I agree with venture capitalist Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners who recently stated that building companies demands great passion, vision and intelligence but “it also helps to have done it before.” He goes on to say that what the marketplace really needs are “senior successful serial entrepreneurs” to serve on the next generation of entrepreneurs’ boards, to open up their rolodexes, and to share what worked and what didn’t work. He ends by noting that, “such mentorship is difficult to find.”
I would like to build on that suggestion; rather than having these serial entrepreneurs simply serve on boards, I suggest that in some cases they should actually serve as the startup’s interim CEO while the company is getting off the ground.
Every startup has a myriad of details and actions that need to be done. Rather than having a board member who simply advises, “You need to do this; and you need to do that,” in many cases the startup would be better served by a hands-on CEO who rolls up their sleeves and actually does “this and that.”
Once the startup is off the ground, say in 3 to 15 months, then the interim CEO can “morph” into that board position that Greeley suggests.
I base my recommendation on having been the first businessperson to join five different startups. And I base it on having completed ten interim CEO / COO assignments during the last decade, some at startups and some at turn arounds. In half the cases the founder asked me in, while in the others it was the investor that initiated the assignment. Most have nice exits, but that’s not always the case.
Each engagement generally lasts 3 – 12 months. And each has been a hands-on, operational role, not a consulting / advising role.
I’ve written a handful of short blog posts on interim management, answering questions like, “When does it make sense? What’s a typical engagement like? What do you do the first day; the first week? What does it take to be a good interim manager?
People who know me say that fifth or sixth post down – where I tell how the first thing I did at one turn around was to clean the kitchen! – says a lot about who I am.
If you’re forming a startup, consider finding one of Greeley’s “senior successful serial entrepreneurs” to join your board; then see if you can convince them to be your interim CEO / COO until your startup has, well, started up.