Founders are driven by visionary ideas and look forward to the day when their startup “goes through the roof”. By then at the latest, a founder must become a CEO who has the big picture in mind – an aspect that many founders recognize too late. How founders can grow into the role of CEO.
In the life of a start-up founder, the moment when you realize that it works is special. But while the corks are popping, the next challenge is already waiting: the product-driven founder must quickly become a CEO who has an eye on the big picture (read: the company and not just the idea). Not everyone manages the transformation from creator to manager.
When a founder must become a “real” CEO
The vast majority of founders in my environment are united by the courage to try something fundamentally new with their products or business models and often to oppose all probabilities because they firmly believe in their ideas. But especially at the beginning, failure lurks around every corner: short-term and rapid growth is indispensable, continuous product improvements are the order of the day, the next financing round always has top priority.
Despite all self-confidence and conviction, the uncertainty as to whether one’s own startup will actually succeed one day is omnipresent. Founders are accordingly active and obsessed with detail at the same time in order to reconcile the most diverse requirements. Those who found a company are free to take full responsibility for everything and everyone.
With the success, the demands on the role of the founder change radically: While he was familiar with every detail so far, he suddenly has to lead a growing number of employees; yes, he has to lead a real company. Micromanagement has to be put aside and the big lines have to be looked at instead. The founder now becomes what has been on his business card since day one: a CEO. From my experience as a startup mentor, however, I know that this turning point comes unexpectedly to many founders and presents them with enormous challenges.
Founders focus on the product, CEOs on the team
Being CEO in your own company means one thing above all: letting go. Those who want to remain involved in every step of the process will get bogged down and in the long run tend to harm rather than benefit their company. I recommend the following rule of thumb to founders: as a founder you work in the company, as a CEO you work on the company.
This means not least that the focus on the product is replaced by the focus on the team. As CEO, it is important to delegate responsibility and grow into a completely new role; because while founders build products, CEOs build environments in which employees can build products – a huge difference. Those who previously looked at short-term growth, product details and the next round of financing will have to ensure sustainable growth in the future, motivate employees and keep the company strategically on course.
How founders can grow into the role of CEO
What employees say about the company, how they think about their work and how motivated they come to the office every morning is one of the decisive factors for the sustainable success of the CEO and thus of the company. As managing director of Hire Your Talent, I myself see it as my task to create environments in which my employees feel comfortable and valued, in which they can tap their potential and thus achieve results that make the company successful in the long term. In order for this to succeed, I make sure that in my busy day-to-day life I always clear time slots for reflection and strategy work – an aspect that many founders often forget in the heat of the moment. From my experience, I can highly recommend every founder here to work with a business coach or mentor at an early stage in order to critically question his own role from the outside and thus consistently develop himself further as a leader.
Not every founder is born CEO
The CEO role may not lie with every founder and it does not have to be the inevitable development step for every founder. Some founders, for example, who would like to continue working close to the product even if they are successful, then appoint an external CEO to drive the development of the company as a whole. Others use the success case to sell their company and devote themselves to the next start-up. In any case, it is important for founders to actively consider at an early stage whether they are prepared to grow into the role of CEO.