I'm shocked that more startups, including their Boards and investors, don't thoroughly check references. That is the subject of this post, and I hope by the end of it you will agree with me that to not check references is both irresponsible - and dangerous.
When I started Coremetrics in 1999, Accel Partners wanted to invest in our Series A alongside Highland Capital Partners. We had already chosen Highland as our lead. We were really impressed with Keith Benjamin in particular and he was joining our Board of Directors (unfortunately Keith passed away in a tragic accident in 2008 as I wrote about in this Bazaarvoice blog post; I think about him often - he was an incredible friend and eCommerce and Wall Street visionary). Accel put forward Arthur Patterson, the co-founder of Accel and a venture capitalist since 1973, to join our Board of Directors alongside me, Keith, and Bong Suh (our independent Director, and a really terrific mentor). As I had done with Keith, I insisted on checking Arthur's references. Most people at Accel were surprised, and I think they thought I was naive at the time - I was a 26-year old CEO and they probably chalked it up to inexperience. And when I called his references, some of them expressed a lot of surprise that I had the moxy to do so. But those references turned out to be very helpful to me, specifically how to best work with him as a business partner. I believe Arthur had more respect for me as a result of being one of the first entrepreneurs to check his references. I couldn't see any other alternative - I deeply loved the business and I wanted to make sure that we fielded the best team possible, and that included our investors and our Board of Directors.