Are you the right person to lead your startup?

In our last post, Common Attributes of Successful Startup Founders, we discussed the importance of curiosity, courage, patience, and resilience for startup founders. But we also believe that being a CEO of a startup requires a little something extra.

This is hard for a lot of entrepreneurs to accept, but the reality is, not every startup founder makes a good CEO — in fact, many don’t.

In the early days, founders manage all aspects of the business: product development, marketing, HR, finance, you name it! We call this type of CEO the Chief Everything Officer. But at some point the CEO must make the transition to a true Chief Executive Officer and the skills that helped you build your business might not be the right skills to help scale your business to global success.

Accelerator Centre mentor, Jackie Lauer builds conversations about leadership into her coaching with Accelerator Program clients early on. “Startup founders should think about their leadership team the same way they think about developing their product — there should be a strategy and a plan,” she explains. “Founders can hold leadership positions within an organization without being the CEO. A founder will always be a founder but what you need in a CEO might change overtime.”

Vidyard CEO, Michael Litt, recalls his founding team’s transition to an executive team.

“In our case, there were three people, so there was no CEO. There’s people who write code, and there are people who do everything else. As you grow, your needs for individuals in hyper-focused roles grow in certain areas, like sales, marketing, operations, and finance.

As we continued to bring people into our business, my role modified to manage the output to those people so that I could truly become a CEO. That allows you to become the chief our your executives, represent their interests to the board, and represent the boards interests back to them. When I think of a “true CEO”, I think of the importance on focusing in innovation, culture, does our business have enough money in our bank account to sustain itself.”

So what qualities do you actually need to be a true CEO?

Along with the attributes that make a good entrepreneur in general (remember our last post!), a good CEO is a systems thinker, interested in looking at the business as a whole. They are able to separate themselves from the love affair with the product and focus on growth, something technical founders usually find quite challenging.

Also, the CEO’s leadership is essential in developing your company’s culture. The CEO should embody the vision and values of the organization and has to be interested in leading people towards that vision.

What to do if you decide you are not the choice

First, congrats! It takes a true leader to know when to play their strengths and when to look for support. Take some time to mentally process your decision and communicate it to your team.

Secondly, remember that organizational leadership should be a strategy. If you don’t have the right skills, experience, or network to be the CEO, make a list of the skills, experience and network you DO need.

Finally, find a mentor or recruiting pro to help you find the right person. Take your time and don’t let outside factors influence your choice. Hiring a CEO is a challenge and you want to make sure you get it right!


About the Authors

Clinton Ball is the Director of Client Programs and Initiatives at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Ontario. As the co-founder of a small software company, Clinton can relate to those building out a technology company and is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs build and scale their companies. When he’s not designing or delivering Accelerator Centre Programming you can find Clinton reading up on the latest marketing, technology and entrepreneurship resources, exploring a new trail or coffee spot, or trying to get better at his swing on the golf course.

Tabatha Laverty is the Marketing and Community Manager at the Accelerator Centre. As a passionate storyteller and digital marketer, she has worked with entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, and public service agencies for 5 years — helping them develop content, share their stories, and build their brands. When she isn’t writing or meeting new entrepreneurs, you can find her spending time with her husband and 2 young children.