I'm a first-time founder, in my late 20s, operating in a niche space I didn't know much about a year ago. Now that we're about to land a major client, my advisors - who've been in the space for 15+ yrs - will be stepping up to my team full-time.
As we expand the team, my advisors tell me we need to be careful to not hire anyone who's motive is to become CEO. Part of me wonders whether they're looking out for me or themselves. That's not say I have an issue with these guys, I love my team. If they explained to me that someone else, maybe even one of them, is better suited as CEO, I'd be fine with that, whatever is best for the company. I'm just debating how to have an honest conversation about that.
In general, is the CEO of a startup 1. the guy who knows the most about their space; 2. the guy who bridges the gap between the space and entities adjacent to it (investors, startup community, etc.)
When there are enough staff the roles are:
CEO--outward facing, relationship builder, pitcher
COO--inward facing, manages the organization
Until you have the staff, the CEO does both roles but may have a project manager or assistant to help with management and planning.
I'm am in the middle of this same space with my startup.
Let's start with "dumb" and "smart" are very relative terms.
I may be amazing at code but crap at sales - in a sales situation I'm not the smart guy in the room.
CEO is a leadership role. If you can lead, be an adult, make things happen - you aren't dumb.
I've worked with founders who didn't want to lead - they hired a CEO they felt could be that visionary leader.
Are you willing to wear the leadership hat?
you founded a company in a space you knew little about....you dont have a knowledge of what a CEO does...and you are beginning to have paranoid thoughts about your board? No offense, but you need to have a company get away and have some real on the table conversations if you want a future for and with your company.
It really depends on who will gain the most control and power in the company.
The CEO does not need to be the best at everything, but he does need a lot of the "soft skills" to push the business towards the company's vision.
David M. I'm disappointed to see the personal attacks and self-aggrandizing posts on this discussion board and hope they stop. If they do not, your account may be suspended.
A CEO is a leader who can sail the team through the rough seas , give direction as well motivation in getting requisite resources/expertise and achieving set goals.
The word “dumbest” is quite broad and as Einstein once mentioned, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." You have to be specific with your judgment. If the CEO lacks with some technical skills or IT knowledge then he/she can improve the knowledge/skills along the way. However, the best CEOs at the IT companies are not the ones who writes the best code or the best code debuggers. Managing, marketing and soft skills for CEOs of IT companies as important as technical skills. Look at Jobs! He was not able to code, but he was an excellent visionary and avid geek. Jobs was also great sales and marketing strategist. Look at video on YouTube where he analyses marketing strategy for NeXT back in late 1980’s. His passion and insightfulness of the subject resembles to some of the professors from business school. Most of what he said there is still relevant today that you always have to look for a niche market for your first product.
Just to summaries, if CEO lacks technical skills and especially business/managerial skills then it is hard for company to succeed. Most of the startups forget the importance of sales or business side of the coin and they oftentimes caught up with the coolness of their technology. Once you operate a company, there is a few room for making mistakes or missing the time to hit the breakeven. If you think CEO lacks foremost technical skills, but will be good at business/managerial skills then you should give him/her a chance. If CEO lacks both of the mentioned skills and started acting bossy or rude then teams will have to look the ways for his/her resignation. Down the road, it will be toxic for the team to deal with such a person and continue to innovate something. The rule is the same in case you want to become CEO or assign someone.
J. Michael C-Your definition of CEO and COO is not accurate in terms of a broad blanked definition. ""CEO--outward facing, relationship builder, pitcher COO--inward facing, manages the organization"" Most CEO's I know are managers first and fore most. The Chief Operating Officers will often work on strategy and operations, and yes often times take a less visual role to the CEO. But again, not always the case. Example in the movie industry, Ron Meyer was the long time President and COO of Universal. He was the most visual person at Universal. In city government, the CEO's in most cities are city managers, and they manage the overall operations and the entire organization in addition to being the most visual person behind the scenes while the mayor who has little to do with the operation or management is a bit of a talking head. Im not suggesting there are not start ups with CEO's taking the role you suggest and COO...its just not accurate though to suggest this is how roles are defined.
In light of some of the just flat out terrible advice here, I wanted to say a few more things. One, you are being honest with yourself which is good. Personally I would never go through this in an open forum, but you are doing it anonymously. I am assuming this is not a cofounder lab post to spark conversation and waste peoples' time. Continue to be honest and open but also smart.
You have to first decide if you want to be the CEO. There is nothing wrong with stepping aside if that is not your interest. WAY too many entrepreneurs want to think that being an entrepreneur and CEO are two in the same. They are not. At the same time if you truly aspire to be a successful CEO, then don't let anyone move you in another direction. On the one hand you have the engineer founder who thinks he is CEO material and drives a company into the ground because he should have stuck to being the engineer and founder...and on the other hand you have the founder who thought a more qualified CEO on paper CEO was the best decision failing to understand qualification of heart, mind, spirit, competence and quickly acquired experience is often more valuable than what an industry veteran can bring as a CEO.
So again, if you started this company, and you want the position of CEO, which is where "the buck stops.." and starts then move in that direction. Your role initially is whatever you want it to be, but over time the CEO should be the strongest core to the company to have a smooth ride. Regarding investors, it can be hit and miss. For some, your board may not be enough. If you show what you have already done and accounts landed, your ability to manage the company, depending on investor amount you may be fine as the CEO. If you aspire to grander things than your current success shows, and you seek a capital infusion that exceeds those, that is where you may have investors push for a CEO with more experience. And that may be a good situation at that time.
What you are not addressing here which you should or hopefully have is your CFO. Where is your financial wisdom coming from? Who is guiding you and advising you on the financial side of your company? But again...you have to look at hundreds of elements all working hand in hand. Its not as simple as "do I stay CEO?" Its "If I want to go public am I the best CEO? Do I have a lawyer with the experience to do an IPO? Does my CFO have the capability to raise needed capital?" Look at a timeline of where you are and where you want to be.
Someone mentioned look tough but be soft. People see through BS. Be yourself. Be strong but fair and back up what you say. No one likes a talker, unless you want to be the brown noser or talker who edges by success by scamming and falsely praising people to get what you want. They exist, but every one with real worth and success laughs at those guys no matter how much money they make.
If you are well positioned with equity and don’t trust yourself as CEO or have the interest, let someone who does come in and do the job you are not capable or interested one in. But if you feel like all these talking heads around you may be trying to take a piece of what you started and shine a light on them rather than the success and needs of the company....stay the course as CEO and trudge through.
You may not have the competence to be the CEO if you are asking the question is it ok to be the dumbest. Not sure why you would put that light on you. A great CEO wants to hire people who make him/her smarter and more competent. But that’s a listener and leader.