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I have just been given an offer for a promotion in my current company. My present position is as the VP of Product Development. The Company is a Software Company with a fluctuating size but currently ~25 full time people.

The offer was made by the current President for me to take on his role as he will be moving into an exclusive role as CEO.

I have been reluctant to accept the role because I am not sure I really have a gameplan in mind for how to deal with the Founders/Owners of the company, and ultimately I feel the right person for the job, would know what to do, and be much more likely to succeed.

There are 3 founders and a group of investors which comprise the ownership. The current president is one of the founders.

The other 2 founders are young (early and mid twenties), have no prior business experience, still tightly involved with developing their academic careers (the 3 owners are all PhD candidates in Computer science), and quite high on themselves for having arrived in this situation of being in a fully funded start up.

In the new position, I would be their boss on the day to day (they both hold director level positions in the company as department heads) but really their employee in every other aspect.

The investors who are backing the company are putting pressure on the 3 founders for a turn around in performance which is leading to this change. I have a good relationship, in as much as I have one, with the investors. I have a poor relationship with the 2 younger founders, and at one time had such a bad confrontation with one of them over handling a personnel issue, that I had my team taken away from me.

I would actually attribute most of the problems the company is having to the inexperience and arrogance of these 2 people, and the reluctance the current president has to really manage them (as he says he is a visionary not a manager or business leader, and is close friends with both of them). It is clear he expects me to do what he has not been able to in regards to correcting them.

So my question for this forum is, if I were to take this position, how do I set the tone and correct behaviours of people who still are essentially in charge.

My first thoughts are that this is a fools errand and not possible. I know that these fixes either need to be made or the company will not succeed. Then I think there are a number of people who would step up to the plate and welcome this challenge. If you are one of those people I am curious about how you might approach the people problem.

Ifeel confident I know what the company needs, I just don't know that I can do it with out really rustling some feathers, which I would usually be fine with if I thought people would not cross the line in their reactions.

Thank you in advance for any thoughts. I have found this forum to be of great support in the past.

lazerus's picture

DISCLAIMER: The following is MY OPINION ONLY, based on a similar but less difficult situation.

My first reaction is: do NOT take the position. It seems highly unlikely that the immaturity of the founders will change, regardless of your effort. It sounds like a good opportunity. However, you will not be able to manage these people considering their position as "Founders". If the investors are able to make changes, all the better. But it sounds to me like the investors only have this power because they have the money. As soon as they leave, won't the young guys (assuming they're guys) revert to their previous ways? The investors are in a position to make these guys aware of the fact that TALENT is hard to come by and if they want the company to succeed, they need to stay out of your way. Outside of this, I don't see the young guys benefitting from a Manager Tools style manager. No amount of feedback/coaching/03s will save them. And, you can't use late-stage coaching, either. They will burn through talent due to their arrogance for years, until one day they wake up and realize what they've done.

jhack's picture

[quote="slymcmosa"]I am not sure I really have a gameplan in mind for how to deal with the Founders/Owners[/quote]
Do you have a gameplan for turning around the performance of the company? If you think you can improve the company performance, take the job.

[quote="slymcmosa"]In the new position, I would be their boss[/quote]
No, they’re founders and (likely) major shareholders. You would be a steward of their business. If you think of yourself as their boss, you will be met with resistance, and you will lose.

[quote="slymcmosa"]how do I set the tone and correct behaviours of people who still are essentially in charge. [/quote]
You can’t correct their behavior.

This is a situation of persuasion and influence, not feedback and “managing.”

Have you read “Getting to Yes”? This might be a good example of needing to look for common goals first, before making any changes. You all might share the same goals and come to agree on how to acheive them.

And of course, meeting with them one on one and as a team is key. In this case, sounds like coaching and feedback are not going to be part of the picture. Finding out what they’d really like to do can help. Bill Joy is good example: after the early success at Sun, he wasn’t a good executive, so he was given his own research team to go off and do something. In Colorado. He created Oak, which came to market under the name “Java” and has been successful.

Could it be that these bright young founders would be happier doing research?

And do you share the same goals for the company?

John

lalam's picture

Just to put things in perspective, there is a precedent of two young and unexperienced Ph.D. students founding a company and then bringing in an "adult supervisor" to run the company...last time I checked their stock traded at over $700.

pmoriarty's picture

As a small startup matures, it is very common to see the founders get replaced by professional managers. As a 20+ year veteran of Silicon Valley, I have seen this happen countless times. The type of people needed to get the company off the ground are usually very different from the ones needed to grow the company into a larger organization.

It may be that your investors are starting this process. Food for thought.

If this is the transition that is happening, then you will be in a very good place to influence and guide how the company grows and matures.

lazerus's picture

Ialam:
Right. Part of the problem is that these guys think they're Google.

jhack's picture

The vast majority of venture or angel backed startups fail. There are a lot of reasons, but most are due to execution, not ideas.

All innovative firm founders, however, are sure they will be a big success. It's the nature of entrepreneurs. They will be the next Google.

The president's job is to find the execution path to success, and then use skillful negotiation and persuasion to align the forces of the firm: the founders, the investors, the senior managers, and the key players at all levels.

Can you do that here? Only you can judge. These companies are never "well oiled machines." They're more like an improvisational jazz combo.

It won't be easy. But the reward might be the most fun of your professional life.

John

dhkramer's picture

You can't manage the founders effectively, but perhaps you can have them removed as a condition of accepting the president position.

Especially that one guy who have you a hard time.

Just a thought.

RichRuh's picture

If your relationship is based on mutual respect, it could be a fantastic opportunity. But John is right, you're a steward, not a boss. Expect to be overruled from time to time.

[quote]But the reward might be the most fun of your professional life. [/quote]

I've worked for two small start-ups, and both were filled with high-energy excitement. They were fantastic periods in my life.

It is also not a coincidence that for my third small company, I chose one whose founders had long since died. :)

--Rich

slymcmosa's picture

Greetings all:

Excellent feed back so far, it is much appreciated.

John: I have not read “Getting to Yes”, I will certainly look into it. Your point about persuasion is definitely resonating with how I should look at this option.

Gameplan is this...Currently, Research = 75% of budget, reduce to 25%, create incentive/reward plan which ties performance of some individuals to revenue (currently doesn't exist). there are product plans, but those are part of my current job anyway.

Unfortunately the goals disconnect between the founders, and myself and the investors, and this is where this persuasion must begin.

As far as respect, as Rich asks...No, unfortunately there is not a mutual respect. I must say this is probably my biggest personal obstacle here. I must find away to develop some respect for these 2 founders. I do think I hold a bias towards pure academics 'taking up the road' so to speak in a business setting. I think it will be necessary for me to adjust my perspective to make any improvement.

They certainly do not respect me. One has told me that directly. Simply stated, because I do not hold an MBA from Harvard and he thinks that is what the company really needs. I understand where he is coming from, since he has dedicated his life to pursuing academic credentials, he holds them to be the highest indicator of merit. I do not satisfy his outlook.

I do have a great relationship with the lead founder (the third one), who recruited me, and whom I actually used to manage at a different company. I was hopeful that would work as a foundation, but it hasn't shaped up that way.

I am carefully considering all the advice here. It is giving me much to factor in to my thoughts.

-Sylvester

slymcmosa's picture

Thank you Jeff, John, lalam, Paul, dhkramer, and Rich for your responses.

They were very helpful in making this decision. I agreed with the assessments, particularly which suggested evaluating the 'persuasive' approach. It also helped to get caught up on the last couple podcasts which talked about persausion factors.

I ended up not accepting the position, and let the current president know last week, before the holidays here. I wish I had been able to come back to this forum to get advice on how to best deliver this decision.

Why did I choose against?: Being honest about the situation, I just do not see myself as skillful enough to effectively pursuade the other 2 founders on any type of regular basis. Especially given that I do not have good relationships with either one (including the silence treatment form one of them), and neither considers me to have expertise on most business matters.

I characterized my response to the president as follows:

* it is in the best interest of the company and myself to continue along the path of my expanded involvement in things such as conferences with investors, and participating in board meetings

* after we know more about my effectiveness there, something like this might make sense; maybe my relationship with the other founders can evolve positively, and they might even be able to gain some respect for me on the business level.

* if he needs to move forward (which I know he does) on finding someone else to move in to his role, possibly from the outside, that of course makes sense, and I will offer that person my full support.

So it was a difficult decision (still is), and I am grateful for what others have shared here that helped me look at it from more angles.

Cheers,
Sylvester

jhack's picture

It must have been a very hard decision. Thanks for letting us know what you chose.

I hope the company is a big success, and that you can share in it.

John

WillDuke's picture

Now that you've made your decision, how do you feel about your job safety? Do you think you might be pushed out to make way for the new person? Do you think you can advance in the future?

I'm not trying to be negative, just expressing some concern about possible repercussions.

slymcmosa's picture

John, Thank you for the kind words of encouragement.

Will, yes your instincts about the situation are right on. I consider my response, declining the offer, to be synonymous with having to find a new job.

I actually had started my job search several months ago when the incidents happened with one of the founders. I ultimately lost my team, anticipated being fired, and actually asked the president at that point if he wanted me to leave, which he did not, obviously. I did some consulting work on the side since then and have been trying to find another opportunity in my local job market.

I am trying to complete some current work around the product line, and what has become of the business plan I was originally brought in to write. I have some pride of ownership to keep me motivated there. Once those are complete, I will feel very comfortable moving on, as I feel being without a team for so long may be too damaging to my career. It is already a difficult story to present in an interview scenario.

Thanks for your thoughts.
-Sylvester

lazerus's picture

I like to qualify every post with the disclaimer that this is only my opinion. That being said, thanks for the update. Sometimes it seems one must choose between "career success" and personal well being. They may or may not do well with their startup, but it sounds like they are investing a lot in bad karma... 8)