Non-founder CEOs get fired all the time — and these days, are quitting more often than ever.
Founder-CEOs getting fired seems rarer these days, though. OpenAIs, Ubers and WeWorks aside.
Two that would be hard to imagine happening today:
- Pushing Steve Jobs out of Apple.
- Pushing Sergey Brin + Larry Page “down” to bring in an Outside CEO.
A few that we don’t hear about too much:
- Elon Musk pushing out the first CEO of Tesla. A necessity for funding. All the money was gone and the Roadster was hopelessly behind schedule and cost targets.
- Reed Hastings taking over as CEO of Netflix when he lost confidence in his co-founder.
Today, tech is so much bigger. And we believe in the cult of the CEO much more. And more importantly, we’ve seen how so many of the very biggest, very best in tech in general and SaaS in particular are still run by founders. Founder-CEOs being ousted is rarer outside of bad conduct these days. Especially, with control provisions, founders get now.
In SaaS, if we look at 60+ of the top SaaS companies that have IPO’d, the vast majority still seem to have the founder CEO as CEO at IPO. Almost 90%.
The vast majority. And the few that don’t generally had a founder that decided to bring someone else in themselves (often a CTO type):
The most recent SaaS IPO, Klaviyo? Led again by a Founder CEO.
This doesn’t mean it is easy. It never really gets easier. But you do get better. I thought several times about bringing in a CEO to replace me at Adobe Sign / EchoSign. But I don’t now. I know I have weaknesses, I know I get tired. I know I get behind on recruiting. Sometimes, the beach does beckon a bit. But I also know I can go the distance. You just get to be sure an expert in your subject, your customers, and your product. 9 times out of 10, you can do it better than someone else. Even if that someone else has more years of experience.
If you are feeling like you need to bring someone is as CEO, perhaps you do. Perhaps you’ll grow even faster and better in that case. But 9 times out of 10, you’ll do even better if you bring in a COO or that Key Missing VP instead.
Probably the real issue is you own too many functional areas. Go fix that first.
Now having said all that, we are seeing more CEO turn-over a few years or more post IPO, from Elastic to HubSpot and more, just due to ti
me in the saddle. Few of us can truly do it forever. But make it to the IPO and beyond? You can do it. Most of the best have. Go copy them.
And a related post here: