At a Google Talk last year I said Uber needed to readdress itself or it would go pop. My main concern was investors would want to see returns sooner rather than later. I also wrote about the same subject, saying when investors get itchy and uncomfortable, they will start to come for you.
Uber has gone from being “the” case study in crazy entrepreneurialism to what it is in current headlines, let alone the founder having to walk away (although I am sure he will still be okay if all goes well). I did have a moment at the end of last year where I remember looking into Uber in regards to IPO. I thought 'how many cities can hate you, ban you until people in the company start getting concerned?'
Founders: make sure you know when to walk. It’s rare these days to see one person step the company up from an idea to massive IPO. Like, super rare.
It takes a lot more to develop a company into a suitable business model and deal with all the issues that come with growth. And that's without all the parasites that swamp your senior manager teams in some cases, looking to build their own little empire.
I joked at a very large company once in Silicon Valley that we had VPs of everything, including the toilets, and yet these VPs seemed to do jack all other than sit in an office, tell everyone they were VPs and go to the south of France for “meetings”.
LinkedIn, Google, Facebook founding teams all surrounded themselves with kick arse management teams. People with the other skills they lack or are just not that great at.
Uber are not the only company to be in this position. I see it a lot. Whether it's a couple of million turnover business or bigger. Founders think they know it all and in general they don't.
So: know when to quit. Enjoy the moment. The likelihood is that the company is not really how you envisioned it would end up anyway. I have been there and can tell you the exact moment I have rang my wife and said, “it's time”. Really tough to do. Almost as tough as when you should exit.
Business founders are not indispensable to their companies. Yes, they have passion and drive, but that's not what it's all about.
Sorry if that has just hacked you off while reading this as a founder, but its true and the sooner you get that acceptance the better. No company can afford to have a bottleneck of one person. Recently I was looking at a business with a fantastic founder and CEO. His appetite is rare in that he does not want to be around for years if many at all. No amount of money would replace him, however as a board you need to position people around founders to replace them. It's all about the skill sets to take the company where it needs to go.
Commerce One hired Mark Hoffman, ex-Sybase. Why? Because they wanted to IPO and he was the person to do it. LinkedIn hire two senior people to take them to IPO. Business change and investors still want that end point exit to happen even if, as a founder, your own timelines might differ. If anything you want to be using these investors to help your business.
If the Uber founder had some decent board members and advisors around him, I would hope they would have told him. Maybe they did but cannot help thinking that a non-exec chair would have helped steer a little here.
The bottom line is: founders hate letting go. I have met some good ones, a small minority that get it. I have met others on the other end of the scale who without doubt will single handedly ruin their own business and then blame investors and slowly work their way down the food chain.
Does make you wonder when the Uber founder was first asked to take a good hard look in the mirror by his board and investors? I sense some time ago.
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