Are You a Founder, CEO, or Entrepreneur?
Founders, CEOs and entrepreneurs all lead businesses. They all can be starters. They all can be builders. They all can be disruptive value creators. Yet, for all of their commonalities, they are all quite distinctive. They each come with their own true north. They are often focused on different things, have different strengths, and have their own different predispositions. As we explore their distinctions, ask yourself: which one are you or which one leads your company?
Founders are the heart and soul of their companies. Yes, they start companies. Yes, they might be the CEO of the company. Yes, they may be the largest shareholder of a company. But, that’s too clinical to reflect their real influence. Founders are the personality, character, passion and values behind a company. Whereas CEOs may create vision statements, founders embody the vision for a company. While entrepreneurs may easily move onto the next thing, founders lead the ship through thick and thin. The identity of a company often sits with the founder. And, the identity of the founder often sits with the company. Founders are the ones who are referred back to long after they leave the company. However, founders are most likely to refer to the company as “I” and often have the strongest emotional tie to the business. Sometimes they have trouble separating the personal from the professional as everything related to their business is personal. Yet, there’s nothing that can beat the founder’s depth of commitment. They aren’t at a company for an option grant – they are there because the company is part of who they are. The founder’s impact on a business is permanent.
CEOs are professional managers who know how to execute. They are skilled at recruiting, retaining and developing top talent. They are adept at building scalable processes while governing businesses with discipline. They know what good execution looks like across all functional departments within an organization. They understand the importance of proper capital allocation. They appreciate that they are stewarding the business on behalf of all shareholders. They are more likely to be realistic – relying on data more than instincts. They embrace governance. CEOs are often too pragmatic to start companies against long odds – they feel more comfortable with real metrics and performance. They sell opportunity more than capture hearts. They are often more company-centric than cause-centric. They tend to impact companies with tangible skill rather than intangible heart. As much as they may love a company, they won’t hesitate to sell the company for the right price. CEOs are business builders and value creators.
Entrepreneurs are idea-driven starters. If it can be done, it should be done. No one goes faster from concept to product than entrepreneurs. They are creative experimenters who are builders of products and services moreso than companies. Entrepreneurs fail fast and are undeterred by setbacks. They are relentless self-starting optimists who value action over analysis. They believe different is better and live to buck convention. For better or worse, they aren’t really concerned with what anyone else thinks. Entrepreneurs may not always have the organizational acumen to build the systems, structure, and processes that set the foundation for companies. They are most prone to spending time on products that may not actually have business value. However, they are most likely to cut their losses and move onto the next idea because it’s that idea that just might change the world. Entrepreneurs are undoubtedly the engine of innovation.
The identity of the person leading a company can have a significant impact on anyone working at that company. You tend to follow founders – compelled by their heart and soul. You work hard for CEOs who are viewed as trusted and professional managers. You tend to run alongside entrepreneurs – trying to keep pace with their factory of ideas. Founders have built some of the most iconic companies of our era. CEOs have built more businesses and created more value than probably anyone. And entrepreneurs are the change agent that feeds innovation and disruption in every market. The line dividing the founder, the CEO and entrepreneur does not necessarily have to be a bright dividing line. In reality, many people play multiple roles. However, usually people leading companies gravitate centrally towards one of the three roles.
So, which one are you or who do you work with – a founder, a CEO, or an entrepreneur?