Managing founder-CEO tension inside a startup – TechCrunch

“Will you Are you hiring a bunch of useless salespeople like they have at Oracle?

This was the first of many memorable interactions I had with Eliot Horowitz. Eliot was the founder and CTO of MongoDB, and in late 2010 I interviewed to come on board as President. Product-driven growth was a far cry from the buzzword it is today, but MongoDB’s founding team had built a product that developers loved — the very developer love that would fuel much of the company’s rapid growth.

My topic today is not product-driven growth, but the relationship between a founder like Eliot and a hired CEO and the key factors necessary to make that relationship a success. These dynamics have always been important, but in today’s more volatile, rapidly changing technology markets, focusing on them is critical.

On the surface, Eliot’s question was about business models and vendor hiring. But it went much deeper: Our conversation was a live experiment of how we would work together to nail a startup’s crucial partnership between a CEO and a founder. The area we covered that day included:

  • Was I open to unorthodox thinking?
  • Could I justify my plans with basic principles?
  • Was I ready to engage in business with a young tech founder?
  • Did the discovery that the founders wanted to challenge the established way of doing things excite me to get involved – or did I want to run for the hills?
  • Could I make a business decision that goes against the founder’s views and make us both feel good about the process?

All of these are valid questions and examples of potential tension between a technical founder and a new executive brought in from outside. How a founder and CEO address these points of tension can determine a company’s ultimate success.

Beyond the product market fit

A lot can go wrong in a startup, but to be successful, two things have to be right: first, the product has to have a good fit with the market, which is almost always the domain of the founders, and second, the company has to implement successfully, which is sometimes the domain of a employed CEO.

In almost all cases, the initial product and market vision comes from founders. They started the company because they had the insight that something could be done better and an idea how to do it better. If that idea resonates with a wide audience, you have the gist of product and market customization. Without that there is no company.

But this initial adjustment to the product market is far from enough. A company needs funding, a team, and ultimately it needs to take care of engineering, sales, customer success, and marketing. Sometimes a founder has an interest and aptitude for leading all of these areas. In other cases this is not the case and in these cases they need a partner to run the business of the company.

The four years I spent at MongoDB – first as President, then as CEO – have been a great experience. The company grew explosively, transforming the database market and the way developers built web applications. Perhaps more importantly, we laid some of the foundations for what would go on to become a hugely successful cloud business that transformed the way businesses deploy and consume infrastructure software.

This would not have been possible without a strong partnership between the founders and myself, particularly Eliot and Dwight Merriman (founder and initial CEO who eventually became Chairman). Decisions couldn’t be neatly divided into product categories for her and operational ones for me.

Managing founder-CEO tension inside a startup – TechCrunch Source link Managing founder-CEO tension inside a startup – TechCrunch

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