Catherine Mott | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Catherine Mott


BlueTree Allied Angels is one of 500 professionally managed investor organizations focused on creating a healthy portfolio of early-stage startup companies. The firm, founded in 2003, is based in Pittsburgh and has a chapter in Erie, Pa.

The Mistake:

My mistake was ignoring chemistry and human dynamics and assuming everyone would support the goals and be on their best behavior.​

Good organizational development expects that your personal goals align in some way with the corporation’s goals, and in doing that, a chemistry is created for sound human dynamics to work within the organization.

As an investment firm, BlueTree Allied Angels appoints people to boards who we believe will help companies succeed. In working with our companies, we’ve often abdicated our board seat to someone who we’ve believed added value to the company, often through their deep connections in the industry or business. We never evaluated the members of these boards for chemistry, and that was a mistake.

On two different occasions, we had to go in and fix boards because of failed chemistry dynamics. If you have a dysfunctional board, that board can implode. Startup companies are particularly fragile. They can’t afford to have a board that drags them down. Startups don’t have the resources to figure it out; they need to focus on building their company.

We never evaluated the members of these boards for chemistry, and that was a mistake. 

The Lesson:

It’s important that an organization like ours takes the time to evaluate the chemistry and human dynamics of individuals who are working together. The process is not black and white. Now we ask the CEO and current board to spend time with a prospective board member and determine if there’s good chemistry and fit. It may take two weeks or three months.

We’ve also added this process to our orientation guide, a 12-page document for new board members. And most importantly, we have a mechanism through which we can change out a board member quickly who isn’t working out.

Follow Catherine Mott on Twitter at @mottcv.

​Image courtesy of Catherine Mott

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