How To Know When It's Time To Fire Yourself

As much as it may pain you to cede total control of the company you founded, don't become a victim of your own success—if you're dropping balls while trying to juggle the roles of founder the CEO, it's time to bring in another set of hands at the top.

It takes months—or even years—of concepts, crazy fanatical visions, and sleepless nights to morph a great idea into a successful business. As most technology vendors will tell you, a vision requires the support of a core team to foster its initial growth and turn what’s just a concept into a technology that sells.

By the time your idea is cultivated, your business may have grown to a few employees with a constant change and flow of ideas. As your team grows, you may start to notice that your role as a CEO—managing, executing, communicating and making decisions—does not exactly leave you time to do the things that were so essential to your start-up in the first place as its founder, like defining and maintaining your overall company vision.

Realistically, acting as the founder and CEO of a quick-growing company are almost exclusive, with exceptions like the influential Mark Zuckerberg being few and far between. When you begin to see your company growing at a steady rate, it might be time to take a step back and let a new CEO take the reigns, even if it means firing yourself.

Signs You're Ready for a Change

In the typical all-hands-on-deck start-up culture, keeping an eye out for signs of "dropped balls"—or things that are not getting done on time—is imperative. You might realize you let a project go incomplete for a week, or you went a full month without hiring another employee when your current employees are drowning in a heavy workload. Frustrated complaints from employees and customers serve as signs you are ignoring either the organization of your company or the technology itself. If you are filling the shoes of both a CEO and the founder, you’ll quickly notice the impossibility of keeping your company’s operations and technology running smoothly at the same time.

Operationally, the startup culture demands a strong focus on hiring people who are a fit for the company and will bring needed attributes to the table. The buck does not stop at the recruitment however, and requires hours spent interviewing, collaborating on contract previsions, training and bringing new hires up to speed. At the same time, in the early days of a startup, special attention needs to be paid to payment processes, strategically managing venture capital, and establishing a unique company culture.

On the technology side, a happy-go-lucky feeling of customer support can be blinding. It feels like everyone will love your product forever, and you can finally take a deep breath to focus on the operational to-dos that have been calling your name for a month. Yet you begin to drop the ball on new features you had promised, fixing glitches in the technology, or properly handling customer complaints.

Falling behind operationally or with your technology, the bread and butter of your business, will negatively impact, or even destroy, your company’s future. Dropped balls serve as signs you’re ready for a change and illustrate where a newly hired CEO could fit best and where you really need help. Understanding the holes of your business strategy and realizing where you’re dropping the ball—whether operational or technological—makes bringing on a CEO an obvious, although intimidating, solution.

Hiring an Outside CEO Enables Future Growth

You might find yourself making excuses for a solid three months before realizing you are just prolonging finding somebody to help you out. Whether you are busy fostering quick growth or feeling overwhelmed with all you need to do, making the switch from playing multiple roles to letting somebody else step in to help can alleviate the pressure brought on by the quick-paced reality of the start-up world.

When the timing is right to bring in an outside CEO, you will have already developed relationships within your business and people you trust who will work together to choose the perfect candidate. In some situations, a board of directors can be helpful in choosing an outside CEO, as they approach the decision from the investor and venture capitalist point-of-view.

When it was time for me to take a step back from playing the CEO role at TrackVia, we were growing rapidly and had begun to see potential for higher revenue and serving our customers in a larger capacity. We quickly realized the importance of bringing somebody in to properly foster TrackVia’s growth and lead our team to success.

As a founder, it’s intimidating to consider the reality of bringing in an outside CEO, but you have to remember that you have a team of support that understands your vision and wants to see the business succeed just as much as you do. The actual process of finding a perfect-fit CEO was much easier than I expected, because my team and I were on the same page from the get-go. If your vision is clear-cut and you are growing at a too-rapid-to-handle rate, you are ready.

Getting Back to the Basics, Playing the Role of a Founder

Firing myself out of the CEO role meant I was free to focus fully on my role as a founder. When you are bogged down in management, recruiting, hiring and executing a plan, it leaves little time for coming up with creative ideas that keep your business on the forefront of industry developments. As the founder, you want to see your business succeed and you realize that your initial idea was vital to its success. If you are too busy and out of time to nurture your idea to its fullest, you risk losing years of future success.

Bringing in a CEO lets you do what you do best—ensuring your business continues to grow and succeed. Giving up some control might be best in the long run, whether it means stepping back to let others play vital roles in your company’s birth, or firing yourself to make room for a new CEO.

—Author Chris Basham is the chief operating officer and cofounder of TrackVia. Prior to founding TrackVia, he was CEO and founder of OTO Software; he began his professional career as a jet navigator in the United States Navy.

[Image: Flickr user Walt Stoneburner]

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