Becoming a CEO. Yeah, I Suck.

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There’s a lot I suck at. I’m bad at financial calculations. My Excel proficiency is amateur, at best. I don’t know what EBITDA means. I’m still learning how to hire business people (kinda tough since this is my first office job). I can be a bit disorganized. I often interrupt productively engaged engineers with questions about some flash of an idea (genius or otherwise), demanding instant feedback and disrupting their precious concentration in the process.

No company in its right mind would hire me as a “professional CEO.”

Oftentimes, I wonder whether I’m cut out for the job. The people around me seem so much more competent. They’re awesome at what they do––that’s why we hired them, right? They’ll explain a project and midway through the explanation I’ll silently start to gawk in awe and think to myself: “If only I had his level of mastery…”

Recently, a Founder/CEO friend of mine got fired. On the eve of a new round of funding, the board––in particular the investors on the board––made their move. He got booted and now seems to spend his days wandering aimlessly as a figurehead inside the very company he founded. (At least he got to keep a title!) He is bitter.

But the thing is, I saw it coming. I don’t know what it was precisely, but I knew: “This guy is gonna get fired by the VCs. Next time he raises money, he’s out.” Quietly, I predicted it months in advance. I was right.

He’s a good dude. He poured his heart and soul into his company. And now it’s been taken from him.

I don’t want to end up like that guy.

I mean, on the surface, there’s plenty of reasons why I’m a prime candidate for replacement: Experience, or lack thereof, for one. Secondly, I’m a bit of a loose canon. I start fights on the internet with impressive (if I do say so myself) regularity––often with people who “matter.” I curse like a sailor, often in public venues and sometimes during press interviews.

But honestly, I don’t think that’s why Founders get fired. I have my own theory and it goes like this…

The key to this job, so much as I can tell, is not so much about having a particular skill set as it is about having self-awareness. The problem with the guys who get fired isn’t that they suck so much as it is that they don’t realize they suck. And if/when they do realize it, they don’t do anything about it. They’re too afraid to admit it to themselves and the people around them. They fear fessing up to weakness. They think it will bring them down.

And because they do not own up to their own failings as a CEO––their own weaknesses––they do not compensate for them.

That’s the suicide move. That’s why the board fires you. I think.

If I’m right, that’s good news!

Because I’m perfectly willing to admit to and aggressively compensate for the things I suck at. It doesn’t diminish my ego to hire people smarter than me to do the work I either clearly suck at or can only produce mediocre results. At first––and actually, for quite some time––I too was afraid of owning up to the lopsidedness of my own skill set. I told myself that hiring someone else to do “my job” was negligent and not befitting a CEO.

Things that needed to get done didn’t get done because I wasn’t good at doing them. SpeakerText suffered foy it.

And then one day I got this note (which I refer to often) from my mentor, Marc Randolph:

***

“How are you going to win?  It’s not going to come from blog posts or angel money – it’s going to come from having a great product and lots of customers who want to buy it.  That’s what we should be focusing on.  What is it going to take to make that happen?

“I keep saying how brutally hard this is.  Each time you crest the rise in front of you, it just makes it clear the size of the even larger hill that looms beyond it. It goes on for a long time. I pissed blood for years keeping Netflix alive while we figured that shit out – as did every other successful entrepreneur in the valley.

“Ultimately, your reputation in the tech community is going to hinge on your ability to deliver this company to success.  That’s the real – and only – responsibility of a CEO.”

***

It’s not about control. It’s not about what I do with my time on a daily basis. It’s not about me. It’s about what the company does, how we perform as a group. My job is to create an organization that is better than me. My job is to hire world-class people to do all the stuff I’m not world-class at. And to make sure that they make this company kick ass and take names.

(Oh yeah, all that and to make sure we always have enough cash in the bank.)

I can’t guarantee that it’ll be smooth or always pretty along the way. But it’s my––and the company’s––only hope.

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