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I’m a founder who wants to maintain control of my firm. Will expanding my board help?

In his weekly column, Maynard Webb cautions a founder against adding more board members in a bid to balance out investor seats.

I’m a founder who wants to maintain control of my firm. Will expanding my board help?
[Source images: akkachai thothubthai/iStock; filistimlyanin/iStock]

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 dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. My company is doing well and about to close a big round of funding. This presents an opportunity to revamp the board. We are authorized to have a board of seven, but we are currently running with five. The founders have two seats and the investors have three seats. Two of the three investor seats could change because of external factors. My question: Should we expand to a board of nine? We’d have four spots to fill, but this might help me balance the number of investor seats with the number of independent seats.

— CEO and cofounder who wants to keep control

Dear Founder,

Right now, you are operating as a board of five. Going to nine members would nearly double the size of the board. That will add a lot of complexity, including ramping up new board members and having new voices in the room, which can be overwhelming and distracting.

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When it comes to boards, less is more. I always advise startup founders to keep the board as small as possible. My advice is to stay at seven. At the same time, you have to fix the balance of the board. You currently have a problem with investors having two seats and investors having three. Keep the founder seats at two and the investor seats at three and work to get great independents for the two open seats.

You mentioned potential changes with two of the members on the board. Try to determine if one of those members can leave of their own volition and if the new investor can take that seat. This is a delicate situation, which will require finesse. But you don’t have to be the instigator here. Make the “enemy” the new round. Everyone understands that with this change, comes other changes. This might present an exit opportunity one of your board members was looking for.

Finally, do not take this on yourself. Enlist the support of the lead independent director on the board. Have that person approach this situation with diplomacy and tact. If the independent board member is willing, let them do the heavy lifting here, which allows you to stay out of this and get back to what’s most important, running the company.

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