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An overwhelmed founder ponders whether to hand over the reins

Replacing yourself as CEO may or may not be the solution, says Maynard Webb. First ask yourself: What is “soul food” for you?

An overwhelmed founder ponders whether to hand over the reins
[Photo: Gearstd/iStock]
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Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, offers candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I love this company and am energized by the chance to build it into something great, but I’m not sure I know enough about all that I need to do, which makes me wonder if I’m the right person for this job. Also, I’m so consumed [with work] that I hardly see my family. I’ve been seriously thinking about replacing myself as CEO. I need to understand what this really means.

—Founder of an early-stage startup

Dear Founder,

I’m concerned that there’s something deeper going on here than I may be able to address in a few paragraphs. I would love the opportunity to listen more first to see how I can help.

What’s really driving your desire for the change right now? Have you achieved what you aspire to do? I ask because this isn’t happening after a several-decades run in which you want to go do other things. So, has something happened that has shaken your resolve? Do you feel you are not able to run the company, that this is not within your capabilities? Or, are you more exhausted and overwhelmed by the demands of building a startup on your own? Are you doing more jobs than any one person should be doing and now doubting yourself and not enjoying your life? 

What is soul food for you? I’d like you to identify what you are great at, what you are passionate about, and check in to see if that’s what you’re doing. You should be doing the things that you are uniquely qualified to do—the things that are in your “genius zone.” And you should let go of the others. 

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My advice:

  1. Take a step back and assess what is causing you the concern. What’s going on that has you doubting if you are the right person to achieve this? Is it going to get better? In other words, is this a short-term or long-term issue? If it’s a short-term issue—this doubt is tied to a particular challenge you are trying to overcome right now—picture yourself beyond this point and stay calm until you are past it. If you are facing more of a long-term issue—something that will not be resolved in a fixed period of time—figure out a strategy and execution plan to solve for it. 
  2. Don’t try to do everything yourself. I know as a startup founder you have to wear a lot of hats, but sometimes you need to hire people to help you. 
  3. Assess your cash position. Often startups don’t have enough cash to get to the next fundable event. Since you’re not cash-flow positive day one, you should always be looking to raise enough money to get you to the next stage. I like to see startups have 18-24 months of funding available on hand to get to the next hurdle. 

You had the vision to found your company and get it this far. I’d like to believe that you are onto something that will make a difference in the world and that will be soul food for you. I have enormous respect for founders who create something out of nothing, and I want to see you lead this company to greatness. However, you must also take care of the rest of your life. Look at the whole thing like a puzzle. It’s hard to put everything together, but it’s possible. And when you complete it, it’s a perfect picture. It’s amazing to have the initiative to create a company and make progress on it, but remember to take time for yourself and your family to ensure everything is still standing and everyone will be there for you when you achieve the dream.