A CEO and a FOUNDER are usually thought to be the same person.
Founders are brash, confident (bordering on arrogance), irrational, delusional, hungry, scrappy, penny pinchers, micro-managers, and all round cockroaches.
Survival is the essence of a founder.
Bootstrap an idea – find early customers, find ways to please them without running out of money, use your savings, plough back your profits, convince people of your vision, make them dream of being awesome. Because money sure as hell isn’t a motivator for them at this point.
Get some initial funding / traction – get cashflow positive / convince a few investors / join an accelerator / Still scrappy as hell / share a bedroom, sublet the other bedroom, Airbnb the hell out of your pad, travel coach / excursion, win more clients, angle for a high profile Angel / land a kick ass senior hire.
But then, you close your seed round. Now you’re 10–15 people. People who don’t necessarily feel its their lifelong duty to make this startup the center of their lives. Whose wives won’t understand when you’re at the office at 2 in the afternoon on a bright sunny Sunday when everyone’s at the Food Truck Festival.
You’re no longer a startup. You make money, you please customers. You have a team. YOU’RE A BUSINESS.
And you cannot be a scrappy, hungry, aggressive, take-no-prisoners founder any more.
You’re a CEO now.
You have to project stability (We’ve got money in the bank, we’ve got more rolling in, we can pay you every month, we do NOT expect you to work like a mad woman till 9 in the night / every weekend.) You will have founder-level commitment from a few of your team members. They are the hungry ones. Nurture them, Keep them happy. Solve their problems. They’re the future of your leadership. They inject energy in the business, piss more traditional team members off, break shit, and upturn systems. You need them.
But a business runs on systems, process, culture and accountability.
One of the biggest reasons startups struggle to scale is because their “CEO”’s mindset refuses to scale with the business.
Most startups nail the vision, nail the culture (You could NOT have found investors, customers, and early team members otherwise)
But they fail to build out the Structure to function under stress.
They fail to account for process, human tendencies and react badly to structural shifts in business thought.
This is where you have to start being a CEO. A Statesman. A Leader.
Building off the Determination, Passion and Drive brought from a founder’s mindset,
Thoughtfulness is the essence of a CEO.
You cannot fire someone because they didn’t like you. or because they were rude to you. or because they’re an asshole.
You must have strong, valid, objective reasons for moving someone out of your team. You must find out this information fast and act fast on it. But you must be slow to jump to conclusions.
When you resolve an ego conflict, you cannot take sides. No matter how much you like one over the other. No matter that the aggrieved party isn’t a high performer. You must be fair and honest to the facts. Not to the people.
You must be a scary judge of talent. But you must also be able to take feedback. About the team from each other, About you from them.
You cannot favor your early employees if they cannot scale. You need to be brutally honest with your co-founders if they are failing. You have to look forward 18 months and act as if you’re already there. You CANNOT solve every problem your team has. You MUST allow your team to face their own crises.
(caveat: If its a deal or a issue that affects your company’s future, Jump right in!! No niceties there!)
Your goal as a founder is to live forever through your vision.
Your goal as a CEO is to make the company function perfectly if you died tomorrow
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