On Founders Not Being CEO

I often think about my decision to make someone else the ‘CEO’ as Ministry of Testing.  And as anyone would, they would look for stories about others doing the same.

I love the Indie Hackers community and was listening to this podcast with Max Lytvyn from Grammarly.  In it he discusses his reason for him and the other co-founder to bring in a CEO instead of taking the role on themselves.

Below is the section I’ve copied from the podcast transcript:

Max Lytvyn

Another interesting decision was to bring a CEO on board. Neither of us, nor Alex, so my cofounder nor I, are CEOs. We partnered with Brad Hoover, who’s now CEO of Grammarly. And our decision to bring on board an external CEO was driven by a realization that, well, the company is going to grow to a certain scale that none of us grew a company before, and it will require certain skills and certain talents that we may not necessarily have right now and may not be as passionate about growing necessarily.

My passion is around growth and around customers. Alex’s passion is around designing magical experiences for users and beautiful products. But building a world-class company requires many more things beyond that. So that’s why we decided to bring on board a CEO with a kind of more rounded experience and talent profile.

Courtland Allen:

That makes a lot of sense, but at the same time it seems like an extremely difficult decision to make because you guys have grown this company by yourselves the entire time. An outsider kind of risks ruining everything, so how do you even how about that process of finding the right person?

Max Lytvyn:

It was hard. We actually worked with Brad for, I think, six months or maybe even more in a consulting capacity before we started talking about him being the CEO. So there was a long process. But I think what helped us make this decision was that both Alex and I are generally very humble people. We didn’t have an ambition to, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to be the master of this company or I’m going to have the highest title in the company.” It wasn’t for us ever about that. It was just about doing something cool, something interesting, and seeing how far we can push it.

Because we were not focused on titles or power, it made the decision so much easier for us. It wasn’t seen as a sacrifice or as a step back. I often see discussions where founders vilify investors because investors suggest hiring an external CEO or hiring an executive of some kind, and that just doesn’t make much sense to me. Well, in some cases, there is something wrong there, but in general, that concept is very valid. Just because you started something doesn’t mean that you’re optimal person to be the CEO of it in every stage of that company’s growth.

For me, not being CEO is so I can focus on the things that bring me joy.  Max refers to passions.  For me, it’s not so much about passions, it’s about all the things involved in me needing to lead the life that I want to live – that’s a mixture of doing work that I enjoy whilst also being a person that lives a life of fruitful balance.

Being CEO involves many things that I don’t necessarily want to be doing on a daily basis.  Things that I wasn’t enjoying doing and was driving me to hate the company I had created. Things that, after working with Richard for almost 2 years, I knew he would do a better job than I.

The Ministry of Testing community is amazing in so many ways.  I’m so proud, beyond proud, of what it has become.  And I’ve always had it stuck in my head that this MoT thing is not about me. It’s about the community. It’s about every individual that makes it a whole.

Every decision I make, may not always be right, but I try my best and always ask: is this the best thing for the MoT Community?

Increasingly I feel it is this focus on community that I believe I need to keep working on, evolving and have the freedom to explore.  So I will do that, for now.  It is important work that gets me excited and fired up.

 

One comment on “On Founders Not Being CEO

  1. -

    Great post, and inspired decision.

    While at Hindsight I have the title of CEO that is purely for the external/customer view/expectation. Internaly we have a leadership pair, the visionary and the integrator, and I’m in the visionary seat.

    We implemented the system after reading a book called rocket fuel. It demonstrated that most successful companies have this leadership pair; the Disney brothers are a good example of this.

    These two roles play to the strengths and passions of the individuals in these seats but they must complement each other. The visionary is the ideas person and thought leader, but 1 in 10 of thr ideas are great and the rest are a distraction. The integrator filters these ideas and keeps the vissionary focused. The integrator has the final call on all big decisions and not the visionary, this is why it does not meet the normal CEO template.

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