Viewpoints

Founder & CEO?


August 10, 2016 – Founder and CEO?

The nature of entrepreneurship has changed over the past few decades. It used to be that founders saw a market opportunity and were driven solely to solve the problem. Fairchild Semiconductor is probably the seminal founding story. The founding team was passionate about two new technologies, silicon and planar processes. Their insight and execution fundamentally created the entire semiconductor and computing industry. My own founding experience (Infinity Financial Technology back in 1989) was inspired by the impending architectural shift to client-server and recognizing the significant market opportunity for database applications in financial services.

Somewhere along the way media crept in and some entrepreneurs were drawn more by fame and fortune. The media loves to paint founders either as heroes or villains and the recent unicorn hysteria has only furthered the process of building up or tearing down founders as icons of success or failure.

Over my 17 years of experience as an early stage venture investor, I’ve met literally thousands of founders/entrepreneurs. They all come with interesting personal and professional stories about what, how and why they believe in their vision. I am personally most drawn to founders that exhibit a strong product vision, but also have enough experience and humility to understand how the company and their roles will change through different phases.

One of the most difficult and delicate topics is that of the right roles for founders as a company evolves. All the media attention around startups has dramatically heightened the “CEO topic” to a third-rail issue among founders. Amazing product-oriented founders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg proved the archetype of product CEO. But having product/technical superpowers doesn’t necessarily translate into the skills needed to build a big business. Product excellence is critical — but to succeed, companies must also build excellence in sales, marketing and customer support.

Mitchell Hashimoto and Armon Dadgar, the founders of HashiCorp, are examples of the bygone era of founders driven by the raw desire to solve key product/technical problems. They themselves are 10x developers (or better!) with deep insights into software architecture and this has allowed them to attract incredible technical talent. They have succeeded wildly in building software that has tremendous adoption as evidenced by their GitHub statistics and the participants at their conferences.

But they also exhibit a number of other underrated traits in the entrepreneurial community — they are incredibly grounded, self-aware and humble. Today they announced they have brought on a CEO — David McJannet. Relinquishing control is scary, but they took their time and found an immensely talented executive who is a great person and fits their culture. This was an organic recognition and a very collaborative process between management and the board.

There are different opinions within the venture capital community about Founder as CEO. Both Ben Horowitz and Reid Hoffman have eloquently shared their views. Every startup is a snowflake and therefore unique and special, but I personally ascribe to a philosophy that is consistent with the Tao of HashiCorp –an “open-mindedness and humility to accept that we may be wrong. The ability to adapt is critical…and one we take pride in.”

I am incredibly excited to work together with David, Mitchell and Armon to build HashiCorp into a dominant player in devops automation.