It’s always obvious.
No democracy should ever exist. The ‘nice version’ should be a benign dictatorship.
It’s always easy to tell who the CEO is. If it’s not, then there is an issue.
No VC believes in some hippy BS.
I like to ask this question “Who is the CEO?” Then add “The Boss” to stir things up.
If no one blinks and stares at one person you are good. If co-founders are still vying for their place, the company is in disarray.
I know multiple founders who literally say ‘this is a dictatorship.’ One startup has 7 ‘co-founders’ in total but is still totally kosher with it being a dictatorship. The CEO said it more than once in front of other co-founders and no one blinked. That CEO is generally regarded as the smartest person in tech in his country. I don’t have grounds to disagree.
I’ve never met a startup that worked out that was not 100% clear on this. But sure, disagree with me and let me know something about Russian nail factories that I don’t know.
I’m kidding. It’s just obvious. A strong leader is chosen without a vote. If your role is in question… then…
Update – personal experience
I got a few messages from Quora about this being shared. It’s late and I feel like writing. I did the VC answer above, this is the private, personal answer.
I do feel it seems immodest for me to say this given the way I normally write, so give me a pass please;).
After I quit banking I did a few startups. Some never got off the ground (I was clueless), others did. I was a 26 y/o ex FIG M&A banker. I work hard etc, but I knew nothing then.
In two startups, I found co-founders in their late 30s/40s, some of whom were serial entrepreneurs and far more experienced than I. In both startups they just assumed I was the CEO. This really confused me. I brought the topic up each time. I was seriously ignorant in my view. But, they nominated me CEO. I didn’t want to be CEO. They wanted me to be the one to push.
Later, conversations in founding companies I was told ‘I presume you will be the CEO’ (Which could be bad, who knows!), but the point is you sort of get picked to be a CEO… or people sense it interacting with you.
Honestly… Anyone who knows what it means to be CEO wouldn’t want to be. The upside is typically not worth the stress. I actually distrust people who say they want to be CEO. I wonder if they are naive? Being the CEO sucks.
Ultimately, there is a degree of control-freakery that is baked into people. Yes, I’m a total control freak.
But as I originally wrote, it’s not something you choose. You get chosen. And… if a better choice comes along, you aren’t the obvious choice anymore.
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