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Technology & Leadership

5 Jobs Start-up CEO/Founders Give Up Too Late

Nate Lentz
October 21, 2013

Often I will write a blog post and several portfolio CEOs will say that I wrote the post specifically about them when in fact I am discussing a common tendency among the many CEOs I see.  This is probably going to be one of those posts, especially for the founder / CEOs in the group.  So, whether you are in our portfolio or not, if you are the founder / CEO of a high growth start-up, ask if this relates to you.

Bottom line, if you are a founder / CEO you will likely hold on to specific functions for far too long.  You started the company, did everything or almost everything yourself, and now have begun to hire people to take on key functions and roles.  Maybe you handed off sales management.  Maybe you are planning to hand off development and then professional services.  But likely you keep doing many things that you need to stop doing.  As founder / CEOs, you often complain about how busy things are and how difficult it is to find the time for critical activities, yet an analysis of how you spend your day may suggest that there are better choices for how you allocate your productive time.

Here are some of the most common “other jobs” I have seen CEOs keep.  Are you holding on to these too long?

  • Office manager – the CEO still thinks it is his or her job to deal with telephone issues, the bad air conditioning, the floor plan for the new office, the food and drink management in the kitchen, the choices of snacks.  Add up the hours these jobs take and ask if this time might be better spent elsewhere and if it is worth finding others to take up parts of the tasks.  Do not necessarily hire an admin, but give out parts of jobs to different people.  Or bring on an intern.  Spend your time loading up the pipeline, not the fridge.
  • Basic accounting – running QuickBooks, owning the financial model, doing the accounts payable, writing checks.  Is that really how you want to spend your time?  We rarely back a CEO who is a trained CPA, and for a reason.  We do invest in CEOs who are closet excel data geeks and love their models, but expect them to focus more on the key assumptions and their implications for the business than the formulas.  Face it; you have to give it all up – except for signing checks and sending wires so that you know where the money goes.  Some of these accounting tasks are clerical and others can be handled by part-time CFO support.  Spend your  time scoring goals and let someone else keep score
  • Travel / Calendar Management– Are you still doing your travel?  When the business was small and travel was less frequent, it was easy to go online and book your infrequent travel.  Today, your schedule is in flux, as you throw in last minute city stops to see a prospect or visit an investor.   Travel and calendar become a linear program of your available time and travel constraints, and someone needs to help you do this and do it well.  It feels more egalitarian to do your own travel but what is egalitarian about how hard you are working?
  • HR – People are your biggest asset and you always need to remain deeply involved in talent acquisition, but are you still handling new employee onboarding documentation?  Payroll?  Option grants?  EEOC employer compliance?  When hiring new talent, are you managing the scheduling of interviews with the team and coordinating the process of bringing candidates into the office?  If so, you are probably a bottleneck and losing good candidates.  The CEO’s role is to attract and retain talent, but not to be the human resources department.
  • Chief Everything – at some point you need to realize that you can’t do all of this on your own.  Head of sales, client relationship manager, customer support (with midnight calls coming to you), head of marketing, head of product management, etc. cannot all fall under your area of responsibility.  Some of these roles need to be filled with new hires or delegated to the strong team members you already hired until you have the scale to make the additional hires.

CEO is a full time role that should be focused on addressing how you sell, how you compete, how you hire and motivate a team of A players, and how you finance the business – all while managing high double or triple digit growth.  You can’t do the CEO job well if you wear all these other hats.

The message is not to go hire a lot of people – that is the wrong take-away.  The truth is that when you have only one employee and that employee is you, then you must perform these tasks.  The message here is that you should constantly ask yourself what you should give up, hand over, or hire to fill as your business matures.  By the time you have raised venture investment, much of this should be off your plate or the open organizational slots should be identified, on the org chart, and quickly filled to let you focus where you are most needed.

Failure to delegate and failure to focus time on the right things can often lead to greater and far more painful failures.  We all want you to avoid that.