10 October 2012
I’ve done 10 interim CEO / interim COO gigs during the last 10 years. In my view, there are four cases when hiring an interim CEO make sense:
- For The First 3 – 18 Months of a Startup: As detailed in this post (which in turn was prompted by a post from Flybridge Capital Partners venture capitalist Michael Greeley’s) there are times when hiring an interim CEO at the formation of a startup makes sense. Adding the experience of a senior, successful entrepreneur to the passion and vision of the founding entrepreneurs can increase the likelihood of the venture’s success. (This is the role I played at Ember Corporation.)
- Helping a Founding CEO: Often, later in a startup’s life, a founding CEO can use help. Rather than terminating the founder and “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” a better solution might be to bring in an interim COO to counsel the founder, and – in many cases – to actually Read the rest of this entry »
8 October 2012
In an earlier post I discussed the consistent process I take the first week of each interim CEO / COO assignment. As noted, though my process is consistent across companies, the resultant actions taken are often quite different from company to company. My strangest -– but in hindsight maybe my most effective –- first action was as interim COO at a $20+ million, unprofitable software company: The first thing I did was clean the company kitchen!
Little did I know that -– before the last clean mug was in the strainer -– word traveled to the company’s remote offices in London, Dubai, and Perth that there was a new kid on the block and he was taking no prisoners. Unknown to me at the time, the foundation for a rapid turnaround was in place.
Arriving 45 minutes early that first day -– it’s amazing what you find out about a company arriving 45 minutes early on the first day –- the only employees in the office were four individual contributors having coffee in the company kitchen; a ridiculously extravagant kitchen any TopChef chef would die for.
I was told that the only available coffee cups were in the pile that filled the sink -– a pile of dirty dishes, it was noted, that was indicative of two of the company’s problems. Read the rest of this entry »
7 October 2012
Many (most?) founding CEOs don’t survive their VCs. As Galen Moore states in his Mass High Tech piece, “Venture capital investors are notorious for investing in a startup, then replacing its founder with a more-seasoned CEO from their network.” Galen highlights four founding CEOs that have survived, though the article is a bit light on specifics as to how each achieved their success.
Here’s one way: In the last decade, I’ve seen first-hand a number of companies where a founding, first-time CEO heads the VCs off at the pass by bringing in a seasoned COO, on an interim basis, to help them through a rough patch.
It’s true that half of my ten interim assignments have been as CEO, where the VCs wanted to replace a founding CEO. In each case I was asked to take over from a fired founding CEO and “right the ship” before an executive search for an industry-specific CEO could be undertaken.
But the other five interim assignments have been as COO, where the founding CEO themselves decided Read the rest of this entry »
15 October 2011
When I was signing up for this year’s unConference, I was reminded how last year’s event was great because of the impromptu breakout sessions where it was fair game to discuss controversial subjects. I wish every founding CEO could have been at last year’s session titled, “How founding CEOs can transition from visionary to leader.” Though that was the title, it was clear from the get-go that this session was really about, “How founding CEOs can avoid getting fired before they ever make that transition from visionary to leader.” Eric Paley and Katie Rae, the session leaders, did a great job covering this controversial subject, focusing on solutions to this common problem.
For the last decade, I have been “up close and personal” with the subject of founding CEOs getting fired. As interim CEO at a half dozen companies I bridged the gap after a founding CEO was let go by his investors. And as interim COO at another half dozen companies I helped the founding CEO endure the pressures of their job. (As one founding CEO said when he called asking for help, “Des, I’m one Board meeting away from getting fired. Can you give me a hand?”)
In last year’s unConference session, people had many reasons why founding CEOs get fired “early and often.” The reasons that resonated with me are: Read the rest of this entry »
15 December 2010
Since summer, I’ve been interim COO at RelayRides, the world’s first neighbor-to-neighbor carsharing service. I work for founding CEO Shelby Clark. Yesterday we announced funding from August Capital and Google Ventures.
RelayRides is an innovative twist on the traditional carsharing model, ala Zipcar. I believe our business model will have an important impact on the young and rapidly growing $12.5B global carsharing industry. Adding neighbor-to-neighbor carsharing to a community with traditional carsharing is one of those instances when one plus one equals more than two, as detailed here.
RelayRides is a perfect example of Collaborative Consumption. Rather than putting new cars on the road like other carsharing services, RelayRides goes the eco-friendly route by leveraging existing, often idle autos. Neighbors help each other. Car owners recover some of the costs of owning an expensive asset while they simultaneously provide a new, convenient transportation option for their neighbors in need of a car.
After operating in Cambridge for six months, Tuesday we launched our second city, San Francisco, generating a slew of great press.
9 October 2010
Answer: When they focus on efficiency, not time.
I advise young founding CEOs, either in my role as interim COO or as a “CEO Coach.” A common issue they raise is their frustration with an employee who does not work incredibly long hours. I struggled with this until I recalled that, when I was their age, I felt the same way! I’ve been managing since I was 23 and, for about a decade, I too was impressed with an employee who worked the longest hours.
But then I hired Chris Pooley and he taught me that Read the rest of this entry »
11 September 2010
Through the MassChallenge Mentoring Program, I’ve been spending three hours each week advising RelayRides, a company with a great idea – peer-to-peer car sharing – that’s smack in the middle of a strong new movement, Collaborative Consumption as written about in The Economist and by Leigh Buchanan in Inc, Clive Thompson in Wired, and Jenna Wortham in The New York Times.
Late on Tuesday, the founder, Shelby Clark said, “Instead of just advising me, why don’t you just join us to accelerate our growth?” After a handshake agreement, I started that day as part-time interim COO. By 9 PM I was reminded that what it takes to turn a great idea into a successful company is Read the rest of this entry »
26 August 2010
Having just sat through the final presentations of ten entrepreneurial teams graduating from Dean Paul Zavracky’s yearlong I-Cubator program at Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, I have to ask: Are these NU grads better suited to be entrepreneurs than the grads from Harvard’s HBS Business School or MIT’s Sloan Entrepreneurship Center?
I’ve seen the hard work – and focused energy — of prior grads from this NU program, such as Jason Evanish, who started Greenhorn Connect and who is an early team member of Laura Fitton’s Twitter startup, oneforty. This year, I’ve met more folks from the program in my role as mentor to one of the NU teams, NueBuild, whose founding members Ben Youtz and Peter Wiederspahn developed a patented, energy efficient, modular, low cost, home construction system. I am providing hands-on mentoring to the founding team, as well as helping their efforts to enter their first target market, China.
Seeing ten Northeastern teams up close this week, I am left with the view that they might just be more practical, more hands-on, and more interdisciplinary-aware than the typical grads from those other business schools. What’s your view?
25 February 2010
The Economist recently reported that venture capitalists and boards of directors of European companies are far ahead of their US counterparts in understanding when it makes sense to hire an interim CEO. Now, a new report out of the UK – which has perhaps the most sophisticated interim management services in the world – details eight cases when a board should consider putting in an interim CEO.
I’ve listed them below, but first three other key points from the report:
- Interim CEOs are not consultants; rather, they are hands-on workers.
- Interim CEOs are not potential employees; the good ones do interim work as a way of life (and not as a “filler” until a poor economy improves.)
- Interim CEOs can be taken into the confidence of a board (as an interim person has the advantage of impartiality.)
The report also talks about why younger and younger executives are turning to interim management as a way to achieve a more flexible and rewarding career. While delivering significant benefits to the client, interim managers provide themselves with Read the rest of this entry »
30 December 2009
The Economist has a great article about the type of work I’ve been doing for ten years, Interim CEO. The piece addresses why many American companies are now adopting a practice that originated in Europe, and why so many top-notch execs are enjoying these temporary CEO jobs.
The Economist postulates that “interim executives may be the wave of the future in all rich countries, as these countries evolve from what Peter Drucker called a ‘society of organizations’ into a ‘society of networks.’”
Why Companies Do It
The article details three reasons why a company might choose to Read the rest of this entry »