How we decided who should be CEO, and who should be COO

When I first started Digital Press with Drew Reggie, we were founder and co-founder.

We split all ownership 50/50, and set out to build the company together, however, I assumed the role of “founder” for a few reasons:

  1. I have a strong personal brand on the Internet.
  2. I am heavily involved in the industry we were looking to disrupt.
  3. I am more extroverted and willing to speak outwardly (aka be the “face” of the company).

To both of us, the title of “founder” was nothing more than a nod to the above 3 points. It didn’t mean I was the one making all the decisions. It didn’t mean the whole thing was “my idea” and my co-founder was simply “helping me build it.”

Those are fallacies in the founder/co-founder perception — and anyone who thinks this way is doomed for failure.

The truth is, every successful startup I know of has their own 2-person team at the helm. In the World of Warcraft, we would call this your “2v2 comp,” and I’ve since brought the metaphor into the world of entrepreneurship.

Successful startup 2v2 teams can be all sorts of different combinations.

For example:

  • Marketer / Coder
  • Messaging strategist / Designer
  • Influencer / Growth Hacker
  • etc.

The first person is not “better” than the second, and the second isn’t “better” than the first. In order to beat other 2v2 teams, you have to play together — which is why calling one person the “founder” and the other the “co-founder” is literally nothing more than an organizational gesture. It helps solidify responsibilities and roles.

For example:

Founder/CEO: “I speak outwardly about our industry, our business, what pain points we’re looking to solve, and why.”

Co-founder/COO: “I focus internally on ensuring what is being spoken about is also being effectively delivered on.”

The responsibilities of the “founder” are not more important.

They’re just different

When Digital Press got to a point where we brought on advisors and actually moved from filing as an LLC to a corporation, suddenly “founder” and “co-founder” had turned into a question of, “Who is going to be CEO?”

(Side note: the real definition of a CEO is the person who acts as the link between the board and the other decision-makers within the company.)

“We have to list who the CEO is going to be?” said Drew, on the phone while I was cooking spaghetti for lunch in my apartment.

“We have to list someone?” I asked.

“It says we have to, yeah.”

“Do you want to be CEO?” I asked. Whose name we put down didn’t change the fact that we were building Digital Press together and making decisions together.

“I honestly don’t care,” said Drew. “Do you want to be CEO?”

I stirred my gluten-free noodles, talking on speakerphone.

“I don’t care either,” I said. “I just want to build something special.”

“Same,” said Drew. “I guess from a perception standpoint it makes the most sense to put you as CEO. I’m gonna just do that. I’m doing it. It’s done.”

I picked up the pot to drain the noddles and laughed.

“Now that that’s over with — what’s next on our To-Do list?”

2v2 teams that spend all day bickering over who should be listed as CEO are starting the game off on the wrong foot.
If you are arguing over who should be CEO, then you’ve made some sort of prior mistake already (usually one of the following):

  1. You’ve picked the wrong 2v2 partner.
  2. The answer isn’t obvious from a perception standpoint (and that’s a problem).
  3. You don’t have a healthy working relationship with your teammate (and your ego will be your greatest weakness).

Thanks for reading 🙂

This article first appeared on Medium.