When Steve Jobs started Apple and started growing it, he got to a point where Apple was no longer a startup but was becoming a corporate entity.

To Steve’s credit, he knew that mentally he was still a CEO of a startup and not ready to be a CEO of a corporate entity.

Hence Steve had to get a seasoned CEO from Pespi.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” — Steve Jobs to John Sculley while trying to hire him from Pepsi.

This was Steve’s last attempt to make John accept the CEO position.

Long story short, Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985 after a long power struggle with the company’s board and its then-CEO John Sculley. 

Steve Jobs was brought back to Apple in 1997 and by then [10 years later] he was ready to be a corporate CEO.

As a startup entrepreneur, it is important to understand that leading a startup is different from leading a corporate entity.

Soccer teams that get promoted from the lower divisions to the premier league, often struggle to remain in the premier league, and after a year they get relegated back to the lower divisions.

Teams that remain in the premier league [after being promoted], understand that they are playing in a higher league and have to appoint experienced people, come up with a solid strategy to remain the league. Basically they need to do things differently. Hence the saying: What brought you here will not keep you here.

The challenge with success is the more senior and more experienced we become, the more delusional we get. We think that because we behave like this, we have achieved that. Therefore our behaviour must equal our success. 

This new found success means that when we are challenged by others we get confused, we overestimate our contributions and underestimate our flaws.

The cleverer we are, the better we are at backward rationalisation. Fundamentally, just because you have reached a certain level of seniority does not mean it is going to be the same behaviour or actions that will get you to the next level.

We need to get a seasoned mentor, surround ourselves with more experienced people, get a good Board and listen to the advice, reflect more and be less emotional, the world is not against you. The higher you go, the less the margin for error.

The higher you go, the more you need to behave like a novice, remain teachable, listen more than you talk. Behave as if you know nothing, even when you know more.

Read more books, register for a short course, subscribe to business journals etc.

This is partly why the transition from being a startup CEO to a corporate CEO is important.

Startup CEOs often focus on:

  • Ideating.
  • Building a prototype.
  • Product-Marketing Fit.
  • Iterate and pivot.
  • Go to market strategy.
  • Building a team.
  • Getting the pricing strategy right.

Corporate CEO [who’s startup is growing to a corporate entity] have to focus on:

  • Putting systems and processes in the business.
  • Delegating and letting go of startup duties.
  • Appointing the right people in the right positions.
  • Emotionally transitioning from leading a team of 5 to a team of 50.
  • Learning to trust others to do the work as good as you used to do.
  • Managing various, bigger and more serious stakeholders.
  • Crafting and implementing a growth strategy.

Shifting from being a hardcore-do-everything-entrepreneur, to being a leader-who-delegates-and-empowers is critical.

Telling the world how smart you are, starting sentences with no or but, speaking when angry, an excessive need to be yourself, failing to express gratitude, not listening, claiming credit that you don’t deserve, withholding information and failing to give proper recognition is the hallmark of poor leadership.

Being emotionally ready to empower your team and letting go of your startup duties is important for the continued success of your business.

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