Many startup founders take the nominal title of CEO, but there’s a huge difference between launching a venture and actually leading an established company. And the transition to the role of CEO is fraught with unexpected challenges for many a wide-eyed startup founder.
That’s the subject of this extraordinarily candid and insightful GeekWire Startup Day talk by Marc Barros, who founded action-cam company Contour in 2004 with fellow University of Washington student Jason Green. If the name Contour sounds familiar, it’s because the GoPro rival has been in the news lately — abruptly closing its doors in August before finding a glimmer of hope last week in the form of a buyer who wants to revive the brand.
“I founded a company, it went out of business. If you want to leave now, it’s probably a good idea,” jokes Barros as he begins his talk.
Barros, who departed the company earlier this year and wasn’t involved in the closure, focuses the talk on the transition from founder to CEO — drawing on his own experiences and the difficult lessons he learned along the way.
As a CEO you have to love a different set of things than a founder does, he explains. Not just do a different set of things, but love a different set of things.
Founders do basically everything in the early days, but CEOs must be good at leading the people and teams who are doing the work — running the system that makes the company successful. Founders might make big decisions over drinks after work, but CEOs have to be careful about their conversations with employees in the hallways, lest an offhanded remark be taken back to the team as a change in strategy.
Barros likens the entire experience to building a roller-coaster. “The worst part is, you realize, ‘I’m in the front, OK, wait a second, I convinced all of these yahoos to join me. And I’m in a car that has no steering wheel, there’s no wheels, and oh, by the way, I didn’t finish the track.’ ”
Watch the full video of his talk above. This should be required viewing and listening for anyone starting or building a company. A big thanks to Marc Barros for sharing this raw glimpse into the life and evolution of a startup founder.
In the same spirit, also see this Startup Day talk by SquareHub CEO Dave Cotter, about the rock-bottom moment that changed his own life.
Thanks to everyone who attended and supported GeekWire Startup Day. We’ll have more highlights from the talks in the days ahead.