Should you keep the founder title?

When I founded my first company, I referred to myself as “founder and CEO”, and in retrospect, I believe it was a mistake. Were I to do it over again, I would de-emphasize my founder status.

The benefit of keeping the founder title accrues more notably to more junior founders: if the company grows and over time people are hired above you, it offers ego compensation to keep that founder tag on your business card alongside “product manager”, if you’ve effectively been demoted from VP of Product. This seems less relevant for a CEO, who should get sufficient ego out of that title alone.

The reason I think it was a mistake to emphasize founder status is that I was essentially implicitly trying to say I was better than the other, non-founder employees. That I was special, and had something they would never had. But that benefit was right there in the cap table: I had the ownership of a founder, and that ought to be enough. And my naked self-interest was for every employee to act like an founder and work their ass off — so rather than feeding my ego with a founder title, I should have been giving everyone the founder title and hoping they’d stay all weekend to get the software release out.

Post prompted by this question on Quora.

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Written by Josh Hannah
Josh Hannah joined Matrix Partners after a career as a serial entrepreneur (Betfair, eHow, wikiHow.) Read more about Josh.
  • mp3michael

    Astute Josh. I've never understood the biz cards with:

    Founder, CEO, Chairman, etc on them.

    — MR

  • bresslau

    Isn't a business card a tool for the outside audience? The addition of “founder” on a card is additional information for others which might be useful (for instance, if you are 22 and call yourself CEO, it explains how you came to that title).

  • Jose daVeiga

    Founder is a fact, not a title IMO. Thus anyone who should will probably know it. I'm guilty as charged of having used it. But I learned the hard way that it's attractive initially but can be detrimental later for all the reasons you mention and more. The unspoken rule in some investment circles (mindset) is that having founder title is equivalent to having a target on your back…the day the “big money” comes in the clock starts ticking and the founder's days are numbered unless he/she performs well above what even a seasoned CEO would deliver – and, when the going gets tough – it invariably will – the “founder” title takes a whole different meaning…

  • natalie hodge

    nice, so what do you recommend in a startup, with the typical two cofounders, technical and nontechnical, a two member experienced advisory board, and two independant contractors who are working, early customers with a complete product and revenues, and an experienced early stage CEO who has just come on board… I really could care less what's on my business card, frankly, We are all vesting 4 years, I am thinking of our two new implementation specialists ( which are really salespeople) being VP of Customers or something #lean ish… what does everyone think about early employee titles then?

  • Thebusinessguy

    I have to completely disagree, but its really not a big deal. I mean its not worth arguing about.. how about – I am CEO Bitch!

  • Shalom Ormsby

    Well said. Best to check one's ego at the door and minimize whatever titles or designations that would create apparent class-differences in one's company. Thanks for the post!

  • Mark Birch

    Really does not matter.  If it makes someone feel good about themselves, then so be it.  However It is not going to shift the opinions of employees one iota.

  • RevenueTrades

    I think Founding CEO is an appropriate title for a young founder who realizes their experience may be brought into question if they are managing a highly regulated business.


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