The Founder Shuffle

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Roles for Startup Founders

It’s hard for founders to know what their true role is in an early-stage startup. I find this interesting because while people are comfortable with the ambiguity around a nascent business model, the roles that founders take seem to be set in stone from day one. 

It’s easy to become trapped by these early decisions because once you define who is responsible for what, momentum sets in and roles solidify. But sometimes you have to do hard things (make changes) to give your business the highest chance to succeed.

The pivot applies to more than a product and a market. A founding team can pivot too. 

The Typical Setup

At Kera, we have three founders: one of us is technical, one of us specializes in design, and my background is in product management. When we entered our accelerator, one of the first things we were asked to do was decide who would be the CEO. 

We thought Cam (developer) and Jon (designer) could handle product management for the time being. More importantly, I’m the one responsible for sales and customer development - and fundraising is a sales process. And besides, I’m the least technical of the three, so of course I should be the CEO.

Duh. 

Fundraising Issues

But there’s a problem with the (obvious) approach we took. If you’re building a product that has a significant technical risk associated with it, the due diligence process will always include a technical component. I’m not technically illiterate, but my knowledge has its limits. And as a result, I was forced to distract our product team from their duties to take a bunch of meetings. 

We broke the cardinal rule of fundraising:

Thou shalt put up a firewall and protect the rest of the team from the fundraising process. 

The Team Pivot 

A few weeks into it, we sat down as a team and took stock of the situation. Fundraising was going well, but we were starting to stall on product. Furthermore, we had basically abandoned customer development experiments and were going heads down on a massive release. 

We were getting the worst of both worlds - half-hearted product development with an emphasis on building, rather than learning. So we decided to make a change. Cameron would take control of the fundraising process, and I would go back to product. 

We then had two main objectives: put a fundraising firewall in place, and validate the release we wanted to build before we go heads down on a huge project. 

Don’t Feel Bad

We’re a small company. Titles aren’t important for us yet. We know what we’re good at, but there’s a lot of discovery that needs to happen before anything gets set in stone.

Being a lean startup is about learning quickly and experimenting to find the best results. But lean isn’t restricted to the scribbles on a business model canvas. Sometimes change can feel personal. But our job is to do what’s best for our business, not our egos. 

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