OtterBox Founder Has Wisdom Wall Street Should Heed

by Alyssa Oursler | August 5, 2013 3:03 pm

You might not have heard of Curt Richardson, but you’ve probably heard of the business he built: OtterBox — the company that makes extra-durable, waterproof cases for tablet and smartphones.

The company began in 1998 and has since grown to a $1.3 billion enterprise that produces the top-selling case for smartphones in the U.S.

And while it was all Richardson’s idea, it’s no longer all his responsibility. Instead, the OtterBox founder recognized that he was better at startups than running established business. So, when his company began to expand, he handed it off to Brian Thomas — a one-time OtterBox sales rep who climbed his way up the corporate ladder.

As Richardson explains in a recent Inc. video[1] shown above:

“It was evident as the company grew from 10 employees to 1,000, from $1 million in revenue to $1.3 billion, that … well, it’s not what it used to be. It’s a totally different animal today. I’m much better at the startup — and today, that’s what I’m doing. Brian Thomas, our CEO today, people look to him as a leader. It was an easy hand-off and, in many ways, our core values are very much the same.”

If only all company founders were as wise and willing to take a step back.

Plenty of tech startup leaders have come up the ranks, only to learn the hard way that the qualities needed to get a venture off the ground aren’t necessarily the same as the ones needed to take it to (or keep it at) new heights — especially once that startup hits Wall Street.

InvestorPlace‘s IPO expert Tom Taulli summed it up nicely[2]:

“The skillsets for both roles are often different. For example, an entrepreneur thrives on taking huge risks and even making crazy moves. (Which is why many startups fail!) CEOs, on the other hand, are about managing growth, optimizing the platform and methodically finding new opportunities.”

Taulli wrote that in the wake of Groupon’s (GRPN[3]) CEO switcheroo. Company founder (and notorious goofball) Andrew Mason didn’t let go of his startup until it was too late and the stock had already been run into the ground. (And while the stock is still far off its IPO price, it has almost doubled since Mason was given the boot.)

A similar story can be told for Mark Pincus, who created gaming company Zynga (ZNGA[4]) and held onto his baby until a brutal 18-month debut on the public markets — complete with layoffs[5], ugly share depreciation and lawsuits — got the better of him. In July, he relinquished his position[6] to former Microsoft (MSFT[7]) exec Dan Mattrick.

Heck, until Facebook’s (FB[8]) recent turnaround, there was a lot of similar chatter surrounding jeans-and-T-shirt-wearing Mark Zuckerberg. He built the social network of all social networks from the ground up, but had trouble making the transition to a publicly traded company. A Harvard dorm is a far cry from the world of Wall Street, but Zuck appears to gradually be learning his way around.

On the flip side, star social stock LinkedIn (LNKD[9]) was founded by Reid Hoffman, who had the self-awareness to hand the reins over to Jeff Weiner — a former Yahoo (YHOO[10]) executive. So far, the move has paid off. LinkedIn keeps on killing it, posting earnings beat after earnings beat[11], and has quintupled from its IPO pricing.

The lesson is twofold. Entrepreneurs: Take a page from Richardson’s book and recognize your strengths — and, inevitably, your weaknesses.

And investors: Recognize the value of having the right leader.

As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. Inc. video:
  2. summed it up nicely:
  3. GRPN:
  4. ZNGA:
  5. complete with layoffs:
  6. relinquished his position:
  7. MSFT:
  8. FB:
  9. LNKD:
  10. YHOO:
  11. posting earnings beat after earnings beat:

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