Serial Start-up Founders: Brilliant, or Suffering From A.D.D.?
Biz Stone, one of the founders of Twitter, is supposedly starting yet another company, called Jelly. But Stone is already running a portfolio business called Obvious, along with former Blogger founder and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. Jack Dorsey, third Twitter founder, launched Square which turns your smartphone into a credit card terminal. Before Twitter, Stone worked on Blogger too. Incestuous, well yes.
But, I wonder, too: Do these entrepreneurs have the business equivalent of attention deficit disorder? Is it too old-fashioned to ask: Why don't they hang around to turn Twitter into a real business? Is it smart or facile to hand the heavy lifting of commercializing their invention to CEO Dick Costolo?
I have rather mixed feelings on this front. On the one hand, I'd argue that building a business and staying with it as it grows is how entrepreneurs themselves grow as leaders and as human beings. That's because, as a company moves from start-up to growth to hyper-growth to some kind of permanent status, it needs radically-different leadership at each stage. Since all entrepreneurs, sooner or later, talk about their ventures as their babies, you can see that newborns, toddlers, adolescents, and adults all need different kinds of parenting. So it is with leaders and companies: each life stage requires different talents. If you're still spoon-feeding your teenager, you're doing the wrong job the wrong way. If you stick around, you can only succeed if you evolve with those incredibly-changing demands.
On the other hand, some people just don't have it in them to stay for the long haul. Their core talent is in having great ideas, crystallizing them, inspiring other people to execute brilliantly--and moving on. Once the company needs process in order to scale, these leaders get bored, or belligerent. If they stand in the way of process, the business won't grow. If they do it, but do it badly, the company staggers. Often the greatest gift they can give is to take themselves out of the picture elegantly.
Building a company and sticking with it is, in my opinion, the tougher journey. Making Twitter profitable is a bigger intellectual challenge than getting it off the ground. Ideas are cheap; making them profitable, functional, and meaningful is the hard part. But the business eco-system needs both kinds of leaders: the planter of ideas, and the patient gardener. And they need each other.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.