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That every business start up is started by some one, two or three people is a given on the Business Start Up Allotment. No business exists until such time that one bright spark will say ‘let’s do this and I want to do that’ and off they trot, firing on all cylinders as they dispense largesse, grace and favours to anyone who will listen to their persuasive rhetoric for more than a minute or two.  Before long their dream is up and running the streets, the website is out in cyberspace and the business cards printed with themselves named as Founder, CEO, Managing Director, President (sometimes all four) or whatever power handle takes their fancy.

The Founder Syndrome problems start at this early act of naming themselves. The titles of CEO or MD are roles in an organisation and can be passed onto someone else, once one CEO decides he or she has had enough and is put out to pasture. They’re temporary names that can be as easily removed as gained and reflect the skill, expertise and relevance of the post holder.

The title of Founder though isn’t a role: it’s a statement of ownership and possession and no matter what happens in the future, the title cannot be taken away by any young buck who fancies the title. That young buck may well be successful in taking on the CEO role – but they’ll never become the Founder.

The Founder is able to exert permanent claims to ownership from day one of the start up venture. This in itself is not necessarily a problem: benign founders are able to share their vision with others, are prepared to have that vision critically challenged and mature enough to be flexible in delivery whilst keeping steady on the long term strategy. Benign founders are less concerned about the image of being a founder and more concerned about doing the right thing in the right kind of way. Benign founders will invariably have a knowledge or skill base upon which they argue for and promote a vision for their business. Benign Founders are not only persuasive and generous, but tend to be interesting and inspiring people to be around, given their views on and experience of the world.

Malign Founders however are a different kettle of fish altogether and worth steering clear of for a variety of reasons. They see their vision as their personal property which will only be shared with people who are inclined to nod their heads more than shake them; the Malign Founder cannot be challenged in any way whatsoever and construes challenges as disrespecting their authority, not recognising that respect is earned through actions, not demanded through fear. Malign Founders are driven 247 by what things look like and how they are perceived. For the Malign Founder, Image is Everything.

Malign founders may, when you scratch their surface, have a negligible knowledge or skill base to operate from and before long will be issuing demands and dictats which are based on nothing other than what ever takes the founders fancy that morning.

Malign founders consequently tend to up as flounders: flat fish which wallow in the shallows and invariably get washed up on the Beach of Irrelevance, puffing in the sand, blowing hot air to any passing stranger who has a spare minute or two to listen to their woes of how it’s everyone else’s fault that the start up of the malign founder has collapsed under the weight of its own rhetoric.

So, be careful of those Founder Fish in your dealings with start ups: spotting the different between the Benign and the Malign variety will be essential if you don’t want to be struck down by food poisoning for the rest of your start up venture.