When is The Right Time to Step Down as Your Startup's CEO? by@michael-brooks

When is The Right Time to Step Down as Your Startup's CEO?

Successful startups have a business leader who’s both a founder and CEO. Successful and happy founders hire someone else to be their startup’s CEO.
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Michael Brooks

An award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, and author.

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It’s tricky, isn’t it?

Just take Jeff Bezos as an example. It took him almost thirty years to "let it go" for the sake of both professional and personal reasons.

Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon's CEO on Monday, exactly 27 years since he started the e-commerce giant in a garage in West Bellevue, Wash. Bezos, the richest man on the planet, told employees earlier this year that handing the reins to Jassy would allow him to focus on other projects, like philanthropic pursuits addressing climate change and his space exploration company Blue Origin.

In the beginning, you are both a founder and a CEO. Then, at some point, for the sake of your business and company, someone else has to step in as a CEO.

I understand why so many of my fellow founders are emotional about it. The feeling is hard to describe. However, just because you’re hiring a CEO, it doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on your “business baby” and losing control.

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Bezos is handing day-to-day duties to his longtime deputy Andy Jassy but will continue to hold considerable sway as the company's executive chairman. Bezos will remain Amazon's largest shareholder. "Jeff is really not going anywhere," Brian Olsavsky, Amazon's Chief Financial Officer, told reporters in February. "It's more of a restructuring of who's doing what."

You have already proved your point by being a successful founder. To be an equally successful CEO, you need a different business mindset. Some business owners have the tough time of letting it go, and their businesses suffer.

Brad Stone, a senior editor at Bloomberg News who has written two books about Amazon, said Bezos has an unusual gift for problem-solving and focusing on many disparate issues at once, but empathy has never been his strength. Jassy has long seen Bezos as a mentor, but colleagues have said he is more mild-mannered, soft-spoken and less prone to angry outbursts, compared to Bezos. "I think Jassy has to kind of make Amazon a more empathetic company, a friendlier company," Stone said. "He has to find Amazon's heart."

But, how do you know the time is right for you to stop being both a founder and a CEO?

There are a couple of business scenarios:

  • Your business has grown so much that it has become difficult to keep track of all things, so you need a CEO to prevent stagnation.
  • You have an idea for a new startup. You can fight on two business fronts successfully, so again you to hire a CEO.
  • You’ve reached your limits. You’ve realized that all of this time you’ve been a full-time founder and a part-time CEO. Let the professional and more experienced CEO take care of your business.

You Can't and Shouldn't be Both a Founder and a CEO Forever!

The moment a founder starts wondering whether or not he should remain a CEO too is a good sign for a company. This means that a business has reached a respectable level of success. However, this “transition” or “separation” process can be both difficult and emotional. That’s understandable.

At the same time, if you want your company to move on in a successful and productive way, you have to let it go. Trust me, you will know when the time is right. Just like that little voice in your head told you, now it’s the right time to start a new business, you will hear it again when the time comes to hire a CEO.

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It’s Time to Focus on Golf Tournaments and New Startups

Your ultimate goal is to structure your business organization that your startup works like a charm as if you’re present all the time. Your CEO should become your “business clone.” You should go out and look for new business opportunities for your startup.

The moment you start spending more time in a golf club than in your office or home, you will appreciate your CEO. Neither you nor your CEO should lift a finger. That’s not your job. Your duty is to think, plan, and delegate tasks.

The most successful startup founders I have met and had a chance to talk to rarely meet with their CEOs. All it takes for them to run a successful business is to make a few phone calls and exchange a couple of messages.

To sum it up:

Successful startups have a business leader who’s both a founder and CEO. Successful and happy founders hire someone else to be their startup’s CEO.

But, what about Jack Dorsey? Well, you can't compare apples and oranges, but Jack remains a Twitter board member. In addition, Jack still owns 2% of San Francisco-based Twitter, according to the company's 2021 proxy. For a company with a net worth of $31.96B as of January 11, 2022, that's still a lot.

So, it’s about time for you to start taking some golf lessons, and while you're waiting for your turn to hit the ball don't forget to vote for your favorite Noonies2021 Award Nominees in the BusinessEntrepreneur, and Entrepreneurship categories.

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