One of the usual steps for a new company that is growing and hiring is to select one of the founders to become the CEO. At Hunter, it has now been years since we became profitable and started hiring. But we consciously chose not to make the decision.
Not choosing a CEO has a big motivational advantage for founders. Usually, you start a company for the autonomy it provides. Being one of the founders to end up with a « boss », doesn’t feel right. I would argue you don’t have to select a CEO, in particular in a small or medium size bootstrapped business.
The main reason why having a CEO feels necessary is decision making. If nobody can make the final call, can you move forward? Yes. Because you don’t need to agree on everything, only on the problems. Yuval Noah Harari makes this point very clearly: on an airplane, all the passengers agree that they wish to go from point A to point B safely. But they aren’t going to decide which lever to pull. Once they know the problem they want to solve, they find the expert able to take care of it. The same logic applies when your company doesn’t have a CEO: The founders agree on the vision and then leave the implementation to the most skilled or experienced people.
They are going to be times when you can’t agree. Founders usually are, most likely by definition, very opinionated. But most disagreements aren’t critical, at most they will waste a bit of time. In those cases, once you’ve spent some time trying to agree, it’s better to acknowledge the disagreement and still move on.
Jeff Bezos calls this « disagree and commit ». The commit part is the most important. You need to act in the same way as if you’d agreed with the idea. Whether it turns out to be a success or not, the team will have learned something. More importantly, the team would have moved fast.
To know who needs to disagree and commit, considering skill and experience is usually enough. Wanting a project to succeed and having the skills to take care of it often is all that it takes to get a success.
For the rest of the team, not having a CEO increases the overall speed. You now have more than one person that can make decisions. If you’re working across time zones, the benefit is even more substantial as there’s usually always a founder available. What about when a founder makes a decision too early, and you learn later on that your other founder(s) doesn’t agree? If the founders frequently talk to each other, this situation will happen so rarely the downside is offset by all the instances where it increased speed.
Our choice not to have a CEO is often disagreed with. If you have experiences in favor of, or against this idea, I would be curious to hear about them. Start a discussion on Twitter: @antoinefink.