Perhaps before but certainly shortly after you start your business, you will visit a local or online printing store and create and order business cards. More than likely you will give yourself the title of CEO or Chief Executive Office of your newly formed company. With those cards and your standard email signature template, you will naturally feel very proud of yourself and your new title. Unfortunately, you will quickly find out that you are really the Chief Everything Officer. Becoming the Chief Executive Officer will happen much later, if at all, and will occur as a gradual transformation.
The transition to the role of Chief Executive Officer for a startup actually is the last phase in a multi-phase process. Each phase is marked by one particular facet of starting your company. The facets certainly overlap and the transitions are subtle. Further, you never really leave the previous phases. Instead, you assume additional responsibilities with each transition. The seven phases are:
- Chief Idea Officer
In this phase, you have an idea that you feel is worthwhile pursuing based on filling a perceived customer need.
- Chief Visionary Officer
As your idea gels, you begin to see how your idea can take form and the end result you will accomplish and the benefits it will provide to your customers.
- Chief Entrepreneur Officer
You begin to socialize your idea and begin to outline detailed plans on what you will provide; how you will provide it; and what you will need to transform your idea and vision into reality.
- Chief Funding Officer
Your entire world appears to be focused on securing funding from investors to actually begin to implement your plans and dreams. During this phase there is a marked increase in your frustration as you realize that you do not have control but must rely on others to help you to transform your idea into reality.
- Chief Everything Officer
Although you never thought of it this way, one morning you wake up and realize that from Day One you have been thinking about and doing everything. Each day begins with a planned list of activities. During most days, an unforeseen issue arises that requires your immediate attention. You end your fifteen hour day feeling that you worked hard but accomplished very little. At times, you ask yourself if the vision is really worth pursuing.
- Chief Resource Officer
You begin to hire people to help you in selected areas. You may have actually taken on this role much earlier in the startup process but at this point, you understand that you simply cannot do it alone. You need to enlist the help of others with time and expertise well beyond your capabilities.
- Chief Executive Officer
Finally, with the company up and running with some level of staff available, you actually become the CEO that you originally envisioned. However, you still are responsible, perhaps now more than ever, for all previous roles you have held. Said another way, you still feel responsible for “everything” only now, you no longer control everything. Instead, you must rely on others. Even with their best intentions, expertise and capabilities, the people that you bring on board will never have the same deep feelings for the company and commitment. Many times you will feel overwhelmed and frustrated that others “just don’t understand”. You will want to either “do it myself” or totally let go but you know that you can’t do either. You are mentally working day and night whether in the office or at your son’s baseball game. When all the pieces fall in place, you give credit to everyone, but when anything goes wrong, you feel personally responsible.
It is not an easy task of being a Chief Everything Officer even as you transition to the Chief Executive Officer role. However, it is incredibly rewarding when you take a moment and step back and think about how far you have come from that first idea stage and reflect on how many lives you have impacted along the way. As a CEO, you are in a very select class. Only a small fraction of the entire population will ever share that experience. It comes at a high price and never gets easy; only more complicated as the “everything” keeps expanding.