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Taking Your Seat as a CEO

Evgeny Shadchnev
Evgeny Shadchnev
6 min read

How does the founder CEO actually become the CEO? What is it like to go through this transition? How can a group of peers support you?

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You are the CEO of the startup you founded. You work incredibly hard. Your company survived against all odds. You built a team you're proud of. You might have raised investment and now feel the pressure to deliver the returns. You put out fires every day, but new ones are coming up all the time.

You feel like you're supposed to have all the answers: for the team, for the board, for the customers, for the co-founders. You're expected to show vulnerability and still be killing it; to deliver results and focus on mental health; to be realistic and believe you'll change the world. You're never alone, but you're often lonely.

As the company keeps growing, the pressure increases and yet you feel like you're already at capacity. This is the moment when founders need to take their seat as a CEO to keep scaling, together with the company.

"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult."
Warren Bennis

Transition from a founder to a CEO

The job of a founder is to create a company, build the early team and make sure the startup doesn't crash during takeoff. This is a period when founders rely on their instinct to build the first version of the product, make first sales and make crucial first hires. Founders are intimately familiar with, and have an opinion on, everything that happens in their company, as they should in the early days. Founders are obsessed with finding out what might work, whereas CEOs are focused on running things that work already.

The job of a CEO is to run the business, making sure it achieves its goals. CEOs are focused on building the company that is building the product. They delegate a lot in order to focus on crucial decisions that cannot be delegated. Intimate obsession with every detail that was so helpful earlier is now described by the team as micromanagement.

If founders behave like CEOs too early, the startup is unlikely to survive. If the founders don't take their seat as a CEO as their business grows, they'll stifle its growth.

A client of mine likened it to jumpstarting a car. At first, you have to push the car to get it going. If you don't, the car won't start. At some point you need to jump behind the wheel and start the engine. If you don't, the car won't start.

At some point you need to jump behind the wheel and start the engine.

There's no playbook for the founder to CEO transition, which can be a very confusing time, especially for first-time CEOs.

I know this from personal experience. I founded Makers and took it to £7m+ of revenue and a team of 60, learning how to take my seat as a CEO. I learned that the process of taking your seat as a CEO is largely about personal growth, which has few shortcuts.

You never stop being a founder, though. In fact, you learn to choose between your founder skillset when the situation demands it (creating something new) and your CEO skillset when needed (operating an existing business).

The CEO job spec

The CEO has three jobs:

  1. Hold and constantly communicate the vision
  2. Build the team
  3. Make sure there's cash in the bank.

In reality, the job spec is slightly more complex. There's stakeholder management as the number of investors, key customers, partners and employees is starting to grow. The communication evolves from having a pizza lunch with the entire team around the table to regular and deliberate engagement with the team, the board and the press. There's M&A and international expansion with unpredictable challenges. And, of course, you can't be a leader if you don't have followers who willingly choose to be led by you, trust you and respect you.

Yet, these three points are a useful guiding principle for a founder who's taking her seat as a CEO. Whether you're leading a company, a team or a single person, the job is the same: decide what needs to be done, choose who to trust it to, give them resources to succeed.

CEO Peer Group

There's no course you can take to learn how to take a seat as a CEO. You learn it by doing it. However, in my job as a CEO of Makers two things supported me. First, working 1:1 with an executive coach on my specific challenges, and, second, being part of a trusted group of other CEOs on the same journey.

I'm currently forming a group of up to six startup founders who are learning to take a seat as a CEO to go on a six month journey together.

Who is is for?

This group is for you if:

  • you are a founder and a CEO of a company that achieved a degree of success but is not close to reaching its potential yet
  • you built an early team but can sense that unless you take your seat as a CEO, the business won't scale
  • you are willing to schedule in and prioritise monthly group sessions as high as your board meetings
  • you are willing to be open and vulnerable, looking to learn what your fears and dreams might be trying to tell you
  • you know by now that you alone have the power to find answers to your most difficult questions.

The most important feature of such a peer group are the six people who are taking part. Are they on the same journey? Are they equally ambitious? Are they willing to be open and vulnerable with each other? Are they willing to help others just as much as they want to grow themselves? If you are invited to take part, please be assured that the other five individuals are on the same trajectory as you are.

Finally, I will aim to make sure that this group is as diverse as possible so that we could all learn from our different experiences.

How will it work?

The group will run for six months using the following structure:

  • A monthly four hour remote group meeting facilitated by me in which we will share lessons from our journey and learn from each other. The ground rules are no fixing each other and no advice giving. We are here to listen, accept, support and share, not to tell others what to do. The agenda and the structure for the meeting will be chosen following individual coaching sessions and so will be tailored to this group.
  • A monthly 1:1 90 minute remote coaching session with me, in which we will focus on your specific challenges.
  • A weekly scheduled 30 minute journaling time, with the journaling prompt sent to you at the beginning of your journaling slot. I'll choose weekly journaling prompts for you based on your specific situation following our first coaching session.
  • One book per month to read before every group session. The six books will be the same for everyone (unless you already read it), and will cover different aspects of the transition from being a founder to being a CEO. This is not a book club, so we won't discuss them but they will still inform our group conversations.

What can you expect from it?

At the end of the six months, you will have reflected a lot on your transition from the founder to the CEO. You will also have enough time to put what you learned into practice and observe the results in your business.

Throughout this process, you will also observe how other CEOs on the same journey are dealing with their challenges and learn from them. As a coach, I will be there to support you individually and as a group.

Ultimately, you'll learn what it means to take a seat as a CEO.

Who is in?

I will form the group once I can confirm all participants to make sure balance of perspectives and experiences is there. All founders I'm talking to in order to build this group are either VC-backed or bootstrapped on a similar growth trajectory who are past the idea stage and are learning how to grow their business but not at the Series B stage yet.

How much does it cost?

£1,000/month over six months.

When do we start?

We will start in August/September 2021 subject to invidividual availability. Please apply by the end of June by filling out this typeform ⇩