out, what skills are you about to actually lose? And so on. So, our strategy is all about data and how do we actually leverage that to improve them, and building the best agenda, having the best meeting from the experience standpoint, timekeeping, results and outcomes, and then also helping them build the best board in the long run.

Tullio Siragusa: So Paroon, we’re coming up on time. We just got a couple more questions. The next one, it’s kind of near and dear to my heart because it really talks to what I call institutional self-awareness. You know, as individuals, the more we become self-aware of ourselves, the more we learn how to deal with life’s scenarios. But organizations can also develop more self-awareness which taps into empathy and emotional intelligence. So how does the company put people’s needs as the focal point of your product roadmap? How do you guys do that? You talked a little bit about exploration, investigating. Is there any specific codified way that you’re translating that into a way to put people’s interest as a focal point in your product roadmap?

Paroon Chadha: Absolutely. Yeah, so, you know, some of the regular constructs of a customer advisory board those exist, and they actually help us stay within the guardrails of what’s really needed. But outside of that, when you are on innovation cycles, you do come up with ideas that may actually be going beyond what a typical customer may be able to advise you on or comment on. So we do have a list of innovators in our field that I work with closely. Some of them are on most prominent boards, whether it’s companies like Robinhood, or PWC, or Etsy. Some of these are customers that actually really give some key input in their, you know, they’re hardwired to actually look at innovation differently. They’re not scared of it, they embrace it.

So that’s actually really a big part of it. But certainly we also do things that are a little different in the sense that every pixel on every app is actually to pass through a certain test. For example, I actually know that I check my board meeting while I’m doing a drive-thru at Starbucks. Can I get to every piece of the software with one hand or not? That’s a key test in our book. Those are some of the things that you have to keep in mind. So people are looking at the iPads in the board meeting, but outside of the board meeting, they’re trying to get to that same information on the go using their iPhone. Those are some of the “secret sauce” of making sure that we are pushing while we keep the end user and the cognitive overload that can happen when you’re innovating out of the way and keeping things very effective for them.

Tullio Siragusa: I love it. There’s some platforms out there who are sitting around figuring out how to keep you engaged as long as possible because their money is through advertisement and now here is a platform where it’s like, “How do I get someone through quickly enough, where they can grant some value before they get their coffee?” I love that. All right. One final question for you before we wrap up today. What lessons have you personally learned in the process of creating an innovation-driven culture?

Paroon Chadha: That’s a great question. I think for me, I’ve had the fortune of actually starting a company and seeing it scale. There are only few moments in the organization’s journey where you really have a chance to completely up level the game. One such moment is when you move into a new office. Another moment that happens is when you are trying to bring about a key change, whether it’s, you know, “We are going to be mobile first,” or, “We are going to be cloud-native.” When you run into one of those inflection points, I feel leaders need to be very intentional and they need to actually use those moments to make sure that everybody gets it. This is a new age that we are talking about. If you don’t do that, then somebody is going to actually come up with a better mouse trap and you lose the ability to accurately be the organization that disrupts yourself.

To me, it comes down to lots of planning. You know, I spend a lot of time in person at exotic places. So people are relieved of the day-to-day. And encourage thinking which could be way different than what you’ve done in the past. And when you really find a key source of acceleration, then really making sure that you spend all you can at that moment to hone in on the benefits of it. And then you have to repeat that message again and again, in every possible setting, until it actually gains traction within the organization. If you don’t do that, somebody’s going to come along and you’ll realize, “We saw it. We didn’t really actually put enough on it.” And I think that’s the key to, you know, I’ve run this organization 19 years. I take a lot of pride in the longevity. And I think that’s, in part, what explains the longevity, I feel.

Tullio Siragusa: Paroon, it’s been great to have you with us. Thanks for sharing all these amazing lessons. Stay with us as we go off the air in just a second. If you want to share your story on how you’re driving innovation and strategy and design thinking inside your organization, please make a comment wherever you’re watching. We’d love to have you as a guest. We’re looking for CEOs who are progressive in the technology companies that they’re creating and putting to market. So join us if you can. We will be back in 2022. This is the last show for this year. So we wish you all a great end of the year. We’ll see you in the beginning of 2022. We are booked all the way through March! So you’re going to have a show every day but Friday, because once a week we have to have lunch, right? So join us and stay safe. See you all back soon. Keep an eye on social media for announcements. Thanks for being with us.

Paroon Chadha: Thank you guys.