When, if ever, does it make sense for a company to have co-CEOs?

It makes sense when it’s true. Otherwise, it’s a terrible idea.

Co-CEOs are very confusing:

  • Investors and media will be very confused. VCs get a bit spooked by co-CEOs. Who am I betting on?
  • Employees will be confused. Who’s the boss? Both of them? What does that mean? What if they say different things? What if they fight? What if I see them yelling at each other?
  • Your VPs may be confused. This has some positives, but a lot of negatives. VPs really need just one boss, or it’s really hard on them to figure out the true priorities. VPs always worry a lot about making their CEO happy. Worrying twice can be debilitating.
  • The co-CEOs may themselves be confused. This is the real, biggest issue. Is this an ego thing? Are the two of you thoughtful enough to truly divide up the universe in a thoughtful, efficient way?

But … sometimes, if you really get the right co-founder … it is true.

Sometimes, you really do have a 1+1=3 with two CEOs. And the confusion, the lack of orthodoxy, and all that is worth it. In these cases, it’s a super power. It lets the company be two places at once. Handle two crises at once. Make stronger decisions. Recruit faster and better.

So don’t do it. 95% chance it’s an ego thing and you are kicking issues down the road.

But if it’s really true. Then ignore the rules. And do what it takes to do something special.

I’ve worked in this environment twice. Once, it led to lack of alignment on direction, ego issues, and founder divorce. But the other time is was true. And it created a resilience at the CEO-level I’ve never seen before.

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Published on February 4, 2018

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