Last week I was talking to a prestigious venture capitalist about the roles of founders at different stages of a company and how a lot of founders obsess with holding the CEO title as an indication of the level of control they can exercise in an organization. While is true that there are a million stories of founders being pushed out of companies in favor of professional CEOs (Steve Jobs anyone J ), there are an equally large number of stories of founders harming companies by trying to hold to the CEO title in situations that required an operational level beyond their skillset.
The way I tend to think about the startup CEO job is fairly simple: In a startup, founders are typically responsible for laying out the vision for the products or services that the company offers while the CEO is responsible for leading the company towards the execution of that vision. That execution path includes areas such as company culture, go-to-market strategies, operational structure and many many other aspects that complement the company vision. Similarly, the most important job of a startup founders to setup the right team and structure to take your company to the next level and, a lot of times, that team requires a new CEO.
In many cases, particularly in early stages, the roles of founders and CEOs overlap but this doesn’t imply that it needs to remain that way throughout the lifetime of the company. Certainly, in very stages, the company founders are in the best position to execute in the original vision of the company. However, after the company reaches certain level the founder-CEOs need to objectively evaluate the best path and team that can maximize the chances of reaching the next set of goals.
You can train a CEO but you can’t train a founder….
This is very true. As a startup founder, if you are convinced you are the best person to serve as your company CEO, you have the talent and the desire to make it work there are certainly plenty of resources at your disposal to help you become a world class CEO. Having the right advisors can be a determining factor in this stage. Firms like Andreessen-Horowitz have entire portfolio of services solely focused on helping founders become better CEOs. At any point, you have to be convinced that your role as CEO is the best thing for the company and not based on personal ambitions.
You already hold the best title there is….
In the startup world, there is no bigger achievement than founding a company that makes its way to success and changing the world. As a startup founder, focus on always doing the right thing for your company and don’t obsess about remaining as CEO if there is a better person to execute on that role. Always remember that you already hold the best tile someone can have: founder.