Are you killing your startup? The Chief Everything Officer Syndrome
Too many startup founders kill their own startup.
Over the past few years, I’ve coached and engaged more than 200 startup founders. At the earliest stages, the founder is a Chief Everything Officer. They are skilled to juggle many things and move their company forward. But those very same Everything Officer skills become liabilities. I’ve seen the Chief Everything Officer fail to raise money, fail to get sales, struggle to be profitable, be replaced by the investor’s pick or even shut down.
The “CEO” Chief Everything Officer
It’s purely understandable at the beginning that startup founders need to be flexible. One day they are posting on social media; the next they are creating a pitch deck for investors, all the while talking to potential customers and checking on the progress of the product. And if they are technical founders, they might actually be coding or engineering the product. The Chief Everything Officer excels at bouncing from one task to another in an endless juggle that all early-stage companies go from idea to product-market fit to first revenues.
As they race to revenue jumping unforeseen hurdles the Chief Everything officer has speed, positivity and agility. They have endurance and fortitude. The founder is tenacious at keeping everything and everyone moving forward.
Attributes of a Chief Everything Officer
This ability to be everywhere and execute or be involved in everything is a significant skill. It demonstrates to investors you have the scrappiness and can-do attitude to achieve lots with very few resources.
The Chief Everything Officer Syndrome
But all too often the Chief Everything Officer stays a Chief Everything Officer for way too long. When this happens, I call that the Chief Everything Officer Syndrome. The skills that worked so well at the beginning cause the company to wither.
There are two types of Chief Everything Syndrome – Do Everything versus Check Everything.
As the name implies, “Chief Do-Everything Syndrome” happens when the founder or founders “Do Everything” themselves. They solve problems by performing things themselves or allowing the team to implement them themselves. Technical founders often stay writing software for way too long and are constantly coding themselves. Business founders are often tweaking the product design, and handling all the non-technical tasks, for way too long.
The Do Everything founders fail to recruit people (including part-time, fractional, or temporary people) to the team. I often hear the complaint — “We don’t have the money so it’s cheaper to do it ourselves” This is just an excuse, to avoid solving the real problem — how to build and grow the business.
By contrast, the Check-Everything founder is clever to hire and recruit people to the team, yet they are in every meeting, making every decision and ensuring every employee is doing their job. They are constantly securing updated statuses from everyone. Emails from the founder at 2 AM are common. These types of companies can merely grow to the length of the founder’s arms.
Symptoms of the Chief Everything Officer
- In every meeting.
- Checking in with everyone all the time (Texting 7days 24 hours/day)
- Performing mundane work (opening the office mail)
- Doing work someone else can do just as well if not better.
- Harried and rushing from place to place.
- Rarely on time. Makes others wait.
- Consuming as much information as possible.
- Doing first, and short changing thinking.
- Telling people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it
Now you might think that the Do-Everything and Check-Everything merely happens in very small startups (< 20 people). But the reality is that these problems can arise in any company. But when they arise in a startup, the problems are magnified 10-fold. Customers get angry. Employees quit sooner. Investors get unhappy and look to safeguard their investments.
Curing the Chief Everything Officer Syndrome
You can start by becoming more aware. A few times throughout the day just spend 5 or 10 minutes checking in with yourself. This mindfulness technique doesn’t judge. You are simply letting yourself focus inwardly. You are noting how you feel, and how often you are doing anything on the symptoms list. Are you anxious? Stressed? Focused?
This will get you started, and in the upcoming article, I’ll explain some detailed steps you can undertake. Meantime, the first step is recognizing the symptoms. Are you a Chief Everything Officer?
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