Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. As my company gets to the next phase, I wonder whether I need to move away from being an individual contributor and delegate a role that I love, that I’m good at, and that’s strategically vital to the company. How can I keep doing these pieces while making sure I build the organization responsibly?
-Founder working in my area of expertise
Congrats on doing something you love—and finding success pursuing your passion.
I can’t help but wonder if you’re more concerned about this situation than necessary. Before you get too far ahead of yourself, let’s take a step back to reassess. I know that you are trying to scale the company, but that doesn’t mean that you must give up the stuff that’s soul food for you and that you’re great at doing. You should continue to invest your energy in these areas—this is what drives you and the organization. Furthermore, you will find that spending time on what’s in your “genius zone” gives you the energy and insight to see where the company is intended to go—and how you can help it get there.
When looking at balancing what you are passionate about with what must be done to take the company to the next level, recognize it does not have to be “either/or.” It may be “and.” The question should be: How can you do what you love AND enable the business to grow successfully?
You may find that you can stay involved in the work you are uniquely good at and that you learn to enjoy and excel at new responsibilities. It is typical for CEOs to wear many hats. CEOs are responsible to help find, cultivate and retain customers. Many successfully fundraise even though they never have before. Many become masters of recruiting even though they don’t have a background in hiring talent. Many get involved in building the company’s culture and inspiring the team.
These are all things that need to be done to build a company. Someone has to lead these things, not all the time, but most of the time. So, the first step is to gain awareness about all the things it will take to scale the company and then determine who will be the one to do it. It maybe you—or it may be someone else. In certain areas, it may be better to find someone with more experience who is stellar at it. Furthermore, you shouldn’t be afraid to hire people better than yourself at the thing you think you’re best at. As CEO your ultimate accountability is to the company.
Now, if your company is a startup, I understand that you may not have the budget to outsource all the necessary elements and it may be some time until you have a strong enough team that can do these things better than you. In the meantime, you will have to keep everything running but the long-term solution is to plan to find others to do some of these pieces. It does not make sense for you to sacrifice what you are uniquely qualified to do to for roles that can be managed by someone else.
Overall, it’s important to see that there are different ways you can approach the CEO role. There are so many models out there. One option would be for you to be the CEO and chief scientist and have someone else do the day-to-day administration in the role of a COO. Successful partnerships have been struck time and again. Think of Steve Jobs who spent most of his time on product and brand while Tim Cook ran a lot of the operations. When I was the COO of eBay, I handled the back-office infrastructure so CEO Meg Whitman could pour her energies into strategy, product, brand, and everything that was externally focused. When I was Chairman of Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer spent a lot of time on product and engineering and the Chief Revenue Officer focused on sales. At WIN, we’ve seen founders who have preferred being head of technology to head of the company and ultimately stepped aside let someone more experienced on the go-to-market side become the CEO.
There’s no playbook for how to be a CEO; everyone does it differently. The only constant when building a company is that it’s not a solo sport. It takes a village to scale and grow. And you will be much more fulfilled, and your company will be much more successful if you don’t give up what you love.