Ryan Deiss is the co-founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer, a highly successful online community and learning platform for digital marketers. Ryan recently talked about the challenges of going from founder and Chief Marketer to CEO and offered some great advice for those of you who are in the process of building a company. Below are some highlights from a recent podcast:
You Were the Rainmaker
Any successful founder who now finds themselves as a CEO, or if you’re a CEO who came up through the ranks, it’s because more times than not, you were the person who could make the cash register ring. You were the Rainmaker. You could by just own force of will dig in there and make the sales happen, which is why as your team grows it’s very hard to turn that off.
As a founder, even if you don’t enjoy marketing, you’ve got no choice in the early days of your business. Your first job is to create the product, and then as soon as it exists, even if it’s kind of crappy, it’s like okay we’ve got to sell this thing.
If you’ve experienced any success whatsoever as a founder, as an entrepreneur, a small business owner, congratulations! It’s because you’re a marketer and it’s because you’re pretty good at it. Turning that off and handing that over to someone else is one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do in my career.
Making the Shift to CEO
When you make the shift into CEO or any type of leadership role, it means you have to take on more of a strategic process and more of a strategic approach. It means that the work is going to be done through the efforts of others, so you’re not gonna get that thrill. But if you don’t do it you’re going to be stuck. If you don’t do it your company is not going to grow because it’s only going to be as strong as you are and it’s only going to be able to do as much as you have time in a day.
As your company grows and you have to take on more responsibilities you have less and less time. That’s why so many companies grow and do really well and then they seem to peter out and flounder. It’s because they never make that transition from the tactical to the strategic and that’s what CEOs need to learn to do.
How to Move from the Tactical to the Strategic
You start by hiring people to do the work that you hate to do and you suck at, that’s where it always begins. So in the early stages, building a team is really really easy. However, when you start needing to scale and hire for the roles that you’re good at and enjoy, that’s when it becomes difficult. For me, I really enjoyed marketing and I like to think I’m pretty good at. In the beginning, I tried to find someone who was this all-in-one marketer, who could do everything that I could do and then some.
What I found is that person just didn’t exist, and it’s not because I’m so amazing, it’s because I had a lot of experience doing this type of marketing that we were doing and also that I had so much tribal knowledge. If you take somebody even with more experience, because they didn’t have the direct experience and all the tribal knowledge associated with the specific company, they are never going to be as good as I was right from the beginning.
Hire, Train, Retain People… and Don’t Run Out of Money
If you think about the role of a CEO at its core, it is to hire, train and retain great people, and don’t run out of money. As your team begins to grow, you may really love diving in and doing all the tactical aspects of marketing. But if you’ve got a marketing team there’s going to be issues that are going to suck up a lot of your time.
You’re going to spend time talking with accountants and finance people, whether you like it or not. You’re going to be dealing with legal and all the other operational aspects of a business that maybe you don’t want to deal with. But in many cases, you’re the only person who can deal with it, and so a lot of the day-to-day, blocking and tackling, that goes into business and into marketing, in particular, you simply don’t have the time to do.
CEO’s Should Understand the Customer Journey
It is just taking more of that 30,000-foot view. So along with the roles of the CEO, hire, train, retain the best talent, and don’t run out of money, I would add to that, understand and seek to optimize the customer journey.
I think as a CEO that’s one of your critical documents if you want to still be involved from a marketing perspective, it’s that customer journey. You need to understand that because if you don’t know how strangers become customers, then you don’t know how the growth engine works in your business. How can you responsibly influence that growth?