I know a company that was fundamentally destroyed because of poor relationship management. I witnessed this fall and can say that the company and investors would have been more successful if the founders had had a better understanding on how to cultivate relationships and manage the sometimes tricky board dynamic.
Here's the brutal truth: The minute you take outside capital, you can get fired. This often shocks founders, but it's true -- every external investor is looking at you, ready to make a change if you don't perform (remember Steve Jobs got fired from Apple in 1985). That's why every founder needs to earn the respect and validation of the board and your investors so you can run your own company.
Here's how to do it:
Hit your goals.
As the CEO of the company your job is to hit your numbers. If you're making your goals, you're the best CEO in the world. Everyone loves you.
So, set numbers you can hit -- everyone does this, they pad the target a bit so they can still sit pretty. When you don't hit your numbers, which founders of venture-backed companies never do, that's when you have to turn to Plan B(S): Making sure the board likes you.
Especially about what's transpiring at the company, financially. You don't want your investors to feel like they're in the dark or ever surprised by the numbers.
Here are my tricks: Deliver monthly financial results in a timely manner with qualitative commentary and run a good board meeting -- it will generate an undertone of a well-managed company. The best founders deliver a deck three to five days ahead of time with a data pack.
Then, at the meeting, they handle business matters up front, have a theme for the meeting where an expert team presents, and end the meeting with a ten-minute executive session where the CEO steps out. This makes you seem like the grownup that you are and that they don't need to hire an adult supervisor (like a COO or president) to push you out.
You need allies. You need investors who genuinely like you and are willing to stand up for you. Keep them engaged in between board meetings -- you should have regular check-ins with each investor and board member, especially if there's something important going on (fundraising, acquisition, launch, etc.).
Show you're listening to them individually. Say, "That's a great idea. I'd love to talk about your strategy. Why don't we set a time and you can come by to talk about it." And socialize one on one -- take it out of the board room to connect on a human level. Remember, you're always on the hook to get fired, and it's harder to fire a friend.