Startup guru Steve Blank talks about the rise of the Founder’s outsized control over meeting-taxed VCs and later investors. In the quote below, Blank hits on where, we think, the train comes off the tracks: When a founder fails to communicate their vision and grow into the role of public company leader. This is a narrative challenge from end-to-end. The maturing CEO also needs to help their board understand the evolving brand and customer story; employee leadership must impart essential values reflected in every customer touch, and, in many cases, the CEO is inoculated against reason by the stories of their genius. That prevents them from being the leader who can change a company, not just make it more entirely their own, insulated alternate reality.
Early in a company’s life, that secure alternate reality can be essential to success. Insularity must give way to a transparent public interface that imparts values, restates the benefits to customers and partners in each interaction, as well as allows the story of the company to evolve to include all the rest of the participants in the customer experience. Larry Ellison isn’t going to show up to install Oracle databases; his team will — the story has to be big enough for the team’s role in value creation. That’s a narrative in action.
Startups run by visionaries break rules, flout the law and upend the status quo (Apple, Uber, AirBnB, Tesla, Theranos, etc.). Doing something that other people consider insanity/impossible requires equal parts narcissism and a messianic view of technological transformation. Bad CEO behavior and successful startups have always overlapped. Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Tom Seibel, etc. all had the gift/curse of a visionary CEO – they could see the future as clearly as others could see the present. Because they saw it with such clarity, the reality of having to depend on other people to build something revolutionary was frustrating. And woe to the employee who got in their way of delivering the future.