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How Changes In Co-Founder Roles Impact The Success Of Your Agency

In 2022, I detailed the evolution of the roles my co-founder and I assumed during our company’s start-up years. I outlined five stages from day 1 of running the business to a 40+ person agency. You can read about it here.

I ended that post with this sentence:

“We’re confident that stage five is the final stage of our role split – but you never know. We’re both excited to see where the business takes us next!”

… Well, I can tell you now….

…it was not the final stage….

Stage 5 was probably the worst iteration of our roles to date, which naturally had a significant impact on the business as a whole.

Below is a short snapshot of what stage 5 involves; for more details, read the original post linked above, then come back here.

  • Me as a CSO focusing on strategy

  • My business partner (Antonio) as COO focusing on operations

  • The above was stage 4, and then we adapted this to stage 5, which was led by Traction or Rocketfuel’s concept of a Visionary and Integrator (also referred to as the Entrepreneurial Operating System or EOS).

  • We referred to it as “Strategy + Implementation”, but it follows the same principle.

  • This principle is that one person defines the vision, strategy and plan of where the business will go.

  • The other person takes this plan and executes getting shit done.

On paper, the concept of visionary and integrator sounds like a dream and complements our skillsets well. I love long-term planning, strategy and ideas. My business partner is much more short-term and focuses on getting stuff done and moving on, which aligns perfectly with the integrator role.

I naturally moved to a more external role focusing on sales, marketing and partnerships. My business partner is more internal.

However, the roles didn’t work in reality. More tasks arise internally on a day-to-day basis than just completing work. There is a significant amount of interpersonal dynamics and problem-solving involved. Initially, Antonio found this enjoyable, but over time, it became less interesting and stimulating enough for him to continue as a full-time job.

I had a similar experience on the sales side. I enjoyed it initially, but it demands a lot of short-term focus. Once again, I found it less stimulating and enjoyable to pursue as a full-time job.

I came down to what we found interesting, enjoyable and stimulating daily.

In short, we were in the wrong roles. We knew it deep down, and it showed around 8/9 months into the year.

We eventually pivoted more towards a new set-up. So, seeing as this is a follow-up from the previous post, we can call this stage 6.

Stage 6: The Maturity stage

I’ve called it this for two main reasons:

  1. The business had moved through the rapid growth stage of 40 hires in under three years, meaning we had a more settled team with a strong hierarchy of directors, heads of and managers.

  2. As people and business owners, we are way more experienced and aware of what we like and don’t like. More importantly, what we contribute the most value towards (you could argue these are correlated!).

As part of this switch, I took on the Managing Director role, and Antonio took on the Head of Growth role.

We decided to remove the C-level as having a C-level for a small business didn’t feel right. It also meant an additional level of progression from a Director to the C-level, but for a company our size, there was no real difference between them.

As a result, we now had four directors:

  • Antonio as Growth Director

  • Olivia, as Operations Director

  • Me as Managing Director

  • Dan, as Delivery Director

We are ticking off the core components of a simplified agency structure (I’ll explain this more in a future post).

Antonio’s day-to-day covers what you’d expect from a typical growth/business development role; a few examples would include:

  • Closing inbound leads

  • Managing and executing marketing strategy

  • Managing marketing investment

  • Co-ordinating internal resources around sales and marketing efforts

  • Outbound sales efforts / inviting to events

  • Networking and events

  • Partnerships

In terms of my role, one of the main priorities is to align each of the three components to prevent any breakdowns, such as sales delivering something that the delivery team no longer offers or operations using outdated reporting templates for the delivery team.

The lack of a clear definition surrounding the responsibilities of a managing director prompted me to write this blog, which outlines the three core responsibilities of an agency managing director in considerable depth.

From an individual perspective:

In truth, we knew that these roles outlined in stage 6 were where we belonged. However, we both needed to experience the alternative to realise it wasn’t suitable for us. We needed to scratch that itch and rule it out for the rest of our careers.

What was the impact on the business of this?

The impact on the business would be significant, although intangible. The influence an individual has on the importance of structure and work practices may not be fully realised until a change is made. The overall approach to work can vary depending on the individual and the perspective and industry knowledge of the director or team lead, shaping their work and how their team operates. Therefore, changing roles has a ripple effect on the entire business, introducing uncertainty, disrupting continuity, and bringing about unnecessary changes. Changing founder roles has an impact across the whole industry.

As a result, I’ll be using the same conclusion to this post as I did to the one written in 2022:

“We’re confident that stage five six is the final stage of our role split – but you never know. We’re both excited to see where the business takes us next!”