When does the founder need a boss?
December 7, 2011 6:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm the founder of my company, but I think I need a manager. Has anyone been in a similar situation where they actually hired a boss for their own company?

I'm a software developer. I've been very lucky over the past few years and my little suite of applications have been quite successful. I've got a group of contract developers that work for me and a dedicated customer service person. I've tried to clear as much of the non-development work off my plate so that I can concentrate on improving the applications. The problem is that I'm not good at balancing my time between business concerns and development. I find myself increasingly heading off on tangents that have little to do with the long-term success of the company. So far my lack of focus hasn't had a negative impact as the products keep selling, but I can tell that I'm just spinning my wheels. The application release schedule has ground to a halt.

My closest confidants (spouse and friends) have suggested I hire a business/product manager.

Any advice from the Mefites on this arrangement?

Any idea how to structure it so that the new hire feels comfortable managing the development (ie me and my work)?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You might just need a good project manager. They would keep the project on timeline that would force you to remain on task enough to hit deadlines.
posted by rdurbin at 6:56 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't have advice to give, but the book The E-Myth Revisited covers this topic.
posted by mullacc at 6:59 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh man. I work for a company now that needs one. The boss has not taken kindly to the suggestions when they've been floated to him, and everybody is miserable for it. Do yourself and your employees a favor and create a manager/COO/whatever.

It's possible that there's somebody in your company already who has the skill set to do this. It's possible you'll need to look outside the company, and that's where you really need to be careful. Make sure that you're hiring somebody you work well with, who has a compatible business philosophy, and who is in tune with your plans for the future (e.g. maybe you want to keep producing and curating applications and stay roughly the same size, but your business person wants to ramp up to an IPO or try to get you bought out by Google for a big payoff).
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:59 AM on December 7, 2011

This is an interesting question. I have not been the owner of a company in this situation, but I have been a person who was hired to manage my bosses stuff. (In fact, I wish I still had that job, because I was very good at it). From the manger's prospective, here's what I think you should do to make it smooth:

1. Make it clear that is what the person is being hired for;
2. Make sure you hire someone who has a personality that means they are not afraid to approach you/tell you what to do (this is hard to tell when hiring from the outside);
3. Make sure that person has appropriate access to you. When I was in this type of role, I had a once a week, absolutely non-cancelable meeting with the person in charge. I trusted him to give me his full attention during that meeting, and he trusted me to only bring to his attention the things that actually needed his attention. That meant, if I brought it up then, it needed to be addressed. It took a while to figure out the balance, and you might have to work at it. But this was ESSENTIAL to me feeling like I actually had the authority to do my job, while also feeling like I could get the blessing of the person in charge when necessary. It also cut down on the amount of email traffic between us which was a Very Good Thing.
4. Make sure your people understand this persons role. For a while, that is going to mean you telling them "hey, you have to talk to NewGuy about that." This might be hard. Stick to your guns.
5. Communicate communicate communicate communicate. Maybe your meetings need to be 15 minutes every morning instead of once a week. Maybe you would prefer a lot of email (but I seriously think that consistent physical or phone meetings work MUCH BETTER, especially at establishing a new relationship).
6. Listen to this person's ideas. Do they want to try keeping a written task schedule somewhere? Let them try it and see how it works. Do they have ideas for marketing the software? let them run with it. If it isn't hurting the business/costing money, let the new, eager beaver inject this stuff into the business.

In terms of finding someone..... I think you need someone you trust, however you are going to find that person. That doesn't mean you need someone with a whatever degree. It means you need someone who does the things you think are important. Maybe that's organization; maybe it's a degree; maybe it's experience. Look for someone who has managed people and organized a work space/work day.

Man, I would love this kind of job, creating it from the ground up with an owner who wants it done right would be amazing! Best of luck!
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:02 AM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

We just talked about this last week in my software design class. One of our teaching fellows recounted his own start-up story, and I asked him, looking back, what the trigger point should have been for hiring a business manager. He couldn't say, only that he should have been looking into it far earlier than he did. So there's that anecdata.
posted by smirkette at 7:07 AM on December 7, 2011

It's not an unusual for an entrepreneur to be told by potential investors that one condition for investment is for the entrepreneur to bring on an experienced CEO to manage the company's operations.

Founder-CEOs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are actually the exception, not the rule, in most startups that last beyond the initial stage.
posted by dfriedman at 7:15 AM on December 7, 2011

Like dpx.mfx, I've not been the founder, I've been the person brought in to run the show.

My experience was the founder failed on almost every one of the points dpx.mfx lists and it created a very stressful situation for not only myself, but the staff. It took more than a year for us to make real progress while I tried to lead without having much authority because the founder didn't want to "upset his long standing employees by bringing in someone from the outside".

Once the founder took an extended vacation we were able to kick butt and take names. Upon his return things started to grind down. I had built the authority and trust with the team, but now the founder was re-engaged and wanted to lead again. It didn't take long for me to move on.

To summarize: If you're going to hire someone to do this, don't just let them - insist on their success.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:49 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Notch hired a business manager for minecraft so he could focus on programming.

The Penny Arcade guys didn't really become financially successful until they brought Robert Khoo on board as their business manager.
posted by empath at 8:12 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, yes!

And this is a good thing to do.

I don't want to talk about it too much in public but you could memail me.

Some brief tips:

• You want to do behaviorally-based questioning in interviews. You want to know how this person acts, THROUGH AND THROUGH. You want to drill, baby, drill. You don't want ANY behavioral surprises. How they act and how they behave and how they like to be organized and how they treat people is the single most important quality in this kind of hiring.

• You want to cast that net far and wide. You're not recruiting necessarily for accomplishments; you're recruiting for native skill and attitude and personhood.

• This is a generally a role where compensation should include equity (vesting) and/or revenue. That has to reflect part of what is a funny role. On the one hand, they are the boss and should be bossy. On another hand, they are your teammate. On a third-hand, they must at times defer to you. There are probably fourth and fifth hands, but let's not get tiresome.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:36 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have had a decade long relationship with a company that did exactly this to great success. Essentially, the guy who founded the company is a classic entrepreneur and Big Picture guy. Despite also being fairly good at day to day stuff, it was clear that he wanted to spend his time in a more blue sky way...and that he needed a steady hand at the wheel to keep the steady income coming in.

So he hired a relative with a strong business focus to run the company. Even though my friend still owns the company (most of it anyway), his relative doles out his budge. He literally can't spend money in his own company unless he clears it with his relative.

This has worked extremely well, and everyone is much happier and wealthier for it. The trick is: everyone involved are grown ups, and there are no ego issues. Like the above posters have said, if you set very, very clear goals and boundaries, this can be a great strategy.
posted by digitalprimate at 8:59 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

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