I felt like the biggest fraud in the world.
My co-founders, “Jim” and John”, had just quit three months after we started the company. John said, in his parting comment to me, “I know better how to build a analog IC company than you do.” In other words, John was saying, “We don’t need you.”
I was back to square one. I was without a team, and I needed a team to get my company off the ground.
A year earlier, I had been fired as a general manager of Micrel, a public analog semiconductor company. My self esteem, at the time, was pretty low.
I think the Micrel experience made me pretty tentative when my company was just starting. I didn’t want to screw up, and I was unsure of how to assert myself as CEO.
Sometimes, you have fake it till you make it.
The weekend after I was fired I thought about what I wanted to do next. I knew I didn’t want to work at another company like Micrel.
Ideally, I wanted to continue pursuing my goal of being a CEO, but I had no belief that I could get there. As I said, my self esteem was pretty low.
The good news was I had a ton of contacts. So I emailed them with the simple message that I was available.
Mike, the managing partner of a San Francisco based VC firm, responded to my email. He asked me to meet him up at their office in the Embarcadero.
I thought Mike wanted to talk to me about helping out one of their portfolio companies. I looked at the companies they were backing, and I could see a few where I might fit in as a VP.
When I met with Mike, he had a different idea. “Let me get right to point,” Mike said. “We’re interested in building an analog (semiconductor) company, and we’d like you to build it.
“What do you think?”
I felt like saying, “What? You must be kidding. I just was fired, and you want me to be CEO? Are you serious?”
Instead, hiding my surprise, I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want to do.”
My job was to recruit a founding team, develop a business plan, and raise money. Now, it looked like, after Jim and John quit, I had completely failed.
My co-founders had abandoned me, and, without co-founders, I couldn’t raise money. My goodness, I didn’t just feel like a fraud, I was a fraud.
If I didn’t move fast, the VC fund was going to fire me too!
You may feel like a fraud, but you have a job to do.
I didn’t have time for pity. I had to move quickly to find a new VP Engineering to replace John. I networked like crazy, and found a bunch of candidates to meet and interview.
One of the first things I did when I started my company was create a business card for myself. The card said, “Brett J. Fox, CEO.”
It didn’t say, “I feel like a fraud” or “I’m CEO of a one person company.” The card said CEO because I was the CEO.
Yes, I still felt like a fraud some of the time, but that’s not the point. I was the CEO of my company. I gave my business card, complete with a company email address, to every candidate I met with.
None of the candidates I met with laughed at me. No one said, “What? You’re the CEO. Give me a break!”
In everyone’s eyes, I was the CEO.
You need to be resilient as CEO.
Within two weeks of Jim and John quitting, I had recruited their replacements, “Doogie” and “Julius”. It would be the first of many “will the company survive” tests I would face as CEO.
And the tests came quickly.
Julius quit a month later. He said he didn’t have the energy to be in a startup.
Then, a month later, Dave, my mentor and sponsor at the VC fund was fired. And then, a month later, Mike pulled his support for us. Then, a few months later, the Great Recession hit and venture funding looked like an impossible dream.
The money that I thought was secured was gone. Worse yet, I would have to explain to potential investors why Mike’s fund pulled their support for us.
However, by this time, I was all in on building my company. I wasn’t going to let Mike, or Jim, or John, or the worst recession in seventy years get in my way.
The company was going to get funded. Period. End of story.
I don’t where my confidence came from, but I had it.
Your self confidence that you’re the CEO will grow as time goes on.
Two years after I started raising money, with enough twists and turns for a good movie, we raised our initial funding of $12 million. However, the tests to me as CEO kept coming.
We had manufacturing issues to deal with, personnel issues to deal with, a very disruptive investor that did everything they could to kill us. However, I felt up to the task. I knew what needed to be done.
I never felt like a fraud. I felt like I was the right person to navigate our company through some very rough waters. That’s what happens as you grow into the role of CEO.
Conclusion: You’re always tested as CEO every step of the way.
I don’t know what your challenges will be. I only know, that at every stage of your startup’s life, you will be challenged.
You may feel like a fraud like I did when I started. If you do, that’s okay. You can be confident that you’ll learn, grow, and evolve into the role of being CEO.