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When is the right time to step aside as a founder?


One of the biggest challenges about starting a business is deciding when to step aside as a founder to bring in a more experienced CEO. Here are some tips.

Knowing when to step aside as a founder takes a careful blend of altruism, having the right replacement and good timing.

Because “building a business is like building a massive Lego,” explains Alistair Mitchell, “every little brick has to be perfect. One little brick that’s out of line won’t look good and it won’t work.”

The process becomes more difficult when you consider that like any founder, Mitchell’s blood, toil, sweat and tears are all part of Huddle’s essence.

Setting up the company in 2006, Mitchell has grown the cloud collaboration company to around 170 people in London, San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C., raised $86 million in funding and seen sales double year on year.

Having founded the company alongside Andy McLoughlin based on a mutual dislike for SharePoint, their differing skills contributed to initial growth.

Yet towards the back end of 2014, Mitchell realized that two minds weren’t enough for the vision to come to fruition.

“What we figured out, is that to really win in this very big market. It takes two sets of skills…sometimes you get them heroically combined into one. But often you need two or three people to do it.”

And with business operations not running as smoothly as they always had been, Mitchell, having struggled with timing of when to step aside as a founder realized change was needed.

“As a founder I got really frustrated when people didn’t get what I was trying to say- or, we set a vision, we set a plan and plans weren’t getting executed.”

The question of when to step aside as a founder became achingly clear after a meeting with prolific business builder Morten Brogger.

“Morten, was sitting opposite me and getting excited the more and more people didn’t get the execution of a plan”

It was the differing perspective of an experienced professional manager that Mitchell hopes will lead to further growth.

Brogger was the missing piece.

Mitchell explains that:

“If all the Lego’s are built up perfectly, you build this amazing thing. And that’s what it takes to build a really big business, you can get by on vision, and energy and passion so far…and then it requires a great business, great execution (going on from there).”