When The Founder “Steps Up”

I saw the news reports last night that Reid Hoffman has hired a CEO to run LinkedIn.

The headline to the VentureBeat story I linked to is:

LinkedIn’s chief executive steps down

I’d like to suggest a new word to describe what really happened. Reid ‘stepped up’ to the role of chairman. It’s not a demotion or some kind of forced management change as the VentureBeat story alluded to (since updated):

Sometimes, venture capitalists agree to invest only on certain terms,
and they may have done so last month only on condition of a change in
executive — but we aren’t certain of this.

Stepping up is hard. But it’s often the right thing to do. The timing is critical. It’s generally not a smart thing to "step up" before the product/service and business model is figured out. Entrepreneurs are better at the tinkering style of management that is required to get the product/service and business model right. Hired managers are often better at executing it once the plan is set.

So judging from where LinkedIn is right now, my sense is that Reid picked a good time to "step up". According to OM at GigaOm:

Hoffman will remain chairman of the company, and will take an additional title of president of products.

That’s pretty clear that he’s not leaving the company. And that’s important. Look at all the founders coming back to their companies these days to fix them. When founders leave completely, it’s often not good for their companies.

We had a similar management change in our portfolio last year which I think was handled exceptionally well. Dave Morgan, the founder of TACODA and its CEO for its first five years, handed over the CEO job to Curt Viebranz, who is an experienced media company manager and had been COO for the prior two years and a board member since inception.

TACODA went through a number of iterations during the first five years but by the middle of last year was solidly on a plan to build the leading behaviorally targeted advertising network. Dave "stepped up" and Curt is now running the company. But Dave hasn’t left as anybody close to the company or the online media business will attest. He’s doing different jobs for the company and he’s still contributing that magic element that only a founder can bring.

So I hope Reid will do the same. I know he’s been quietly building one of the best portfolios of angel investments out there and he is probably headed to investing full time at some point. But as long as LinkedIn is an independent company, he should keep one foot in the door there. It’s important to step up instead of stepping down.