Curing the Founder’s Syndrome

The following parodies a typical founder during a sales call with a prospective client of his early-stage business.

*Founder:* “Hi, this is John Doe. I’m the founder of Daytime Dummies and would like to introduce an innovative new business concept to you.”

*Potential buyer:* _“Ok, what is Daytime Dummies?”_

*Founder:* “Thanks for your time! Daytime Dummies is a first-of-its-kind approach to outsourcing all of those office hour non-essential tasks. Such as refilling the water cooler, picking up the dry cleaning and re-stocking the copier.”

*Potential buyer:* _“Hmmm, how does it work?”_

*Founder:* “Well, for starters, I’m the founder. So let me begin by telling you where this unique concept originated…”

*Buyer:* _Sound of keyboard typing overheard_

*Founder:* “Are you still there?”

_Click! End of call._

Every founder has been in a similar situation at one time or another. In the early stages of a company, it’s all about *our vision,* executing the business plan, finding investors and customers. Not necessarily in that order. Whether you’re trying to sell the newest widget or tailored service, what I call the *Founder’s Syndrome* is all too common. By this I mean that singular, almost narcissistic focus on our idea and our responsibility for making it fly. And who can blame us? We must be this focused to succeed, right? In a sense it _is_ all about us and our vision. But here’s a newsflash.

Visions are useless unless transferred to those paying the bills or those who can help you generate customers who will pay the bills. The ability to craft a commercial vision is what makes a founder, a founder. The ability to promote the vision and transfer it to others–to make it grow into a commercial value proposition–is what defines *a good leader.* The balance between founder and leader is often so out of kilter that it’s hard to distinguish where the vision-concept ends and vision-value proposition begins.

But founders, take a cue from me: Quit straddling the fence. If what you believe is true, then the more it transfers and becomes owned by others, the more lucrative it will become.

“I’ve been a founder”:http://www.pointofviewllc.com/about_us.html for a few years now since forming “Point of View LLC”:http://www.pointofviewllc.com/ in 2003. In the early days, I spent a lot of time talking about my radical new approach to personal branding and career management. With my vision, I was going to take the market by storm! The passion was burning brightly, but the lights were actually dim. Only when I learned that it was really about what the *client wants* vs. *my vision* did the business start to show some real results. (What the clients want is the value proposition!)

Perhaps the best example of a founder who finally realized it was time to step aside in lieu of a non-founder leader is Bill Gates at Microsoft. He did so voluntarily sliding his bud, Steve Ballmer, into the CEO role. That one is obvious. Steve Jobs is another. In that case, the mercurial Apple founder was forced out the first time because his was too-singularly focused on his vision. At times events beyond our control render founders powerless. But Jobs obviously learned a lesson about “vision vs. value-proposition,” and the founder-turned-leader has made up for this in spades. (iPhone anyone?)

If those examples don’t grab you then consider the newest headline grabber, Stephen Schwarzman at Blackstone. He does come across as an egomaniac. But whether he is misses the point. He has jumped over the founder vs. leader fence in a dramatic way. “By selling Blackstone to the public”:http://www.nypost.com/seven/03232007/business/blackstone_ipo_business_zachery_kouwe.htm, Schwarzman is getting enormously rich — but he’s also very publicly promoting and transferring his vision for the modern PE shop to a very wide audience. (Schwarzman may now have to pay massive taxes on his “founder’s equity.”)

Another timely example is “Jerry Yang”:http://www.forbes.com/lists/2007/10/07billionaires_Jerry-Yang_R4Q2.html at “Yahoo!”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/18/AR2007061801027.html?g=1&wpsrc=100024. Can this founder return to being a leader? Only time will tell. Perhaps the hippest and most famous co-founders, the Google guys, had this balance down awhile back when they brought in Eric Schmidt to help run things. They let go of the me-driven vision enough to allow a professional manager in to help realize the value proposition. Never hurts to have a truly experienced hand on board.

Mere mortal founders need to straddle the fence between our own vision and promoting it, spreading it in the form of something that the marketplace will value. Jobs figured this out eventually, making him one of the most iconic business leaders in history.