Why Founders Fail – TechCrunch on The Product CEO Paradox

If you’re a founder, building a startup, ask yourself a question.
Are you a product CEO?

Startup founder at work?

Startup founders at work? Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/joceykinghorn/14278479592/ Jocey K, via Creative Commons license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Do all startup founders fail at some point? Which founders will fail and why?

In our work at Entiviti, we help startups. We help lots of startups in small ways, such as 1-hr consultation, strategy or pitch practice sessions. We help others in bigger ways, like launching into new markets and/or driving business development in general. We work with founders of all types.

But which types of founders are the “best”?

Ben Horowitz from Andreesen Horowitz wrote a guest post on TechCrunch about why some product CEO founders fail at some point. It’s an interesting read.

Some of the key points:

The founder doesn’t really want to be CEO. Not every inventor wants to run a company and if you don’t really want to be CEO, your chances for success will be exceptionally low. The CEO skill set is incredibly difficult to master, so without a strong desire to do so the founder will fail. If you are a founder who doesn’t want to be CEO, that’s fine, but you should figure that out early and save yourself and everyone else a lot of pain.

The board panics. Sometimes the founder does want to be CEO, but the board sees her making mistakes, panics and replaces her prematurely. This is tragic, but common.

The Product CEO Paradox. Many founders run smack into the Product CEO Paradox…

And here’s the secret sauce in the article:

The only thing that will wreck a company faster than the product CEO being highly engaged in the product is the product CEO disengaging from the product.

I’ve been a startup CEO. I’ve been a startup founder multiple times, both solo and as part of a founding team. All are difficult and challenging. I’ve actually been guilty of being too disconnected from the product on one of my startups. I spent all my time on customer development, making sure we could meet product/market fit to keep our customers paying and happy. I lost track of where we spent the majority of our development time (e.g. content editor, payment system, product catalog, custom fields, etc). We ended up doing a lot of work that was surplus to market needs.

So how do you balance it? In fact, this is the real magic – maintain essential involvement. I know that this is easier said than done for 99% of all founders out there. But luckily, there are a few guidelines:

1. Keep and drive the product vision

2. Maintain the quality standard

3. Be the integrator

4. Make people consider the data they don’t have

5. Write it; don’t say it

6. Formalize and attend product reviews

7. Don’t communicate direction outside of your formal mechanisms

To me, this last point is the most crucial. If you can keep your team humble and aware that they don’t have all the answers, they are forced to seek answers from others on the team.

I highly encourage all founders to read this post in detail. In fact, bookmark it!

Posted in business, startups

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