Startups

Journey of Founder to CEO

Source | LinkedIn : By Vani Kola

Steve Jobs is probably the most loved innovator of our times. However, he, the founder, was asked to leave his own company. He is not the first founder and will not be the last to experience this. It is interesting to note that Jobs thought it was one of the best things to happen to him.

Recently, in India, we saw a lot being written about the founder of Housing — Rahul Yadav. Rahul had differences with his investors and was labelled as theenfant terribleof Indian startups. In the midst of whether he would stay on or not, he sent a mail to his employees saying “I am still the CEO”.

One of the most difficult questions for a startup to answer is if the founder is the right CEO at the current juncture for a company. I believe, in technology startups, it is very difficult to hire CEOs.

Ideally, the founder should be the long term CEO. The challenges come while the company is scaling aggressively. The founder runs out of the learning runway if they are not self- driving their skills. I do think founders can defer bringing in a CEO if they are self-reflective and surround themselves with a great team. It is, however, important to be intellectually honest in your self-reflection to see if you are indeed the best CEO for what the company needs. At times, this decision is essential to save your business.

The Journey

So, what changes in the journey from the founder to a CEO? The founder is an innovator, passionate about the idea and zealous about seeing it become big. He is so obsessed with the idea and making it work, that he makes deep personal sacrifices and faces insurmountable odds to bring their idea to life. Indeed, the existence of the company is not comprehensible without the founder, they are the life force.

The CEO, on the other hand, requires a very different set of skills and mindset. He has to steer the company and its people towards a common vision, create alignment and consensus. He has to sustain operational and strategic goals, take hard decisions in the process and rely on consistent processes for decision making, find and delegate to the best people and manage the crucial parameters as the organization takes off.

Over the years, I have seen founders such as Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal, successfully transitioning into a CEO. However, not all founders do that well. And there are some founders such as Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), who have voluntarily stepped aside to let a CEO take helm while still retaining a key guiding role for the companies they founded. Such a move may be better for the long-term prospects of the company. Google offers a rare example of founders bringing in CEO (Eric Schmidt) early. In the process, they go about realizing big aspirations as founders by guiding strategy and innovation. After having gained sufficient experience, they have comeback to take the CEO’s role when they thought the time was right. Now that Google is on the next wave of growth with parent company “Alphabet” being established, they have once again brought in Sundar Pichai to become the CEO and head their core business. This would again give the founders the much required time and bandwidth to guide Alphabet.

 

 

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