The Challenges Going from Founder to CEO with Joel Trammell at Khorus Software

Not every founder is meant to be the CEO of their company. Going from founder to CEO takes new skillsets, and some founders aren’t willing to do the work. Today’s guest is Joel Trammell, founder, and CEO at Khorus Software. Khorus provides a software-based management system for CEOs to optimize the performance and alignment of their organizations. Joel and I discuss the challenges of going from founder to CEO. This transition gives many founders trouble, mainly due to blind spots. Joel shares his ideas about going from founder to CEO so you can make the shift.

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Joel Trammell: The Transcript

About: Joel Trammell is an American businessman and entrepreneur. Trammell is most well known for his work in CEO education and software. Trammell is the former CEO of Black Box Network Services, and the founder and chairman of Khorus Software, which equips CEOs with strategy-execution software.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Joel Trammell: I think the big, the biggest paradigm shift is, when you’re starting a business, your unit of operation is things, it’s delivering product, it’s building product, it’s selling something, working deals. When you make the shift to CEO, your unit of operation is fundamentally people. , it is how do you maximize the performance of those people in the organization? How do you deliver the best outcome for the whole organization? And so that’s a shift from things to people, and it’s just very fundamental the way you look at the world as a CEO, compared to the way you look at it. As a, as a small business owner is responsible for delivering a service to customers.

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: When your company is about 20  employees, you probably have a pretty good handle on the culture and what people are doing, and how the company grows. But when you get to more than 20 employees. It starts getting a little bit more difficult. Communication is a little bit, , less effective. The alignment issues start showing up personalities and emotional issues and challenges of leading people all start to come into effect. And what I’ve seen is if you treat your business as a founder, as you go through these growth phases, you will actually lose out on the opportunities in front of you. What I mean by this is you have to accept a new role. You have to become the CEO, but going from founder to CEO has its own challenges. Some of those are internal. Some of those are external, but today we look at what those challenges are going from founder to CEO. We have Joel Trammell. He is the author of the CEO tight rope. We don’t have a lot of authors on here now, but it thought it would be a really good conversation to talk about going from founder to CEO, with Joel, he looks at, you know, some of the internal issues that get in the way and paradigm shifts that must happen for you to really accept this new role as CEO.

We also look at some of the things that. You have to address and think about differently in the role of CEO, all that unpacked in this episode for you. Now I create content like this for you to be an extraordinary leader. If you’re listening to this specific episode, you’re either a founder right now, that’s feeling the pressure, feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you’re not balanced in your home life, and you want to get ahead of that. Well, it takes more than just more sales. And it takes more than just, you know, blocking out your time and trying to get more productive because what I’m here to tell you, is there some internal shifts that are necessary for you to go from founder to CEO? My specialty is helping leaders with just those internal works. We also work on the external as well, but when they play together when you understand how they’re really important to make a mindset shift and shift your strategies, you get a really different kind of feedback loop inside your company. You grow faster, you increase the value.

You create a stronger culture of people are empowered. And you become the leader that everyone deserves. If you want to have that conversation with me, he’s going to and go to schedule your call. I’d love to talk to you about your leadership about what’s getting in the way of you going from founder to CEO. Now here’s the interview, with Joel.

Joel, how are you?

Joel Trammell: Doing well.

Gene Hammett: I am excited to have you on the podcast.

Joel Trammell: Glad to be here.

Gene Hammett: You’ve got a lot of experience around this world of entrepreneurship and leadership back. You created a company to serve this market before we get into the topic today. Tell me about Khorus

Joel Trammell: Yes, Khorus was my attempt to provide a software platform for CEOs to lead their organizations. If you look last 30 years in corporate, IT we’ve provided platforms for the sales leader, the marketing leader, the finance leader, and we’ve left the CEO, arguably the most important person in the organization. Really to manage by running, from meeting to meeting and then use their calendar and email. And so I believe there needs to be a system for the CEO, just like their Salesforce for the sales leader or whatever the case may be to help them, organize their operation and run it better.

Gene Hammett: Give me the real snapshot of what does this do for a busy CEO.

Joel Trammell: Yeah. So the, the real job of the CEO is a communication challenge, right? It’s it’s trying to get everybody in the organization rowing in the same direction. Most organizations I go into their challenge isn’t that people aren’t working hard, that they aren’t trying hard, but often they’re working on things that have nothing to do with the goals of the CEO of the organization. Because there’s been a lack of communication. And so the fundamentals of Khorus is around communicating the key direction. What, where does the leader want to take the organization and breaking that down as you move down the organization so that everyone in the organization can see how what they’re doing and what they’re contributing to on a daily basis moves the organization to some higher-level goals.

Gene Hammett: Love the fact that you have this out there for it. I’d never heard that the software platform haven’t used it, but I wanted to give you a chance to give us your background, but we’re going to switch degrees here. Switch topics to this concept of going from founder to CEO. Why do you think that’s such a typical or a difficult challenge to overcome.

Joel Trammell: Yeah. So the it’s, it’s all about scale. You know, when you start a business, it’s generally because you know how to do something better, than most people. And, you get rewarded for that. And, and so you spend your time, doing things, selling things, marketing things, delivering product, and you hire some people to help you and all that’s great. And, and as long as it’s a small group that you can communicate and manage on a daily basis, things seem to work pretty good, and you just get busier and busier doing all the things necessary to run the business. And you’re doing a lot of work and, and you’re trying to find time and you get up to, you know, 20 people or something. And all of a sudden, you kind of hit a wall where it’s really hard to scale past that with you doing all the other jobs in the business, and you really need to learn how to take each of the executive hats and hand those off to somebody else so that when you’re at 50 people, you’re no longer. Doing sales. You’re no longer doing marketing. You’re no longer creating the product or delivering the product, but that’s a challenge, right? It’s kind of like you’re, you’ve been playing baseball and you’re being very successful, playing baseball. And then all of a sudden in the middle of the game, we say, now we’re now we’re gonna switch and play basketball.

And most of the founders think they need you to just play baseball harder. Instead of recognizing that it’s a change in the nature of the job as you scale the business. And so that’s what I spend a lot of time talking with is how do you go from that transition of being a founder and chief executive and VP of typically all the functional areas to handing off each of those functional roles so that it, at the end, when you’re at 50 or a hundred employees, you’re just the CEO doing the full-time CEO job.

Commentary: Hold on. Joel was just talking about the people and the challenges of. When you move to being the CEO of the company no longer do you just focus on sales or product improvements or even customer service. You’ve got to focus on developing the people around you. Now, developing the people is a big word that a lot of people throw out, but I want to go a little bit deeper than that in order to develop the people you’ve got to make sure you’re attracting the right people. That’s key. You want to make sure you’re also understanding how they’re developing and growing created that career path for them. You want to make sure the culture is aligned. They can play at their highest. And you want to make sure that you retain these people, because if you can’t retain the people you’re developing, then you will lose out in the long run. All of this to be said is there’s a lot of skills that go into you being the CEO that your team deserves. If you want to get clarity about what those skills are, what mindset shifts are necessary. That’s my specialty. I’d love to help you just check it out. and schedule your call back to Joel.

Gene Hammett: What is the mindset shift that people have to understand and make to make that journey.

Joel Trammell: Yeah, I think the big, the biggest paradigm shift is, , when you’re starting a business, your unit of operation is things, it’s delivering product, it’s building product, it’s selling something, working deals. When you make the shift to CEO, your unit of operation is fundamentally people. It is how do you maximize the performance? Of those people in the organization, how do you deliver the best outcome for the whole organization? And so that’s a shift from things to people, and it’s just very fundamental the way you look at the world as a CEO, compared to the way you look at it. As a, as a small business owner is responsible for delivering a service to a customer.

Gene Hammett: I think you said that really well there because a lot of people don’t think about that. It really gets different. Once you hire people. The joke in our world is that running a business is pretty easy, but dealing with people is the hard part, when you found working with people, making that transition, what, what ha did they have to understand to be able to work with people and let go of the things that you were talking about?

Joel Trammell: I think the first thing is they have to, you know, look internally and figure out is that a transition they really want to make? , there are many people that are great at founding a business. And getting them up and going, and that’s what they want to do. They want to either do part of the product or the sales or the marketing or whatever. And that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just need to recognize if that’s the, you want to continue to work in those areas. , then you’re probably not the person long-term that needs to be in the CEO chair. It’s just a different position. So that’s the first question I always ask founders, you know, do you want to spend your day thinking about optimizing the performance of the people under you. Or do you want to spend your day thinking about the product or selling the product or marketing the product or whatever the case may be, and you need to kind of make that fundamental decision once you’ve made that decision. I think, you know, a lot of the stuff is fairly easy to master the problem is there just, hasn’t been a lot of material.

I presented around what the role of the CEO is. I mean, I wrote a book back in 2014 called the CEO of the tightrope and I claim I’ve got the best system in the world for being CEO because it’s the only one I’ve been able to find that kind of thinks about the CEO role from a systematic perspective. What do you need to do to, to make this transition? And what do you need to think about? And there are just certain things that only the CEO. Can do and be, it has to be responsible for in an organization.

Gene Hammett: I think we have a lot of alignment and the way we think about this, what are the things that my work has uncovered is the importance of people taking ownership of their work and feeling a part of something bigger than just a paycheck. And when you think about that ownership, are you seeing that in your work.

Joel Trammell: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I, you know, the older I get the, even more, important it is. I think that everyone that’s working in your organization, shares and the vision that you have for that organization, that, that vision has been communicated. You know, these days finding a job is not difficult. , so you’re not going to keep good people. If the only reason they’re showing up is to get a paycheck. They have to believe in the mission and how you’re changing the world, making the world a better place. And there can be a million different ways. I mean, you look at an organization like Chick-fil-A, they’ve convinced 17-year-olds that serving me a hot chicken sandwich consistently. And doing it very well, is a way to make a difference in the world. And if they can, if Chick-Filet can conceit, they can teach 17-year-old kids that serving a hot chicken sandwich makes a difference. You can in your business, find how you’re making a different, positive difference in the world as well.

Gene Hammett: And I do it with a smile too, right?

Joel Trammell: Absolutely. They do it with a smile. They’re eager. They, they appear to actually be glad that I’m there. It’s amazing. And the consistency across the country is, is unbelievable.

Commentary: Joel, just talked about believing in the mission. Now I know how important this is, but you may be thinking, ah, you know, we’ve got more important things to work on. We’ve got projects, we’ve got partners. We have customers. But when you have a mission has a chance to align people together as your company grows. And as you become the CEO of this, you want to make sure that that mission is front and center. People understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It can’t be just to make money. It can’t be just for profits and dollars and cents. It has to be for something bigger than that. Our mission here is to change the world through extraordinary leadership. Now that’s pretty grandiose because how am I going to change the world? Well, I know that my clients have, you know, 20 to 50 years or 500 employees. And every time I make them better leaders, they are changing the world across that for many families. And I feel incredibly purposeful in the work that I do. You can do the same thing. When you have a mission for your company, I’m just highlighting for you because it is something that a lot of people forget the power of, especially when you want to retain the talent for the long haul across your business. Now, back to Joel.

Gene Hammett: That’s the power of culture, which is other, we haven’t really talked about here. I do think that a lot of CEOs. Should they be paying more attention to culture as they become an accept that CEO role? What do you think is getting in the way of them not paying enough attention to culture?

Joel Trammell: Yeah, I think your people are fooled when they start a business. And again, you know, you got 10 people or something and everybody’s in the same office and you’re interacting every day. , the culture is the culture of the. The values are the values of the founder. And people are observing that just like in my family, with my three kids, I don’t have to go give long speeches about what I value because I can only confuse them. They are observing me all day every day. And if I say anything, that’s contrary to what their observations are. What are they going to believe? They’re going to believe the observations, not the words. Right? And so founders don’t have to spend a lot of time in the early days talking about culture. Cause everybody’s observing the culture. They’re observing your value. They’re observing how you act, but then you get 20, 30, 40, 50 people. And suddenly most people aren’t interacting with you on a regular basis. They’re not seeing you, they’re not seeing your actions. And that’s when you’ve got to start talking about and instilling a culture across the organization. Training new people as they come in. Here’s what we value. Here’s the culture we want to set the organization. Otherwise, you wake up one day and you have all these different cultures that have developed around little fiefdoms around your organization instead of one coherent productive culture.

Gene Hammett: I don’t know what kind of models you use to help us understand the inflection points of companies as they grow and using, going from founder to CEO. Do you have something based on employees or do you look at it a different way?

Joel Trammell: Yeah. I tend to look at employees. I think, you know, 20 to 25 seems to be kind of a magic number, most competent smart people can probably keep, you know, day to day relationships with 20 people kind of have a good idea of what those people are working on. But I think that’s where most people kind of max out. And so the transition from 20 to about a hundred people is where you have to have all these things in place, or it’s just utter chaos. If you’re trying to do all the jobs, all the executive jobs in the company. So that to me is the sweet spot and the difficult spot. If you can make that transition from 20 to a hundred employees, I think you can go to a thousand, 2003. I’ve run. Okay. 3,500 employees. It didn’t feel dramatically different to me running a company at 3,500 employees than it did at 250, because I was dealing with basically my executive team and a few other key people.

And the fact that there were two or three levels more below me at 3,500, didn’t really make that difference. But the real change was from 20 to about 100. Where that day today, you no longer know what everybody’s doing and you have to put in place systems to organize the operation.

Gene Hammett: No, I know not every CEO makes this journey and some people would rather stay into certain parts of the business where sample sales is a very popular place or product development for technology people. But when you look at for the most people, I’ve, I’ve said this to a lot of leaders before you, if you have weaknesses as a leader, it really does show more than it does in other parts of the company, because when you don’t listen, when you don’t communicate well, when you have any weaknesses in that skill set to takes away from you being able to lead and align people to the goal, what is your thoughts on that? Cause it could be completely different from mine?

Joel Trammell: Now, I absolutely agree that the CEO is just a unique position and, and you can be VP of sales. Maybe you have some crazy hobby or some crazy beliefs and people are like, oh, that just Joe, but boy, he can sell, you know, but as CEO, they’re going to pay very close attention. I remember, and I can’t remember her name, but a female lady who took over a large corporation remark after a month, she noticed that all the other females in the office were wearing the same scarf. She was the same brand of scarf that she was, and she was shocked by that. , you know, I tell people I used to be addicted to diet Dr. Pepper. Before I’d give a speech. I’d found out that on the podium, there was sitting a diet Dr. Pepper, and I don’t even know who put that up there. I never even asked him to do it, but, but people pay attention. The CEO is a unique role. And so just like, you know, your kind of mother and father of the family of the community. And so people pay very close attention. If you have any bad traits, those traits, or are going to be exposed and it’s going to cause difficulty in being credible. It’s going to cause difficulty in being able to lead the organization. And so CEOs have to be very cognizant that any of their own personal demons they have, that they try to deal with those before trying to lead the organization.

Gene Hammett: It’s interesting that you’re talking about the personal demons because I think we as successful leaders and entrepreneurial, we can kind of overcome some of that. And, but when we actually start leading people, those demons tend to follow us around. And if we have gotten our way by being a little bit more direct. The, instead of being empathetic, it shows an inside of our leadership abilities. I really appreciate you putting a spotlight on that for a second. Joel, you’ve been, you know, I’ve been hitting you with a bunch of questions and whatnot, but what have I missed in this journey to, from founder to CEO? Is there something that you feel like needs to be talked about?

Joel Trammell: Well, the big thing that I talk about with people that I think is not kind of well understood is what tools do you really have in this job? , you know, people say you can fire people well, great. Okay. But you can only fire people once and that doesn’t really solve most problems. Right. But most people think when you’re as CEO, people who haven’t been in the role or haven’t been close to the roles like, oh, well you get to make all the decisions. You get to tell people what to do. And I call that the management role and they’re certainly making decisions is an important part of the CEO role. But I think what many leaders miss, is there other parts of the CEO role, instead of just telling people what to do, you can also lead people, , which is your ability to influence people, to do what you want them to do, without dictating and, , you know, this ability you really have to establish credibility competence in caring with the people. , but if you’re, if they’re convinced you’re credible, that you tell the truth, that you’re honest, transparent, that you’re good at what you do, and that you care deeply about their success. People want to follow, and so you can accomplish a lot through leadership. And then the third tool I talk about extensively that I don’t think people employ near enough is coaching.

Any everybody needs coaching. I mean, Tom, Brady’s the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. He still got a coach. What is the purpose of that coach? Well, the purpose of that coach is to provide that accountability, but when people don’t understand that word, accountability, accountability to me means objective reality. You’re the person who’s standing beside them than saying, Hey, this is the way the world really is because all of us, when something happens, we want to blame other people. We want to say it wasn’t our fault. And the role of the coach is to provide that objective reality. So I work with leaders and say, okay, yes, you get to make a bunch of decisions. And those decisions are really important. , what strategy you set, who you hire, how much you pay them. All these things are very important, certainly, but don’t forget that leadership and coaching or what are the other tools you can use. And you want to use leadership as much as possible and rulemaking as little as possible. Doesn’t mean you don’t make decisions, but you want everything. You know, you want every decision to appear to be consensus, even if it’s not, and you want to be able to coach people to get their best performance. So I think the key is understanding you have three tools in your box instead of maybe one tool that you just hammer over and over again.

Gene Hammett: Very well said, Joel, I really appreciate your time here sharing your wisdom, your experience with us on the podcast.

Joel Trammell: Glad to be with you, Gene.

Gene Hammett: I want to wrap up here because I really love this interview because he talks about some of the things I work in my own practice as a coach to founders fast-growth companies. We look at the internal aspects, the things are getting in the way. Sometimes it’s confidence and being decisive. Sometimes it’s just a new skill set that has to be addressed inside your journey from founder to CEO. If you want to be exactly tuned in to what’s next in your own journey, whether it’s the role you have to play, the how you spend your time, or the next project that adds the most value to your company.

I want to help you figure that out. I can help you see the blind spots, all of this inside of a conversation with me. We’ll be the clarity tool. You need to move forward with confidence and be the leader that your team deserves. All this to say, all you have to do is go to Go to schedule your call. It’s absolutely free a promise not to sell you. I will serve you as best I can. Inside that one conversation help, you get more clear about who you are and where you’re going. Just go to and schedule your call. When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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