A couple weeks ago, I talked with a young and single entrepreneur who told me he was asked twice in recent weeks by different women whether he was founder of a startup. In both cases, upon hearing his affirmative response, the women responded flirtatiously. Amused, he and I then wondered whether the women would have reacted the same way if he told them he was CEO of a startup.
As a happily married guy who has no plans to get into the matchmaking business, our conversation got me thinking on a more practical level about the titles of “CEO” and “Founder”. We all know that they’re two very different things. But I never gave much thought to how different they really are.
The reason I believe this is practical is because both titles are used rather often for entrepreneurs involved in a startup. I get it when Founder is used but not always when CEO is, especially for pre-revenue companies. So the more I thought about the differences, the more I came up with.
- There can be, and often are, multiple founders. There is almost always one CEO.
- Founder implies the past and a moment in time. CEO implies the future and a period of time.
- CEOs can always be founders. Founders can’t always be CEOs.
- Founders don’t have to worry about value creation. CEOs do.
- The CEO can, and in most cases will, change over time. They can be very temporary, are almost never permanent, and can be replaced by investors. Founders don’t change over time; they’re permanent, never temporary, and can’t really be replaced.
- Anyone can be a startup founder. A specific talent or responsibility isn’t required. But not anyone can be a startup CEO. It takes a very special talent and requires a great deal of responsibility.
- Founder is a title that doesn’t have to be earned and isn’t hard to keep; you just have to be part of a team that forms an idea, product, or company. CEO is a title that’s hard to earn and keep. You have to lead a team that brings an idea, product, or company to reality, and then builds that over time.
- To be a founder doesn’t require you to have emotional intelligence or to be a leader. To be a CEO does.
So to all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there, as well as the founders of pre-revenue companies, give careful thought to the CEO title. It means an awful lot, and carries a great deal of weight and responsibility. I just don’t know if it will get you a date.