The Founder is the Author
“The Death of the Founder”
Following the ideas of Roland Barthes, or rather his essay “The Death of the Author”, I would like to consider the ethical and philosophical problem of the independent life of a founder and his startup.
A startup ceases to be the creation of a founder the moment it has its first users. From this moment the product begins to live an independent life. This is when the founder ceases to be the author and becomes the manager and owner. The commercial success and heights that the startup achieves are further regulated by the ambitions of the CEO and the Board of Directors.
Let’s look at a few examples:
1. In the mid-80’s Apple dismissed the company’s founder, Steve Jobs. At that moment, the owners felt that the author was a threat to the development of the company.
2. An equally striking example is Travis Kalanick’s resignation as CEO of Uber in 2017. The resignation came after a protracted conflict with investors.
3. My favorite example is Jeff Bezos’ departure from Amazon on the company’s 27th anniversary. I was and still am an Amazon investor and remember that the markets reacted positively to the news of the founder’s departure. Their stocks went up.
Of the Big Five, only Meta still has founder Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO. Basically, things were going to sunset for his tenure as CEO, but Mark decided to reinvent the company. I don’t know how much longer investors will be loyal to the CEO, but if the metaverse hike continues to drain so many of the company’s resources, reasonable demands for a change in leadership may follow.
At some point the product and company outgrows not only the creator’s intentions, this is already happening with the first customers, but even the creator’s ability to manage their creation. The author already becomes a hostage of their creation from the first day, but if the founder does not switch to new projects in time, they risk becoming a slave of their own creation.
This article is part of a series on the role of the founder in a cultural and philosophical context. A founder is a creator, but not in the art world, but in the business world.
Previous articles: Founder’s Journey — the Monomyth of VC and Cycles in Business and Culture