Who’s The Right Person To Be CEO?

Obese Businessman  with Question mark

“I’d like you to be the CEO of the company,” “Ray” said to me. We were meeting for the first time outside of a Starbucks in Los Altos.

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Ray had spent the previous thirty minutes explaining what his company was going to do. In fact, there wasn’t even a company at this point. There was only Ray and his idea.

But what an idea Ray had. If Ray was right, he would transform and dominate a multibillion dollar industry. I was intrigued, and we agreed to meet the next day to talk some more.

We met at the same Starbucks, and we decided to drive over to Rancho San Antonio, a beautiful park and open space reserve in Santa Clara County, and take a walk. We started walking, and Ray asked me what I thought about being CEO.

“I am flattered that you want me to be CEO, but I don’t think I’m the right person to be CEO. In fact, I think you’re the right person (to be CEO),” I said.

We kept walking. Rancho San Antonio is really pretty with plenty of trails to walk or run on. Sometimes, you’ll see deer, if you’re lucky, and that day we were in luck.

For Ray, who was from a part of the world that didn’t have deer, it was a treat. We kept walking.


You’re usually the right person to the CEO of your startup.


I was the wrong person to be CEO, and I knew it. I’m not saying I’m not a good CEO. I am saying that in this particular instance Ray was the right person, not me.

In fact, Ray was the perfect person to be CEO. Ray understood, just like most founders, exactly what the vision for the company was.

No one else would be able to understand the vision to the same level Ray would. Plus, the company, like many startups early on, was going to be in technology development mode. What better person than the person that owned the technical vision to be CEO?

It will likely be same same for you. To replace yourself as CEO, you have to find a great CEO who shares your vision and understanding of the company. Good luck with that.


It’s really hard to find a great CEO for your early stage startup.


“Would you be interested in helping me?” Ray asked.

“Absolutely,” I said. “I would be interested in advising you. That fits into what I want to do at this stage of my career.”

We kept walking and talking about the future. We agreed that we would start talking every week, and Ray would educate me about the technology.

I learned a ton about the genius of Ray’s concept. It became even more obvious that Ray might realistically be the only person that could drive the company to success.

There aren’t many stories of startups that recruit a professional CEO and succeed. Yeah, you can point to Eric Schmidt taking over Google three years into their history. However, that might be the exception.

And, remember, Google was already well on their way to success when Schmidt joined. You’re not going to find an Eric Schmidt to join your early stage startup.

You may think you’re building the next Google, and maybe you are. However, it’s not going to be easy convincing someone of Eric Schmidt’s pedigree to join you as CEO.


If you’re not the right person to be CEO, then one of your co-founders better be the right person.


You should look to your co-founders if you don’t think your CEO material. It’s likely if one of your co-founders is the right person to be CEO, they are already going to be suggesting that they should be CEO, not you.

In Ray’s case, he was a solo founder, so there wasn’t an option besides himself. Regardless, as I said, Ray was the right person to be CEO.

It’s been over five years since I met Ray. Ray has done everything he set out to do. Revenue is well into eight figures. The technology works as expected. And Ray’s company is worth well over $1 billion.

Ray had clearly made the right decision to believe in himself that he could be CEO instead of bringing someone on that likely wouldn’t succeed.


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