How should a tech startup founder use their time?
It is usually a very difficult transition for founders to make from being the leader of a fledgling tech startup still in the early stages of product development and discovery to a CEO of a medium sized company with teams of people serving their products to a whole market of customers.
The hardest part of this is shifting priorities and focus away from what they used to do every day to what it is that you need to be doing now.
What do you need to stop doing?
The hardest thing founders need to stop doing as they transition to being CEOs is controlling the smaller details of their product development and strategy. No doubt in the early stages most founders are hands-on in their product development. After all, product development is the primary function in the early stages. However, after the startup has grown and achieved product-market fit the product development becomes product production and it is a largely different process.
Founders need to let go of product strategy and development and delegate it to others. As a CEO its very hard to have control and responsibility for both business commercial operations and also product strategy. Most founder pick one or the other, and ultimately public company CEOs pick neither and manage a cross-functional team that takes accountability for these areas (and others).
What should you be doing?
In my opinion the scaling CEO should probably be focused on the overall business strategy. This includes but is not limited to:
Raising Capital. If your startup isn’t yet profitable or wants to undertake rapid growth you will need cash.
Hiring and Retaining the Best Team. Great leaders surround themselves with great people. People they trust, empower, motivate and inspire to achieve incredible outcomes.
Define and Communicate the Vision and Strategy. You are responsible for steering the company in the right direction and towards your overall vision.
Driving Commercial Sales and Partnerships. In the scaling phase of a business it is all about consistent and significant revenue growth.
Now the CEO might be a very engineering and tech focused founder. That’s fine and can work, but then you really need to look at hiring and empowering a very senior executive to take point on growing the business (think CRO, CBO, or COO). Google, Meta, Tesla, SpaceX and many others take that approach - but the technical CEO needs to empower the commercial lead.
At the end of the day though founders don’t have to be the CEO. If the role of CEO isn’t right for them then they should not be too proud to keep their hands dirty and give the role of CEO to someone else. They will still be the founder and no one can take that away from you.
TAKEAWAY: Founders need to transition in their roles and responsibilities as the startup grows and prospers. Moving away from a day-to-day focus on products towards a broader company focus. Founders ultimately need to decide if this is a transition they want to make or delegate the role of CEO to someone else.