The brief history of internet startups is littered with sad accounts of sites that grew rapidly and showed tons of promise, only to falter under new management.
In the early days of a site’s life, the founders are still at the helm, steadily pursuing their vision of revolutionizing the web. Full of zeal they launch new features, listen to end user feedback and iterate until the product is improved.
When these young founders are pressed for an actual business plan the usually response is, if we can solve a real problem and build a large enough user base then monetization will come naturally. That is pretty much the philosophy that startups like Digg, Facebook and Twitter were built on.
In the case of Digg, severe infighting over the direction of the company lead to several changes in leadership. The role of CEO has moved from founder Kevin Rose to Jay Adelson and now Matt Williams. With the recent announcement of Kevin Rose’s departure from the company, the fate of this once mighty web 2.0 darling is in question.
After being acquired by eBay both Skype and Stumbleupon faltered, only to be spun off and sold back to their founders.
Even thriving companies seem to need constant care from the founders to succeed. Despite being on a very impressive growth curve Twitter’s investors still thought it prudent to bring back once ousted CEO Jack Dorsey. In his new role as executive chairman, Dorsey will oversee product development and hopefully solve the problem of that steep learning curve that drives millions of new users away from the site.
Tech giant Google is also not immune to the loss of momentum that occurs when a founder leaves. In attempt to foster innovation and get back into startup mode they’ll be bringing back co-founder Larry Page to replace Eric Schmidt as CEO.
One shining example of investors sticking with the founder through thick and thin is FaceBook. Yes, they’ve had their fair share of mishaps and poor feature launches. Regardless, they were able to successfully navigate the waters of inexperienced leadership, by surrounding CEO Mark Zuckerberg with a bevy of disciplined business advisers.
Perhaps this is the best case model for keeping a company sharp while it scales to thousands of employees and millions of users.
What do you think, can tech tech companies thrive without their founders?
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