If you’re a founder, do you ever dream of taking on a different role in your start-up? And if you do, do you sometimes wonder if other founders feel the same? Wearing too many hats goes with the territory of building an entirely new business from the ground up. But as the business grows, it’s mission-critical for you and your venture to hit pause and decide which hats would be better worn by others. And the start of a brand-new year is the perfect time to do so.
The accidental entrepreneur
Despite the perception that it’s a calling, many start-up founders we support never set out to create a business. The reality is founders are often your next-door neighbour, a subject matter expert or a stay-at-home parent or caregiver. What this diverse collective has in common is that they identified a pain point and were determined to find a solution. Lauren Barber, Founder and CEO of NeedleCalm, is a prime example. Lauren trained and worked as a clinical nurse specialist before her day job inspired her to find a solution for needle phobia and launch NeedleCalm, a multi-award-winning MedTech start-up. If you’d like to know more about Lauren’s inspiring story, read the Radium Capital Case Study about NeedleCalm.
Ryan Frederick, start-up expert and author of The Founders Manual confirms this experience. He says the best and most successful founders are the ones who never intended to be founders. Instead, they started a business to solve a problem they identified. And recent research by one of our partners, Cicada Innovations, confirms this finding. Data gathered from Cicada x Tech23 for the Cicada x Tech23 Insights report busted a myth about deep-tech founders. The received wisdom was that most deep-tech founders originate from academia. But 76% of Cicada x Tech23’s 128 eligible applicants set up their ventures independently.
Too many hats that don’t fit
While being an unintentional founder can be an indicator of start-up success, it’s not without its downsides. Several business skills are needed to build and grow any start-up. So, a lack of formal training and education in business or the start-up’s field of technology can hamstring founders. Capital and resources are at a premium, especially for early-stage start-ups. Founders often have no option other than to learn new skills on the fly or take on tasks and roles they’re not comfortable with to stay afloat. As the business grows, founders can forget to take off some of these hats or have a hard time letting go of the reins and trusting others to complete tasks. If either of these scenarios feels familiar, beware. Burnout is a real risk for overloaded founders. To learn more, read our blog, How to avoid burnout so you and your business thrive.
Finding the right time to refocus
The irony of this curse of busyness for founders is that they can’t optimise their skills, talent and experience. If this situation continues unchecked, both founders and their start-ups end up worse off. Founders fail to achieve the job satisfaction they’ve been striving for, and their start-ups miss out on greater success.
Leverage the arrival of a new year
There’s no hard and fast point in your start-up’s growth journey when you should start shedding some of your hats. Providing you’ve created a product or service, you’re bringing in revenue, and your cash flow is favourable, it’s time to hire help and onboard some employees. So we suggest you use the quieter weeks of the summer holidays in January to take a step back. It’s an opportunity to take stock of your working life, the roles you’re juggling and how your start-up is tracking.
Find the right role in your start-up
Moving from the founder role into being your start-up’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is an obvious new position for a founder looking to change roles. Research indicates that founders who recognise the need to begin working strategically on their start-up rather than working in it operationally typically transition into the CEO role. This is especially true if the founder’s ‘aha moment’ is accompanied by a fervour to be a CEO, a strategic mindset and an aptitude for the role. If you’re weighing up whether to become your start-up’s CEO, read our article, Are you planning to move from start-up Founder to CEO?
But the top job isn’t the only key start-up role founders can consider stepping into. In the early stages, there are several other key positions that are essential for your start-up to succeed.
These all-important positions are:
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO): Depending on the sector that your start-up operates in, this role could have a different name, for example, Chief Medical Officer, if you have a MedTech business. Regardless of the job title, this person has both an aptitude and passion for technology. The CTO leads your R&D and lives and breathes your start-up’s area of innovation.
- Chief Sales Officer (CSO): Generating revenue is crucial for your start-up’s long-term success. The CSO makes sure your start-up meets its revenue and sales growth targets. A master of sales tactics, the start-up CSO must also have an all-round skill set in business, be good with numbers and follow through on bedding in the processes required to deliver results.
- Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): Having someone dedicated to concentrating on your clients and how they perceive your product or service is a must for any start-up. Ideally, you want a marketing all-rounder in this role who can write, create designs, build landing pages, create and deliver multi-channel ad campaigns and manage social media. The CMO drives growth and works in close collaboration with the CSO.
Deciding on a new role in your start-up
When weighing which role to focus on, take an honest look at your skill set. Consider engaging a business coach to provide a crucial, impartial, external perspective. Your next step is to not only focus on your skills but also what you’re passionate about. It could be that you’re good at a particular role, but you don’t particularly enjoy it. Take a look at our article, Find your innovation style and unlock your potential. It may help you uncover and address precisely this point.
Finally, before deciding, consider the other people in your team (current employees or future hires). Think about who you would be working closely with if you were to take on a new role. If, for example, you’re thinking about moving into a CSO role, you’d need to be confident and comfortable working with the start-up’s CMO.
Evolve with your venture
Whatever course of action you choose, don’t let the fear of change or issues that could be overcome stop you from making your move. Remember, it’s not only your business that has grown. You’ve grown as a founder too. Take co-founders Kayla Itsines and Tobi Pearce. Together, they built and scaled Sweat, then exited and sold it in 2021. But in November 2023, the duo announced they had bought back Sweat, with Tobi Pearce taking on a new advisory role in his former firm.
Benchmark your start-up’s skills base
You may have misgivings about transitioning to a new role and leaving behind some of your tasks and duties. The best way to overcome these niggling doubts is to benchmark the skill sets you and your start-up team have. Work out how taking on a new role would change the skills mix or create capability gaps for your business. It’s crucial for your start-up’s success and your team’s morale to adequately backfill the work you were doing. So set about plugging any skills gaps that your change of role would create. You can do this by training your existing team or taking on new hires for any additional capabilities your start-up needs to keep growing.
Cultivate culture and prioritise communication
Changing to a new role is not just a change for you as your start-up’s founder. It’s a change that will impact your entire business. So, it needs to be managed carefully to achieve the smooth transition you want and need. Double down on your internal communications. Explain why, as the company founder, you’re changing roles, and how it will benefit your team and your entire start-up. Use this transition as an opportunity to set clear direction, explain your start-up’s strategy, and emphasise the company’s priorities and goals. If you do that, the sky’s the limit for your start-up, and personally for you as its founder.
 Frederick, R. (2021). The Best Founders Are The Unintentional Ones. [online] Medium. Available at: https://ryanfrederick.medium.com/the-best-founders-are-the-unintentional-ones-3d97a8ac1369
 info.cicadainnovations.com. (n.d.). Cicada x Tech23 2024. [online] Available at: https://info.cicadainnovations.com/en-au/cicada-tech23-2023-report
 Schooley, S. (2019). How to Hire for Your Startup: First 5 People You Should Hire. [online] Business News Daily. Available at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15186-first-startup-hires.html.
 Softkraft (2022). What is The Ideal Tech Startup Team Structure. [online] Available at: https://www.softkraft.co/what-is-the-ideal-tech-startup-team-structure/.
 Keating, E. (2023). Kayla Itsines and Tobi Pearce buy back Sweat fitness empire. [online] SmartCompany. Available at: https://www.smartcompany.com.au/finance/mergers-and-acquisitions/kayla-itsines-tobi-pearce-buy-back-sweat-us-owner-ifit/