CEOs get fired all the time. Founder-CEOs getting fired seems rarer these days, though.  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 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.

It still happens, and thankfully, it happens a lot more often with inappropriate behavior. As it should. CEOs ousted for improper misconduct hit a high.

But Founder-CEOs being ousted feels rarer outside of bad conduct these days. Especially, with control provisions, founders get now.

In SaaS, if we look at the top SaaS companies that have IPO’d, the vast majority still seem to have the founder CEO as CEO.  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):

  • Zoom: Yes
  • Zuora: Yes

This doesn’t mean it is easy.  It probably never really gets easier.  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 are owning too many functional areas.

At the Top SaaS Companies, Founder-CEOs Own ~15% at IPO. And Most Co-Founders Are Not Equal (And That’s OK).

I’m Tired of Running My Successful Start-up After X Years. What Should I Do?


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