Uber, Zenefits, Tanium, Lending Club CEOs of companies with billion dollar market caps have been in the news – and not in a good way. This seems to be occurring more and more. Why do these founders get to stay around?
Because the balance of power has dramatically shifted from investors to founders.
Here’s why it generates bad CEO behavior.
Unremarked and Unheralded, the balance of power between startup CEOs and their investors has radically changed.
- IPOs/M&A without a profit (or at times revenue) have become the norm
- The startup process has become demystified – information is everywhere
- Technology cycles have become a treadmill, and for startups to survive they need to be on a continuous innovation cycle
- VCs competing for unicorn investments have given founders control of the board
20th Century Tech Liquidity = Initial Public Offering
In the 20th-century tech companies and their investors made money through an Initial Public Offering (IPO). To turn your company’s stock into cash, you engaged a top-notch investment bank (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs) and/or their Silicon Valley compatriots (Hambrecht & Quist, Montgomery Securities, Robertson Stephens).
Typically, this caliber of bankers wouldn’t talk to you unless your company had five profitable quarters of increasing revenue. And you had to convince the bankers that you had a credible chance of having four more profitable quarters after your IPO. None of this was law, and nothing in writing required this; this was just how these firms did business to protect their large institutional customers who would buy the stock.
Twenty-five years ago, to go public you had to sell stuff – not just acquire users or have freemium products. People had to actually pay you for your product. This required a repeatable and scalable sales process, which required a professional sales staff and a product stable enough that customers wouldn’t return it.