“Congratulations! You’ve succeeded. And now you’re fired!”
Ooof. Not usually the message you expect when you’ve actually hit the jackpot in startup world. And yet it’s an all too common outcome.
As countless founders have discovered, it doesn’t always follow that the founder of a business is the best person to carry the business forward, when that longed for success suddenly arrives. (Think for example of Yahoo’s Jerry Yang, Blackberry’s co-founder, Mike Lazardis or most recently Uber’s Travis Kalanick.)
Wanting a business to scale and succeed is not the same as being able to make it do so.
As a founder myself, I hate the idea that if (when!) I hit nirvana and it all comes good, the outcome of all the blood, sweat, stress and sacrifice might ultimately not be mine to enjoy for long…
After all, I passionately believe in what we’re doing right now and I want the business to achieve all the ambitions that I have for it. And I don’t want those ambitions to be compromised or to go ‘off piste’.
So being hands-on and involved in each aspect of what we do, every step of the way, no matter the cost to sleep and sanity, is now an unavoidable part of my DNA. I can’t imagine not leading this and not being a part of it.
But perversely, there are moments when I look at our longer term plan and I am pretty intimidated by what the outcome of that success looks like. It’s huge – and involves things that I am definitely not equipped to handle.
And I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that every now and then, I do wonder whether I’d make a sufficiently competent CEO to take what we’re creating all the way. And I worry about what I’ll need to do in order to ensure that I don’t let my team or the business down, if that scale-up opportunity does present itself – as I hope it will.
So this great piece by one of my favourite sources of motivation and education, First Round Review, is a welcome one. Because in it, Brett Hurt, former CEO and co-founder of Bazaarvoice, shares his experiences of successfully making the transition from founder to CEO on a number of occasions. In the linked article below, he distils that experience into a handful of vital principles and practices that are well worth the read for any founder contemplating the future of their business.
Reassuringly, none of those principles or practices sound unattainable, even if for me, when the time comes, it would mean rolling my sleeves up in a different way. Oh, and letting go of a few much enjoyed areas of ‘comfort zone’, in exchange for investment in personal growth and skills of a different sort.
Not sure I’m ready for that just yet. I love what I’m doing right now and it’s really fulfilling. But then happily, there’s a lot more to do (and to prove) before I have to get too anxious about whether I’ll be good enough to make a great CEO!
(If you’re interested in this topic, other more extensive reads include Business Insider’s ‘Why founders often make terrible CEOs’, and, though a bit older, but no less relevant or instructive, HBR’s: 'The founder’s dilemma'.)
You aren’t born knowing how to either found a company or be a CEO. You aren’t born knowing how emotional this journey can be.” Being a founder and being a CEO are not the same thing. A founder brings an idea into the world. A CEO sets direction while building and motivating an entire organization to capitalize on the opportunity. However, when a great founder becomes a great CEO, incredible things happen.