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Complementing a Visionary Founder with a Scaler CEO

I had lunch with the Founder of one of the startups I’m working with and the company’s CEO. The Founder is the visionary, and ran the business for the last several years. Early this year, the Founder tapped the CEO from the outside to take over the company’s day-to-day.

Normally, the CEO role encompasses strategic and visionary activities; however, in this case, the company Founder continues the strategic duties. The CEO is the “scaler”.

I sat down with the CEO privately to ask him what being a scaler meant to him:
  • Does not need to be the one with the original idea. Instead, he embraces ambiguity in the direction of the company, and is excited for the opportunity to grow (scale)
  • Instills processes to complement startup scrappiness with structure. The startup, in this case, has product-market fit, revenue, and a sense of the future direction – prime opportunity for a scaler. As an early-stage startup, processes are more machine gun spray. With maturity, the scaler focuses the company on a clearer target
  • Supports structure by promoting and hiring the right team members. The scaler identifies non-contributing links and removes them while filling gaps with trusted colonels from outside or promoting from within
  • Balances the values and ethos of the startup with structure and governance. As a company starts to scale, structures will develop to support growing lines of communication, product development, marketing and sales, etc. Delegation and accountability is shifted to provide effective lines of leadership and support
Some entrepreneurs thrive on building companies from scratch but are less interested at some level of maturity. For the benefit of the company and its stakeholders, it’s important to realize the gaps in the team via the management team or simple self-awareness. Then, augment the team with complementary leaders to grow efficiently.

What are the benefits of having two leaders at the helm of a startup in the early growth stage, each leading one of vision or day-to-day? What are the dangers? How could scaler entrepreneurs play roles in early-stage startups?

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