Facebook recently changed its News Feed algorithm to give added weight to the word “congratulations.” Why? Because CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly found a co-worker’s birthday at the top of his news feed -- over the birth of his niece. After he spotted this, Zuckerberg asked that the algorithm be tweaked to give preference to the word “congratulations.”

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As the founder and CEO of a marketplace for investors and non-technology entrepreneurs, I face the dilemma almost every day of how involved to be in the details of the business. In my prior life as a private-equity investor, the question also came up regularly as I advised founders/CEOs routinely on when to and when not to get their hands dirty with operational details. 

Every CEO has to find that balance between vision, strategy, execution and day-to-day details. When a business is just starting, the CEO touches nearly everything. When the business has just 10 or 15 employees, chances are everyone sees the CEO on a regular basis. There’s an intimacy at that stage -- the vision is still fresh and clear and maybe nothing has gone sideways yet. As the company grows, the CEO must rely on those original employees to live and breathe the vision and transmit it to the employees they hire, and ensure everyone is executing on the vision.

Our company is almost 3 years old, and growing rapidly. It seems like there are a thousand things to do every day, and not enough hands to get it all done in a day. So if I get into the thick of it, it has to be strategic. 

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Over the years, I’ve come up with three questions to help decide when I should get involved:

  • Does the issue touch the company’s core values? For example, customer service is a core value of ours so I feel passionate about staying deeply involved.
  • Is something going on that seems counter to the company’s strategic direction? I try to shape and help maintain the vision of our company. If I see teams involved in activities that hinder or uncut strategy, I will often intervene.
  • Does the issue tie back to my vision? This can be, for example, around corporate culture or execution. Another example from Facebook -- Zuckerberg has always remained deeply involved in product development and customer experience. He told Wired’s Steven Levy, “Every new product that wants to build engagement bases its design on feeds.” Facebook’s News Feed is an integral feature tied to Zuckerberg’s founding vision of his company as the dominant platform for social engagement, and he stays involved in pushing this vision forward.

As founder/CEOs, we tend to worry about everything. Just as a parent worries about every aspect of their child’s life, founders always feel an urge to step in and fix things.

As I’ve said in the past, at some point early on a founder/CEO who is acting as product manager must fire him/herself from too much time in that role to focus on the bigger challenges of building the company. The key to being in the thick of it is to know when is the right time, and when to keep your distance.

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