Almost every founder comes to the point in their career where an inflection point is reached. You either step it up a notch and become a leader for the long haul or you admit your weaknesses and bring on help. Sometimes you stay in a diminished role. Sometimes you go.
This post is not about whether founders should stay in a company or not. It’s about asking yourself if you are the right person in the right job. My preference is that the founder is CEO at exit.
The biggest successes seem to be driven by true leaders. They take the company from start to greatness (define greatness as you will). Notable in my mind are Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Mark zuckerberg, Larry Elisson and so forth. Some are still in their business and others have transitioned out. Yet, at the same time, founders moved aside and brought in leaders to get to the next step. Here I can point to Eric Schmidt coming on board at Google.
I have so much respect for Brin and Page that they made this work knowing how difficult such a decision is. There are simply times when this makes sense yet there are hardly ever situations where the founder comes to this conclusion on their own. As the founder and CEO you have to have blind faith in your businesses and yourself.
This makes it difficult to step back and truly analyse one’s strengths. Often times key strengths are missing and unfortunately can’t be cultivated short-term. It’s much easier to bring on someone who has them to lead the company. The decision to do this though is a nightmare in most founders’ eyes. Who the hell ever wants to fire themselves or step up and say “I can’t do this alone anymore!” The fear is that simply mentioning this will show weakness.
Even worse is when the founder is more focussed on their own personal interests more than those of the company. This so often ultimately leads to the demise of the company regardless of other mistakes made. It can be avoided though. Honestly review your successes and what you’re good at and what you are not. If you are the founder and are still CEO, ask yourself if you should remain in this position.
Can you take the company to the next level? Does your team blindly believe in you? Do your investors believe in you? You don’t have to be loved but you better be respected. (Will add a link to a Mark Suster post about this-simply can’t now as I am writing this on my mobile device!) Would you work your arse off for you? You may not even enjoy the role of CEO and would be better positioned in another role. Make the tough call though before you are forced to make it. Nothing sucks more as a VC than having to convince a founder he is no longer the right person to lead their company.
At the same time, if you are convinced you are the right person fight like mad to stay where you are. This is what it’s like at the top. You have to fight. Unfortunately there are times where you should know better simply because you are informed and believe in the best interests of the company.
If your equity is better off with another manager at the top, step aside and let someone else in. You’ll still cash in down the road. Decide whether to stay in another role or to leave but life is too short to fight for the fight instead of valid reasons and conviction.
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