The Big Decision That Every Successful Entrepreneur Has to Make
Ken and I built Nurse Next Door for 10 years. We designed a radically different company in our vertical of caring for seniors, and it was time to leverage what we built and take it to the next level.
The questions was: who should do it? One of us, or a CEO from outside the company?
Every entrepreneur who grows their company to some level of success gets to this point. Am I the right one to be running the company? Am I the right person to get it to the next level? Do I even want to do it? Or have I done my job by getting us where we are today and is it now time to bring in other people who will grow the company while I go and start the next one?
I struggled with this for years. So many ideas. So many desires to start more companies. So many opportunities! I am a passionate entrepreneur. I always have been. And I suffer no shortage of ideas for my next company.
When is the right time? How long does my company need me? What is best for the company? What is best for me and my family?
Three things happened along the way to help me make my decision.
Illuminating moment # 1
I narrowed and refined my own core purpose. As I grew and evolved, my purpose got tighter and tighter, which narrowed my lens of opportunities and ultimately the kind of company I would want to start. I realized that right now I am doing exactly what I should be doing. I love what I do, I am passionately engaged in what I do, I believe wholeheartedly in the change we can make. Most importantly, it is in complete alignment with my core purpose. A perfect scenario.
Illuminating moment # 2
I saw Jim Collins speak at Verne Harnish’s Growth Summit in 2009. During that speech, he spoke about the myth that entrepreneurs can’t be great CEO’s. Michael Dell, Steve jobs, Howard Schultz, Steve Bezos and Bill Gates all defied this. Not only did they start their companies, but they built them into the most successful companies of our time. And it is questionable whether those companies would have been so great without this leadership. Jim Collins also said that each of these entrepreneurs had to make a decision along the way. Did they want to be clock builders? Or time tellers?
If they were OK with being time tellers, like many entrepreneurs, they are fine with building a company, then leaving and building another. In other words, not sticking with it to see it become a world class company, rather just planting a solid seed and making sure it was primed to grow. In many of the greatest companies of our time, the entrepreneur stuck it out, choosing to become a clock builder.
It was during that speech that I decided I wanted to become a clock builder. Sure, it was fun starting companies (I would say that my talent truly is in the start up stage). But I want to build something bigger. Something greater. A world class brand, and I am committed to trying to do it.
Illuminating moment # 3
I studied some of the great brands of our time- Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Zappos and Southwest Airlines. These companies were built by great entrepreneurs, and they all had major stumbles when they replaced their founding CEO with an outside CEO. (Southwest Airlines being the exception, where Harry Kelleher replaced himself with his very first assistant)
Why? It turns out that an outside CEO rarely gets the details that go into building a purpose driven brand. See “Making Tough Decisions to Preserve Your Core: Learning from Starbucks.” for more on this.
These three illuminating moments convinced me that I could take Nurse Next Door to the next level. I did meet some incredible talent, and each candidate would have contributed something powerful and exciting, as would have brought a lot of experience to the table. But Nurse Next Door is my life’s work. My emotional commitment exceeds my equity stake. I am not willing to make short term sacrifices (so that I can earn a bonus) that don’t make long term sense.
As Ben Horowitz, a legendary Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist (Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, Skype, Zynga) who always favours a founder CEO then hiring an outside CEO says: “a founding CEO does not necessarily have the desire to be CEO, but [has] the burning, irrepressible desire to build something great and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get there.”
Ya, that would be me.