To a Better Place: When is It Time as CEO/Founder to Move On?

Yesterday it was announced that Shai Agassi, one of the most successful software entrepreneurs/executives of all time, had left Better Place, his latest company and incredibly aggressive plan to make electrification of cars work via replaceable batteries, after 5+ long years.  I never met him personally other than a handshake, but he was an electric speaker, clearly a visionary and incredible leader.  He rose to #2 at SAP, and his direct team, the ones I’ve met, were outstanding.  Presumably, the calling came to do “something more”, and Make the World a Better Place.

I don’t know the details, other than one: it took longer, and was harder, than expected by the investors that put in $750,000,000 basically pre-traction. {Since I also co-founded the only battery start-up that even made its investors any money, I wished he’d asked me first, but he didn’t.  Never mind.}

Which brings up a question, as a CEO / founder:  When is it time to move on?

Obviously, if your start-up fails completely, it’s a question to ignore.  If it explodes beyond your wildest dream, and you can manage to keep up and build a strong team, the answer is a long time.  Gates and Ballmer.

Where it gets harder, is when you are doing well, but not completely killing it.  For SaaS, this often can be growing in the 50-90% YoY range.  Not > 100%, when it all comes together.  Not < 50% … where it clearly isn’t working.

In this mid range, you have to wonder: Would the company do better with a new CEO?  “a real CEO”?  New blood?  Could he or she recruit a better team?  Raise (more) capital?  Or even if you are great, is it just time for a change?

It’s a question that to be honest most founders ask themselves, but can never really share with anyone.  You certainly can’t ask your team if it’s time.

Being objective, now on the outside, I think I see a few key answers though:

  • When in doubt, stay on.  If you have some traction, then the company is probably better, and you are doing better, than you think.  Give yourself more credit.
  • If it’s early, stay on.  Shai made it 5+ years.  If you’re just exhausted, buck up.  Somehow.  Find a way to do another tour of duty.
  • Meet some theoretical CEO candidates — to learn.  You may learn you are, pound for pound, better than all of them.  They may have longer resumes, but you know your company soup-to-nuts.
  • Build out your team as much as you can.  Get some of the load taken off your shoulders with a few A players on your team.  You’ll be amazed what just one more A player on your senior team will do here.

SaaS start-ups take time.  I think it’s hard to give 100%, 100 hours-a-week, for more than 4 or 5 years.  Hopefully, in SaaS, by that point you’re larger enough to have a strong bench to carry a lot of the load.  If not, but you are still making progress — then think about it.  Not before.

image from here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,634 other followers

%d bloggers like this: