The Difference Between a Founder and CEO

Founding a company requires a very different mindset and skillset than getting that same company to grow. That’s why most founders must either transition into the role of CEO (chief executive officer) over time, or take steps to hire a dedicated strategic leader.

Understanding the difference between a founder and CEO will help you know what to expect as you move from starting your business to strategizing around its long-term success.

What is a business founder?

As the person who comes up with the idea for their company, a founder is usually also responsible for setting up and structuring their business, and establishing its vision and goals.

Successful founders possess capabilities that allow them to:

  • Identify products or services that are likely to sell
  • Secure the funding they need to get their business off the ground
  • Bring in new customers and sales (often through networking or cold-calling)

Every business has a founder, but not every founder becomes a CEO.

Some examples of well-known business founders-turned-CEO include Canva’s Melanie Perkins, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Tesla’s Elon Musk.

What is a CEO?

A CEO functions as the head of an established company. They’re typically responsible for overseeing operations, and developing, updating, or expanding their firm’s policies, marketing efforts, and long-term strategies.

Successful CEOs possess capabilities that allow them to:

  • Delegate daily and supervisory work
  • Communicate effectively with their team to meet goals and improve performance
  • Liaise with investors, and position their company to scale

Depending on the industry, a CEO may also be known as a president, executive director, or general manager.

No matter their title, however, most CEOs will collaborate with a company’s founder to carry out their joint mission.

Transitioning from founder to CEO

One of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face as an entrepreneur is navigating the transition from founder to strategic leader.

To succeed, founders and CEOs must adopt different areas of focus—which is why many business owners choose to stick with what they love and leave the responsibilities of growth to somebody else.

Should you decide to evolve your current role rather than hire a professional CEO, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Prepare yourself mentally

As you move from establishing to growing your business, you’ll need to get used to the idea of switching over from:

  • Spending a good part of your day engaged in hands-on work and client interactions, to
  • Concentrating on high-level business development

Changing your role incrementally from founder to CEO as you build up your team will give you time to a) adapt to working differently from day to day, and b) channel your passion for your business in a new direction.

2. Invest in your practical skillset

CEOs routinely work with senior management teams and/or a board of directors to make pivotal, business-wide decisions. Expanding your skillset accordingly will make transitioning your role that much easier.

You might, for example, invest in professional training to improve your:

  • Communication, presentation, negotiation, or conflict resolution skills
  • Organization and time management practices
  • Strategic planning and decision-making abilities

Remember, adopting a CEO mindset means consistently thinking ahead with the intention of growing the value in your business.

3. Be patient with your progress

It may take months, or even years to fully transform your role and reinvent yourself as an executive leader.

You’ll make better progress if you:

If, in the end, you decide that joining the ranks of the C-suite isn’t for you, working with an experienced recruitment firm can help ensure you find the best possible CEO for your business.

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