EP18: How to Transition From Founder to CEO

by | Feb 21, 2023 | Marketing, Podcast, SaaS

Hi founders 👋

I’m Asia Orangio, the host of the InDemand podcast and founder of DemandMaven, where we work with early stage SaaS companies on reaching their very first growth milestones. If you’re new here, here’s a quick recap of our goal:

We’re here to discuss what it takes to build businesses that are in demand and stay in demand.

Yes, we’re going to talk about marketing.

We’re also going talk about growth, leadership, and strategy.

For this upcoming podcast season, I’m diving deep into being and becoming a better CEO. Of course, we’ll still be talking about marketing, but we’re going to discuss the softer skills of marketing:

  • How do you build and manage a team?
  • What are your options and how do you actually lead?
  • What does leadership look like from a marketing perspective?

If you’re wondering where a lot of this content is coming from – it’s largely inspired by my own journey. This is the journey I’ve been on and it’s the one I’ve been wanting to take other founders on. Of course, I’m a founder, but I also work with other founders and CEOs. I’ve noticed quite a few trends during our projects: what makes our projects go extremely well and also when there’s something missing.

So, what makes a project go well?

The projects where clients get the most value of our work is when they have a CEO who:

1) Has strong analytical thinking skills

2) Has transitioned from founder to CEO

In this episode of the podcast, we cover what the role of CEO is and how different founders define it. And last, we’ll talk about what this transition actually looks like.

So of course, I took to Twitter and asked people what the role of CEO means to founders across the web. Rand Fishkin, CEO of SparkToro said that CEOs make great decisions. And I could not agree more. On my own journey to CEO, my day is filled with decisions. It’s also filled with creating frameworks to help other people make decisions. I’m at a point in my journey where I’m starting to see patterns in these decisions.

Jeff Perkins, CEO of Park Mobile, said that being the coach for the team and getting the best out our your players is the key to being CEO.

Jimmy Macon, CEO of Curators, said it’s vision, strategy, people, resources and culture.

And last, we researched what Ludo Van der Heyden says being a CEO entails:

  • Visioning or framing of the firm’s business challenge
  • Planning or generating potential solutions to the issue at hand
  • Deciding or making a commitment to a course of action
  • Explaining the rationale that led to this commitment
  • Presenting legitimate expectations stakeholders can hold about the results that will be produced, about how this will be done and about the rewards that successful execution allows
  • Executing where all energies are devoted to the execution of the decisions until results are realized in which concludes with the distribution of rewards
  • Evaluating where one evaluates both the processes followed in generating a vision and the outcomes thus obtained, and the rewards shared with the search for errors that may have occurred, and for corrections and adaptations that need to be made for errors not to be repeated in the future.

All of that was a really, really fancy way of saying there’s six things:

  1. Visioning
  2. Planning
  3. Deciding
  4. Explaining
  5. Executing
  6. Evaluating.

And if I’m not mistaken, Ludo crossed out number five because CEOs shouldn’t actually be executing. They should really be focused on the other five things.

So here’s the thing about all of these definitions. They are all correct. Pretty much every single one of them is correct and some are more correct in certain contexts. All of these definitions are great, even the ones that I got from Twitter and also the more academic ones. They’re all incredibly true, but they’re also incredibly relevant, even if you are a SaaS company, a startup. And if you are funded or bootstrapped, there’s tons of wisdom locked away in these definitions, the books and podcasts they’ve been sourced from, etc. This is something that I’ve been studying for years.

As my business grows, I’m learning how to be a better CEO every day, every week, every month, every quarter, every year. And as I’ve accumulated this knowledge, I’ve been inspired to share all of this information with you, but also do a little bit of a call to action in a way, because I have seen firsthand how much better a business performs when the founder makes that transition to CEO, no matter how big or small the company is.

It also helps when founders become better leaders. Even if you’re bootstrapped and you don’t necessarily have funding and a board to contend with, why should you care about being a better CEO? There’s a few reasons that I’ve been able to identify, but these are also reasons that we’ve seen and observed in other companies outside of our own.

Being a better CEO means building better businesses, period.

That’s not to say that if you never make this transition, that you can’t build a great business. Of course you can. We’ve seen tons of businesses grow with very questionable leadership. But from what I’ve been able to observe: founders who start to take themselves seriously as CEOs build better, more effective, efficient businesses. They’re able to build more resilient businesses because they are able to take a step outside of their world and look at it as objectively as possible. This means that they’re able to:

  • Make better decisions
  • Build better teams
  • Utilize resources better
  • Become a better marketer –> By this we mean that they have a better sense of psychology and awareness about their target audience on top of having a really good understanding of the landscape that’s available to them

Great marketers know what channels, programs, and practices are going to be great fits for whoever it is that they’re targeting. And they also have a very deep sense of awareness and understanding of the target customer at the end of the day, all the way down to their psychology, how they make decisions, how they think about things, and also what’s blocking them from achieving success in addition to what’s pulling them towards the product or towards the solution.

So whether you believe it or not, expanding your CEO-ness (whatever that looks like for you) will naturally help you become a better marketer. You’ll be able to better understand the strategic side of things. You’ll also be able to better strategize in general, whether it’s for marketing, product, or even engineering.

That’s why this transition is critical. But not every founder makes it, which is really interesting. For those founders, it’s like defined chaos. The company starts bursting at the seams. And you might get in a place where you realize, “What did I miss? What happened?” If that’s you, what you’re missing is the transition to CEO.

So how do you become a CEO? How do you get into a role where you are primarily inspiring, leading, and managing?

Assuming this is a role you want, then I recommend the next step is to ask yourself:

  • Where are you getting stuck?
  • Where are you blocking the growth of your business?

One of the benefits of transitioning from founder to CEO is that you can start to see these problems with a bird’s eye view. I’ve experienced this several times as a founder. It was hard to see a problem clearly when I was the one doing the work and in it every day. The transition to CEO, delegating, and stepping away from the work allowed me to see what needed to happen.

So what do you risk if you don’t transition to CEO?

You risk moving slower than the rest of the market.

We have seen this time and time again. There are worse products that are louder in the market that end up winning.

An effective CEO is able to lead, decide, and enable others to execute as fast as possible. And that is the power of being a great CEO. To be a better CEO is definitely an investment worth making. And on top of that, you deserve it. You deserve to invest in yourself, to be a better person, to be a better leader, and to inspire yourself while also inspiring others. That’s at least what I’ve learned in this process. Ok that’s all for today’s episode. We hope you tune into next week’s episode; you can subscribe to our newsletter below to hear when all of our new content drops ✨

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