There are Four Types of Founders…Which One Are You?

Understanding the Founder-Type Matrix

NOTE: This is post is part of a series called, How To Build a Scalable Company. Here are the other posts in case you missed them:

Part 1: The 5 Phases of Scalable Companies
Part 2: The 4 Types of Scalable Founders (you are here)
Part 3: Overcoming the 6 Constraints To Scale

Wanna go even deeper? Click here to access The Scalable Operating System Mini-Class

What type of founder are you?

Are you a “visionary leader” with a million ideas a minute?

Or, are you an “in-the-trenches operator” who gets things done by sheer force of will?

Or, maybe you’re more of the “strong, silent type” who can manage projects and teams with skill and precision, or perhaps you prefer to “lead from a distance,” and jump in only when and if you’re needed.

Which best describes you, and most importantly, which “founder-type” is the most effective?

By the end of this post, you’ll have answers to both questions.

The Four (Very Different) Founder Types

The skills and personalities of successful entrepreneurs are as diverse as the companies they form, so coming up with a simple framework that distills all founders into just four groups was no easy task.

But, I think we pulled it off… 🙂

Introducing: The Founder-Type Matrix.

The Founder-Type Matrix lays out the 4 different “types” of entrepreneurs that are needed to scale virtually any business. They are:

  • The Inventor
  • The Driver
  • The Manager
  • The Guide

The y-axis of the Founder-Type Matrix acknowledges that some founders default the vision/strategy side of the business, while others default the operational/tactical side. Both “visionaries” and “operators” are essential (and most successful entrepreneurs are at least mildly proficient at each), but take a moment to consider where you tend to gravitate on the visionary/operator continuum.

Are you more of a strategic visionary or more of a tactical operator?

Similarly, the x-axis of this matrix acknowledges that founder-types change as the company scales and changes. To put it simply, the needs of an early-stage company vary drastically from the needs of a late-stage company, and it’s common…even necessary…for founders to change as the needs of his or her company changes.

So where is your business, today? Early-stage? Late-stage? Somewhere in the middle?

Now, let’s look at each “Founder-Type,” and tell me which one sounds most like you…

Founder-Type #1: The Inventor

The Inventor is an “idea machine,” capable of conceiving new products, projects, and initiatives seemingly out of thin air. Inventors are driven by trends and instincts, and they create value by researching and prototyping visionary/breakthrough ideas.

Inventors are critical in the early stages of a company’s founding, but an invention without execution is merely an idea. And that’s where the next founder-type comes in…

Founder-Type #2: The Driver

The Driver is the primary source of acceleration and momentum in any company. Drivers are critical in the early days, because Drivers are both willing and able to “roll up their sleeves” and get the work DONE.

But Drivers have a hard time stepping aside to let other people do the work. Their mantra, “If it’s going to be done right, it needs to be done by me…” is helpful when a company is scratching and clawing for initial traction, but that same mentality can also hold a company back as it scales.

And that’s why great founders also need to become great managers…

Founder-Type #3: The Manager

The Manager is a “leader of leaders” who adds value by creating processes and standards, and then holding their teams accountable to maintaining those standards. Not only are Managers capable of hiring for their weaknesses, but they’re also capable of hiring for their strengths, which is essential as a company scales from an early-stage startup into a later-stage organization.

Of all the founder-types, the Manager is the least common, but it’s also the most critical if your goal is to create a scalable company. (Fortunately, this founder-type is the most teachable if the founder is willing to learn and adapt.)

But Manager-type founders (whether natural-Managers or learned-Managers) can run the risk of becoming a “Micro-Manager” if they aren’t careful, and that’s why the fourth founder-type exists…

Founder-Type #4: The Guide

The Guide is the keeper and sustainer of the vision and culture. Unlike the Inventor who adds value by answering questions that haven’t been asked yet, the Guide adds value by knowing the right questions to ask at just the right moment, and then trusting his or her team to execute the appropriate action.

But Guides are NOT passive observers. An experienced Guide will know when to step back, and when to fully engage…without shifting too much into “inventor-mode.”

Finding YOUR Founder-Type

So which founder-type are you?

A) Inventor
B) Driver
C) Manager
D) Guide

If you answered, “E) All of the above…”

…you’re correct.

Think about it. While all successful founders have a default, primary founder-type, and nearly all of us will find at least one of these founder-types frustrating or downright repulsive, the fact remains that each role is essential at different times in a company’s lifecycle.

And that’s what makes the Founder-Type Matrix unique…

It’s the only “personality test” for entrepreneurs that gives us the freedom to change as our companies change.

And here’s why that’s so important…

The Freedom To Change

The one thing we can count on as entrepreneurs is change.

Markets shift…
Economies retract and expand…
New products launch, and…
New competitors emerge.

Change is a constant.

And not all change is “bad change.” In fact, in my experience, success creates just as much change (if not MORE change), than failure. But whether the change is “good” or the change is “bad,” change is inevitable, and that’s why we need a framework that accounts for change.

To further prove this point, let’s consider change through the lens of the Entrepreneur Lifecycle.

If you’re familiar with the Entrepreneurial Lifecycle, then you already know how businesses progress through five distinct and predictable phases:

  • Traction
  • Momentum
  • Expansion
  • Flatline, and…
  • Breakout

With this context, let’s look at how entrepreneurs must adapt if they want to reach the next phase successfully.

During the Traction Phase (when a company is still trying to find product/market fit), the Inventor-Type is essential.

Products need invention.
Offers need invention.
Launch and marketing strategies need invention.

This stage is all about creating something from nothing, and that’s exactly what the visionary-Inventor loves to do!

But once product/market fit is established and Traction turns into Momentum, it’s time for the Inventor to step aside and let the Driver take over. Constant invention is a distraction, and invention without execution is a recipe for frustration and failure.

The Driver-Type can typically push a business through Momentum and into Expansion, but this is where the “If it has to be done, it must be done by me…” attitude becomes a hindrance to scale, which causes most companies to enter the dreaded “Flatline Stage.”

NOTE: I wrote about the “Flatline Stage” here, so if this concept is new to you, it’s worth pausing to review it.

Companies can flatline for a number of reasons, but the primary reason companies stall out is they reach the limit of their owner’s capacity.

(Read that last line again, because it’s important.)

Yep, more times than not, great companies are constrained by their own founders…NOT by economic or competitive forces.

And that’s why, if you want to push through the Flatline stage and into Breakout, you need to become the type of Manager who not only hires for your weaknesses, but also hires for your strengths. This is easier said than done, but it’s the key distinction between companies that scale and companies that flounder.

There’s just one problem…

Founders that linger in the Manager-type for too long can actually do more harm than good. Managers, at their worst, become bureaucrats, and bureaucrats stifle creativity, culture, and innovation.

But as the founder, it’s quite literally your job to foster your company’s culture and creativity, and that’s why it’s essential that you shift into the Guide role just as soon as your company is through Flatline and back in an upward trajectory.

Put it all together, and the path that most founders will take as their company progresses from idea, to startup, to SCALE-up, and beyond goes: Inventor, Driver, Manager, and Guide…

Said another way…

  • INVENTORS create and build
  • DRIVERS launch and grow
  • MANAGERS create scalability
  • GUIDES nurture and scale

And successful founders learn to do all of the above.

Next Steps and Action Items

Now that you understand the Founder-Type Matrix and its implications on you and your company’s ability to scale, here are the steps you need to take, starting now…

STEP 1: Know Thyself

Before we can truly begin, we need to first acknowledge our default, primary founder-type.

The natural state of most entrepreneurs is either Inventor or Driver, and the least-natural state is the Manager. That said, I have known successful entrepreneurs who were strong Manager-types, either through some miracle of nature or as the result of previous training or careers, but it’s rare.

I have also seen founding teams where one co-founder was more of an Inventor and another more of a Driver or Manager. This combination is a proven winner, but only if both sides appreciate their own default-types as well as the default-types of their co-founders.

Once you have clearly identified your default setting, you can move on to Step 2…

STEP 2: Know Thy Company

What stage is your company in right now?

Are you still in the early days where systems and processes stifle innovation, or are you caught in that “messy middle” where the duct tape and bubble gum that’s been holding things together Is starting to break loose?

Understanding the Entrepreneurial Lifecycle is critical to identifying the role you need to play, so review the chart, above, and read this post, and let the lifecycle stages act as your guide.

Don’t over-think it, and don’t bias your answer by choosing the stage you wish you were in. Be real. Be honest. Ask yourself…

“If I couldn’t run my company, what kind of person would I want to hire for the stage we’re in RIGHT NOW?”

Once you have identified the stage you’re in and the founder-type your company needs, you can move on to Step 3…

STEP 3: Know They Gaps

Sometimes your skills align perfectly with your company’s needs…

…sometimes they don’t.

And you know what? That’s ok. No leader is perfect, and no leader will have all the tools in their toolbox at the start of the job. The key is, you can’t be in denial, nor can you be delusional about the situation.

While it may sound crazy, doing the RIGHT job poorly is better than doing the WRONG one well.

(Read that, again.)

Co-founders and team members can help fill the gaps (see Step 4), but there’s no remedy for a founder who’s unwilling to acknowledge reality. (Actually, there is…it’s called, “Retreat.” I talk about this option in the ScalableOS Mini-Class, which you can watch here if you’re an Insider. Still, I don’t recommend it.)

So, you have some gaps? Good! Now you can set about filling them…

STEP 4: Bridge Thy Gaps

The biggest mistake I see founders make is deciding ahead of time that they can’t become a Manager, Guide, or whatever role their company needs them to be.

These founders actively stunt their company’s growth (as well as their personal growth), and most don’t even realize they are doing it. Some even take the extreme step of firing themselves and hiring someone else to bridge their gaps. (Cough…cough…ME!…cough…)

(NOTE: There is a place and time when it might make sense for a founder to bring in professional management and operations, but that time is usually not as early as they think, nor is it advisable to place these “outsiders” over you, if you can avoid it.)

So before you retreat, and certainly before you fire yourself, you need to trust that you CAN do this. Quitting is always an option, but it shouldn’t be your first.

These skills are learnable.

In fact, it’s quite literally our mission at The Scalable Company to help founders, like you, scale yourself so you can scale your company…without sacrificing your soul.

Putting it more bluntly, if you need help closing some gaps, you’ve come to the right place.

All we ask is that you trust the process, and put in the work. And speaking of “the work,” that brings me to the fifth and final step…

STEP 5: Get Thy Ass To Work!

We built the Founder-Type Matrix to encourage ACTION…not excuses.

So your company needs you to be a Manager, but you prefer the Inventor role? Or maybe you finally get comfortable in the Manager role, and now it’s time to transition into the Guide role?

Welcome to the club.

A friend and fellow founder said it best…

“It seems like the moment I finally master a particular founder-type is the moment I need to abandon it and move onto the next one…”

Yep, that’s exactly how it happens. (In fact, if you wonder why almost all entrepreneurs struggle with “imposter syndrome,” now you know.)

This is the entrepreneurial reality.

You can either be frustrated by it, or excited by it, but just know you aren’t allowed to complain and throw a “woe is me” pity-party about it. Because whether you realize it or not…

..YOU SIGNED UP FOR THIS!

This our calling, and anyone who told you it would be easy was lying. But the good news is if you are willing to adapt…if you are willing to change… you’ll find the experience both rewarding, and maybe even enjoyable.

After all, entrepreneurs aren’t known for staying in one place too long.

Enjoy the ride.

-Ryan

P.S. Remember, you have friends and community to help you along the way. If you read this far, I sincerely hope you’ll join us.

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