Founders Shouldn’t Be the Glue Forever

In the early days of a startup, the founders are the glue. The vision for the company is in their head. They understand better than anyone how all the pieces fit together. With minimal resources, they’re usually involved in all aspects of the business because the team is so small, junior, or part-time (e.g., composed of contractors or interns). Founders are holding it all together and driving it forward. Founders are the duct tape and the bubble gum. If they aren’t around, things go sideways or screech to a halt. Fear becomes ingrained in their head: if they don’t do it, it won’t get done or it won’t get done right.

This is normal and can be beneficial in the early days. It can be the key to finding product–market fit. Being involved in everything allows the founder to get feedback directly from customers and adjust the entire business quickly. They can continually do this until product–market fit is achieved. Achieving product–market fit before the company runs out of runway is many times harder if the founder isn’t around.

Once product–market fit is achieved, though, this quickly starts to work against the company. Once you’ve fine-tuned your solution and your customers see its value and readily pay for it, it’s time to scale. As you scale, or try to, everything gets bigger. The team, number of customers, and initiatives all grow. With this complexity, the small startup that once relied on its founders is now it’s own living thing. It becomes impossible for the founders to have their hands in everything. There’s too much going on for it to all flow through founders. There aren’t enough hours in the day. If founders insist on continuing to be the glue, they become a bottleneck. Decision-making and growth slow drastically. Team members may become frustrated and leave.

Lots of founders don’t realize their insistence on being the glue is thwarting growth. It happened to me at CCAW and to many other founders I know. Once a founder figures this out, they should adjust quickly. I did this at CCAW, putting my trust in direct reports to make the right decisions to achieve our metrics. I was relieved. It was hard to not know everything, but I soon realized that it freed me up to think more strategically and see the business through a different lens. I was no longer in the weeds. I wasn’t even worried about the trees. I was looking at the forest!

If you’re a new (or newish) founder, you should understand that being the glue for your company is important. But when the company has entered its next phase, you need to put the right people, systems, and processes in place to allow the company to grow. It’s OK if you don’t know everything, and you’re not involved in everything. It’s means you’ve done a good job and your baby is becoming an adult!