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From How, to What, to Who

Company founders face numerous challenges as they try and grow from an idea in a basement, to a corporation on the Fortune rankings. Most founders don’t make it and fall away to play other roles when an experienced CEO is brought in, or leave the company entirely. The skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur are very different from those needed to manage a mid-sized organization, and are completely different from what’s necessary to run a large, successful, mature corporation. There are only a few founders who have successfully made the journey, transitioning among all three levels. Bill Gates at Microsoft and Jeff Bezos at Amazon come to mind. There are probably a few others.

I recently saw a few sentences in a Harvard Business Review paper talking about Bezos and how he made the journey. I think it’s the best summary I’ve seen about the critical need at each level:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was once asked how he successfully made the leaps from entrepreneur to manager to leader of a large enterprise. He replied that as an entrepreneur starting out alone, his challenge was answering “how” questions of implementing his vision. As manager, he was concerned with “what” questions concerning what were the most attractive products and services. Now his questions are about “who,” such as who best to figure out the “hows” and “whats.”

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