Don’t let being CEO get in your way of working on the product

When you start a company, you have one thing to worry about: product.

But as you grow, other things get in the way: raising money, hiring, board meetings, finances, legal, HR, marketing, office management, customer support and more. All these things need to get done, and responsibility usually falls on the company’s CEO.

If you ask startup CEOs, many will say they spend 70% of their time recruiting and hiring. After Posterous raised our series A, that’s exactly what I was doing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I didn’t want to spend 70% of my time hiring; I wanted to work on the product.

My role at Posterous has changed significantly since Garry and I started the company just two years ago. When we started, we were in Boston hacking code as fast as possible. We had nothing to worry about except building and shipping features. Now, I rarely code.

Not coding doesn’t really bother me. I love programming, but I also love all the other parts of running a company. But what happened over the past few months is I veered too far away from working on the product. I was delegating the very thing that had made me start Posterous.

I didn’t start Posterous because I wanted to run a company. I started Posterous because I wanted to build Posterous.

Our lead investor, Satish, recently wrote, “Founders should be CEOs.” Satish believes that a founder should push the culture and product vision of a company. I agree completely.

A founder should define the vision for a start up. This primarily includes product vision and what markets the company should be in and when.

But I don’t think it’s enough for a founder to define the product vision; they need to be right there in all the details. Founders should be the product managers, overseeing each feature.

Well, I’m happy to say that something incredible has happened in the past couple of months: Posterous has hired many talented people, and I’ve been able to once again focus on product. This exactly proves another of Satish’s points:

If the founder can hire great people to run sales, marketing and operations (like a COO) at the right time *and* delegate operations to someone else who understands how to scale a business, I think they can continue to focus on vision and culture of the company.

My advice to founders: if you’re up for it, you should absolutely take on the CEO role. It’s incredibly exciting, you will learn a ton, and there’s nothing better for the company than to have the founder’s vision at the top.

But, don’t let being CEO get in the way of doing what you love, whatever that may be. Hire incredible people who you can delegate to, but don’t delegate the thing you love most.

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10 comments

  1. Great post. Helps us understand better what you are facing. Makes us more patient. Best of luck, Penelope

  2. What you describe in this post is the topic of a great book on entrepreneurship and startups: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. Here is a link: http://www.amazon.com/E-Myth-Revisited-Small-Businesses-About/dp/0887307280/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277226671&sr=8-1My summary: most people start businesses because they love to do something. However, the one’s who are successful make the transition from loving what they do, to loving process of building the business itself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still be working on product, but you would be providing the vision and the feature-set for the product, but build a team around you that can execute on that vision. It’s been a while since I read the book, but I’ve been meaning to go back to it and re-read it. Another book I think you would find interesting right now is Outrageous Optimism from Jack Roseman who is a personal friend and mentor. Here is the link for that one: http://www.amazon.com/Outrageous-Optimism-Wisdom-Entepreneurial-Journey/dp/0974513512/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277227142&sr=8-1

  3. <html><head></head><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">thanks, manu! i was able to get those books used on amazon. awesome<br><div><div></div></div></body></html>

  4. nice post Sachin, sent it to my CEO 🙂 looking forward to the meetup! Posterous was awesome when you launched, and now, as more & more features get added, ie: pages, you’re just making the best better!

  5. So true! My biz partner and I just had this conversation this morning – we need to keep doing what we love while we are building our company. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Thanks for your vision. Posterous is amazing. For the past year I have been spinning my wheels trying to figure out how to manage & market my new business on my own. It’s kind of impossible to do if you want to grow. I spend about 25% of my time doing the making/developing and 75% marketing, networking, & doing admin stuff. Your not alone. I’m so happy that someone finally took the time to develop a tool that feeds into all of my social media accounts & I can’t wait to see what’s coming in the future. Keep up the good work.Lauren Nicole

  7. Very honest and interesting observations! The challenge is in bringing the right people to take position at the helm especially before Series A

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