Some entrepreneurs take an idea they're passionate about and make it into a business (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Colonel Sanders). Others step down and bring on a CEO to lead.
I've bounced between positions including manager, director, president, founder--and now, founder and co-CEO of an accelerator. Within our network, I've met hundreds and thousands of founders taking their passion and turning it into a minimum viable product.
One thing I've learned in my time is that it's hard to separate your passion and your business. This process can be overwhelming.
For founder-CEOs who are asking themselves if it time for to step aside, here are three things to consider before making the big decision:
1. Are you focused on the organization as a whole, or just the product?
As a founder, you've been forming this idea since the beginning, and now you're finally starting to see it come to fruition to solve a problem in the world. With the sudden growth the company is experiencing, are you leading the company or only supervising the product or service?
Typically, this is the time I see founders struggle--when a company begins to scale. The focus changes, but founders don't adapt with it. As a company grows, founders are put into the position of working on company organization, its employees, and the everyday tasks that help the business operate.
It's at this point when founders likely start asking themselves "is this the position I want to be in?" or "am I capable of leading this company down the right path?" These are very important questions to think about during the growth process.
2. Are you surrounding yourself with those who will help you succeed?
As a founder, you are likely leading in the creation of the company's innovative ideas. Scaling a business may not be your forte. You've founded a company that is growing off the charts--are you ready to execute and lead the company?
Do you know the saying "surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher?" Well, the same goes for your company. By putting your company in the hands of someone who is capable of scaling it, you'll experience much more success in the long-run, and thank yourself later.
Localytics, a Techstars Boston alum and a Techstars investment, and its founder/ex-CEO Raj Aggarwal are a great example of realizing this moment and executing on it. This past summer, Aggarwal announced he was stepping down to let Jude McColgan take over the company. The reason for the transition: "it's what the company needed to take the business to the next level."
Localytics has experienced tremendous growth--and Aggarwal recognized that it was time to bring in someone who could elevate the company even further. While he's still with the company and is more than actively involved, the recognition for help was there and it's been successful so far.
3. Are you focusing on your strengths?
If you decide to step aside as CEO, it doesn't mean you're still not a major asset to the company. My recommendation to a founder who makes the transition into a new position: stay as involved in the company as possible--typically as a member of the board with another role to supplement, if necessary.
Founders love to create and see these ideas through to becoming a thriving business--it's what founders are best at. This year, ClassPass, a Techstars NYC alum, saw its founder-CEO Payal Kadakia switch over to the title "executive chairman." The reason? To focus on creating once again. Although someone else is in the CEO role running the day-to-day business, transitioning to this new role has allowed her to go back to being the creative mind that got ClassPass to where it is today and help shape the company for future growth.
At the end of the day, you want what is best for your company. Sometimes recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, and finding the help necessary for your company to be successful is the best decision you can make. Regardless of your role at your company, make sure it's one that you love and are able to thrive in.