Blog Post

How do I deal with a troublesome board member?

_Naturally, this is a question most founders would just as soon not have attributed to them. I agreed to post it on one person’s behalf._

*How do I deal with board member whose priorities seem to be diverging from mine and my co-founder’s at a critical time in the startup’s life?*

My co-founder and I have our hands full dealing with things like a) a product upgrade and b) a big sales push to get us over the hump. It’s a critical time for the business, and we’re pusing our team really hard. We’re confident that this will work, but we have a particularly difficult board member who doesn’t seem to share our attitude.

We’re not sure why, but nothing seems sufficient to meet his expectations for revenue (some of which I feel may be unreasonable for a young startup). We hear the word “results” a lot. I am beginning to fear that his attitude might have more to do with his own investment portfolio (need for an exit?), and less to do with our company. More pressing: we worry that his attitude, or lack of patience, will taint others on our board — insecurity breeds insecurity, and after a certain point, I’ve observed that many investors will opt for unloading a startup that represents a troublesome situation. (Ditto for a founder who represents same.)

The director is a well-connected investor, so we can’t afford to alientate him, or anyone else. And I figure if we go head-to-head with him we’ll lose. (Money talks.) So short of fostering more confrontation/conflict before the board, what can we do? The more time we spend assuaging his concerns, the less time we have for the real work.

2 Responses to “How do I deal with a troublesome board member?”

  1. bluelines

    One approach you could take is to take the troublesome director through a short presentation on the original business plan he bought into, and the progress you’ve made with respect to that business plan.

    In this scenario it’s important to be completely honest about where you are. If things are not on plan, then addressing this issue directly and explaining the strategy to get back on plan will give you more credibility with the director. If it doesn’t then you know there is something seriously wrong with the relationship.}

  2. sbyrnes

    If we assume that the board member is still rational and just motivated by different self-interests, I would start by meeting with the members of the board individually to assess their expectations and get feedback. Sometimes board members will be artificially hard to please to make sure they are driving you as hard as they can – and the best way to determine that is to find out where you stand.

    Investors trying to force an exit is a risk of raising investment from any form of institutional investors. Your best defense will likely be the other investors if you can convince them that your plan is sound and there is a bigger payoff by not forcing things too soon. At the end of the day, even if your strategy is correct and your team is on board your investors can force you in a different direction if their interests diverge from yours.

    If the investor is irrational then the other board members have probably noticed as well. That would be easy to identify during in person meetings.

    Best of luck, board member issues are tough and stressful.}