about how a board should approach hiring a CEO. In that interview I revealed what I believe to be the secret to hiring any executive: find someone with a cofounder mindset.
“The board is a team of people in dynamic collaboration with the CEO, who, in a startup company, is almost always a founder. If the two founders hired a CEO, that CEO is essentially a third founder. The key dynamic—and it’s super hard—is one I learned through LinkedIn: you’re actually looking for a cofounder. You’re looking for a cofounder who may have a different skill set than the people who are part of the initial “family” or “tribe.”
There are various tests for cofounders. Like, “Would you do this job if we paid you half of what we’re paying you? Because you’re really committed to this thing?” That’s not to say you should pay them half, but you want someone who sees this as the thing they want to do.
When people hire a new CEO, they frequently say, “Well, I’m hiring a skill set.” Skill set’s important—which level you’re at, your ability to make it work. The reason you’re hiring a new CEO is because there are new skill sets that are critically important. But if someone doesn’t have the founder’s mindset, they’ll be fundamentally, at best, in asset management. They’ll make sure that things keep running, keep going on a trajectory. But the ability to change the curve means taking a risk that a founder would take. That requires moral authority, but it also requires mental willingness—including risking hearing that, “You really screwed up, you’re doing this really badly.” You have to be willing to go through that in order to make it happen.
, a non-profit marketplace for social micro-lending. I’ve been on Kiva’s board for more than 15 years and involved in hiring great Kiva executives during that time. In April 2021, Kiva’s board went through the rigorous process of hiring a new CEO. The company had added key strategic products (capital and protocol) under the previous CEO’s leadership, so we were hard-pressed to find someone who could not only fill big shoes, but approach the role with a cofounder mindset.
We started by considering the company’s stage. During the pandemic and its massive impact on the emerging world, Kiva’s borrowers and partners were disproportionally affected by the economic downturn. The world had changed, and more than ever Kiva was positioned to unlock growth and impact on a mass scale. But to do that, the company would need to evolve as well. In other words, we weren’t looking for an “asset manager” to keep things running smoothly. Whoever took over the reins of CEO needed to be willing to take risks in order to achieve Kiva’s vision of a financially inclusive world.
This backdrop allowed us to hone our search to a specific set of candidate traits. As a board, we worked together to source, interview, and ultimately extend an offer. We were thrilled when
. Chris is widely known for his depth of character, for his integrity, and for being a mission-driven leader — just what Kiva needs during this critical stage.
I’ve gone through this same process with hundreds of candidates, and success isn’t guaranteed. In the best cases we end up hiring executives like Chris, but more often than not, boards hire the wrong people. I often say that hiring a CEO has, at best, a .500 batting average. The boards who are the best at hiring great executives build systems to maximize their chances of finding great fits. I’ve distilled my favorite parts of those systems into a ritual you can adopt with your board.
A ritual for hiring executives
This ritual is designed to help boards source, interview, and hire amazing executives. Start by nailing the key candidate traits (e.g. cofounder mindset), collaborate as a board to source candidates, then interview and collect feedback. Finally, rank vote for your top choices and decide as a board who to extend an offer to.
Instructions: For each executive you hire,
Duplicate this page
and share with your board. This ritual can often be done asynchronously, and then discussed live in a board meeting.
Clear example data
1. Nail key candidate traits
Ask each member of the board to list the 2-3 key traits of the ideal candidate. Consider experience, skillsets, stage of the company, etc. Vote, then discuss as a board.
Experience leading a GTM team from Series B to IPO
Exceptional engineering chops, including leading a large team
Cofounder mindset. Willing to take more risks.
There are no rows in this table
2. Source candidates
Often the best executive candidates come through your board’s network. At the beginning of the hiring process, ask your board to brainstorm a list of potential candidates. You don’t need to wait for a board meeting to start this exercise — this step often takes several weeks so I recommend starting early.
Then, begin interviewing candidates. Ask board members to participate in the interviews - they’ll often have unique perspectives or insights. As board members interview candidates, ask them to capture their feedback in the table below.
Add interview notes
Super impressed with...
We should definitely hire...
There are no rows in this table
After you’ve collected feedback, it’s time to decide on a candidate. Each board member casts their votes for first, second, and third picks for the role. When you’ve decided whom to extend an offer to, check the box next to the candidate’s name.