Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at email@example.com.
I see a big opportunity for my company to expand my B2B business to the consumer space. This has always been my dream, but my board is not aligned with my vision. Do you think I should recruit people with consumer experience to my board?
—Founder of a growing platform in the health space
Before you think about adding additional board members, let’s take a step back. Is it possible that you may have an unrealistic expectation of the wisdom and insight a board might be able to bring? Being able to hear several voices and fresh thoughts from experts is amazing, but remember, you are the one who knows your company the best. It’s hard to expect to receive very nuanced advice about a sudden change in direction from someone who comes in one to two times a quarter. Of course, it’s great to have people with stature on your board who can contribute their learnings from experience—and board members can (and do) influence strategy—but the company’s leaders are the ones who drive day-to-day decisions.
Unfortunately, founders never have as much optionality as they’d like when it comes to replacing board members because some board members will be on the board until you go public (or have another exit). Therefore, in addition to thinking about carefully adding a new board member (small boards are better than big boards), it might make more sense to nurture the relationships you have with your directors by building trust and fostering open lines of communication.
If your board members are not on the same page as you in terms of your vision for a new direction, rather than lament this situation, try to bring them along with you. I’m concerned that some founders in this situation sometimes see this as “us against them,” or feel, “How come no one understands me?” In your situation, people joined when you were a B2B business and now your thinking has evolved to enter the consumer space—that’s an exciting development—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the board’s thinking has automatically changed. This is especially true if this is a radical departure from your previous thinking, which can often generate some reluctance or even resistance. What about opening up a dialogue to articulate the vision and aim to inspire them along with you? You may want to try to frame it in a way that invites conversation with something like, “I had this insight and it’s a change in direction for the company. I know that might be a head snap, but let’s talk about it and see if my instincts make sense.”
The more communication you have with your board, the better. Generally speaking, the more you share with them and the more you give them updates, the more engaged they will be with you and your company.
You need not see this as a battle. You have greater ability to bring people along than you think. But it will take more time. I know it’s frustrating to be ahead of the team or the people above you (i.e., your board), but understand that you have a unique view. You see the expanse of what is happening while the people delivering don’t see as far out. Board members get even smaller snapshots, taken just a few times a year.
If you try this approach and there continues to be disagreement, you do not have to give up on your big idea. Do not let the board manage you into not doing something you know is right. I can tell you that my worst mistakes have been ones of omission, not commission.
You are the one who has the insight you need to set the direction. You know where you want to go. Try to get alignment, and if you don’t, don’t ever let that stop you from thinking bold.