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Founding CEOs

Stashed in: @bhorowitz, Vision, CEO, Customers!, Fixitfixitfixit!

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I read Ben's blog the other day. a16z separates CEOs into two buckets, professional and founder CEOs. I think there's a different axis too. Consensus-driven CEOs versus Vision-driven CEOs.

Consensus CEOs tend to surround themselves with smart people (hopefully), but typically treat all ideas as equal from the starting gate. They typically follow ideas as they make traction within an organization and are experts at keeping the talent from killing each other. Once a path or strategy has consensus, they are very good at keeping people pointed in the right direction. The downsides are that they sometimes lack the true understanding of what makes a product work in the marketplace. The metrics they use can be hard sales numbers or fuzzy "excitement" by company or customers. Solving major strategic problems can sometimes be inefficient and in situations where a compromise solution is also a failing strategy, consensus doesn't always work. Often, technology is just a cost solved by more dollars, but engineering within a product is mostly interchangeable. They split risk into smaller boxes and incrementally compromise on each until that risk is acceptable to keep the company going. They don't always do things the best way, but they get where the company needs to go.

Vision CEOs tend to be strongly centered individuals. They understand the whole process from technology to sales to marketing to customers to competitiveness. They have a strong vision of what is needed to tie all of these things into a winning strategy. They are brash, uncompromising, and driven. If you find a talented one, they can become cult-like figures due to their deep understanding. They see their job as the keeper of the vision come hell or highwater. If successful, they are validated through medium to long term success of having made the right decisions when there was no-one else to agree and only a very small windows of opportunity to get things right. If unsuccessful, they crash hard with very few supporters. When they make mistakes, they are big ones as they risk everything for what they think is the right way to change the world or do something better. They will do everything in their power to get the company or product where they think it should be--faster, quicker, though sometimes more costly and painfully than the safe path.

Is it fair to say that Founder CEOs tend to be Vision-driven and Professional CEOs tend to be Consensus-driven?

I was trying to figure out if you could have a founder-consensus or a vision-professional.

I don't think so. I'm hard-pressed to find an example.

Vision professional: Jim Barksdale? Founder consensus: Jim Clark?

I think this is the Ben Horowitz blog post being referenced:

Yup, that's the one, though it's always been a recurring theme too.

He also distinguishes between CEOs who are good in peacetime and those who are good in wartime:

I don't think I've even been at a company that needed a peacetime CEO. That's not to say that there wasn't one or two that got completely slaughtered being thrown into a wartime position.

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