What does it take to lead through the scale-up stage?
Are scale-up CEOs born, or can they be made?

In the Cambridge cluster, investors and founders alike argue that CEO leadership matters hugely in
determining the ultimate outcomes for early-stage tech businesses. And the cost of a CEO failing and needing to be replaced can be high – in terms of shares, salaries and time – if not terminal, for the business.

But founder CEOs often struggle during the scale-up phase. Highly technical founders are often finding that they can no longer rely on their technical excellence, extreme productivity and vision. Noam Wasserman (HBR 2008) found that 50% of start-up founder CEOs are out within three years.

Why does this big leadership gap persist? How is it holding back the growth of scale-ups? Is the only option to get rid of the CEOs who don’t “have it”? Or can we challenge the dogma that great scale-up CEOs are “born with it” and can’t be “made”? Can tailored coaching support, mentoring and accrued experience precipitate the required breakthroughs in performance?

An investor recently told me about 5% of founders “have it” to make CEO in scale-up phase and beyond and another 5% can learn it if they’re coachable, listen and have ambition. Do you agree? If that’s right, then we have a chance to double the success rate with targeted intervention.

This survey should take 15-20 minutes to complete and can be anonymous if you wish.

Through this research, we aim to address the demoralising statistics about the drop-out rate of founder CEOs as businesses grow. We will equip investors, the CEOs themselves, and other mentors and coaches, with insight to guide and priortise their efforts in developing CEO leadership.

Please email katy@horizon37.co.uk if you'd like to know more about our methodology and the existing research we are building on.

Email address *
Name (leave blank if you wish to remain anonymous)
What roles do you have/had you had in the technology start-up and scale-up ecosystem (tick all that apply)
What business outcomes are most strongly influenced by the CEO’s leadership ability in scale-up phase?
Please describe one or more great scale-up CEO who you have worked with personally (named or anonymous)
In your estimation, what % of founders “have what it takes” to become a scale-up CEO (at the point when the founder the business)?
What % of founders don’t “have what it takes” to begin with, but could learn to be a scale-up CEO?
Which attitudes/beliefs must the CEO have to make the scale-up journey possible?
Essential
Very important
Important
Desireable
Not important
Unreasonable self-belief and optimism
Listen to experts and taking advice/ coaching/ mentoring
Appetite for renewal (vs revert to what you know)
Appreciate core competences of self and business
Ambition
Hard work and pace
Agreeableness (able to let go of ego)
Responsiveness and flexibility
Passion and dedication
Manage failure with resilience and learning
Which attitudes/beliefs do most founder CEOs ALREADY HAVE when they founder the company?
Which leadership skills do scale-up CEOs need?
Essential
Very Important
Important
Desireable
Not Important
Managing cash
Strategising to expand offer or market
Communicating hard messages inc firing and business model changes
Matching strategy to own ability
Getting network support and finding opportunities
Getting others to do operational delivery – (delegation and empowerment or tyrannical?)
Getting things done: Obsessive focus and execution on (well selected) priorities
Decision-making (right decision, right time)
Selling (recruiting, fund-raising, product/service)
Pivoting (judging when and how, implementing)
How strongly have most of the scale-up CEOs you have worked with performed in the following leadership areas?
Excellent
Good enough
Limiting Weakness
Selling (recruiting, fund-raising, product/service)
Getting network support and finding opportunities
Strategising to expand offer or market
Pivoting (judging when and how, implementing)
Decision-making (right decision, right time)
Matching strategy to own ability
Getting things done: Obsessive focus and execution on (well selected) priorities
Getting others to do operational delivery – (delegation and empowerment or tyrannical?)
Managing cash
Communicating hard messages inc firing and business model changes
What stops scale-up founder CEOs learning to lead?
What happens to the business if they learn too slowly?
What coaching/training interventions work best? (please describe case studies if possible)
Please may we follow up with you if we need to expand on any of your answers?
Your email address (optional)
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