An entrepreneur is like the engine of a train that has no bogies to begin with, and often no railroad to move on. It chugs along building its railroad on the fly and gathering bogies along the way. A CEO is like an engine that is brought from outside and put right in front of the moving bogies.
If you are an entrepreneur, it doesn't automatically make you CEO material. Likewise, if you are the CEO of a company, you need not necessarily possess the entrepreneur's mindset.
A significant difference between entrepreneurs and CEO is the nature of their association with the organization and the role they play:
- While an entrepreneur is the founder, a CEO is generally an employee within the company.
- While an entrepreneur is the powerhouse of disruption and change within an organization, a CEO is often the vehicle for sustainable success.
- While an entrepreneur is responsible for providing power, a CEO, in most cases, is supposed to harness that power.
- While an entrepreneur is the ‘first-generation’ individual who gives birth to a venture, big or small, a CEO is the one who runs the routine matters of an organization.
Now with the basics established, we can delve a little deeper into what separates them and what binds them both.
First, the similarities
1. Both entrepreneur and CEO strive for growth inspired with a clear vision. Be it an entrepreneur or a CEO; you cannot survive and flourish in the organization if you are not seeking and striving for growth at all times.
2. It is lonely at the top, for both the entrepreneur and CEO.
3. Both are leaders expected to drive changes around them. Being innovative and thinking outside the box is a common trait that both share. Thinking leagues ahead is what determines their success, and both are (ideally) adept at it.
4. Both are financially savvy and masters with numbers. Being a business leader – no matter if you are former or latter – you have to ace the numbers (read profits and cash flows) game. If you don't prioritize that, chances are you are taking yourself (and your company!) miles away from success.
5. Both know hustle like the back of their hands. Irrespective of an entrepreneur or a CEO, you will have to tirelessly drive consumers to your idea (product or service). That can be over a cup of coffee or inside the conference room.
6. And finally, both repose faith in their teams. While their approach to operating and taking their respective teams along will differ, it is nonetheless critical to the growth and scaling up.
Despite the above-mentioned similarities that liken an entrepreneur to a CEO, there are also a few differences between the two.
1. RISK-TAKING: Probably the key difference lies in their attitude towards risk-taking. An entrepreneur is a founder. He will have to take risks and back himself up every time he does that. An entrepreneur’s most trusted ally is his intuition and foresightedness. That is precisely why this breed thrives on self-expression and following their passion.
A CEO, usually hired from outside, is a salaried employee, and therefore, typically risk-averse. It stems from that a CEO has to operate within a rigid organizational framework and be accountable to a Board for any step that he decides to take.
The entrepreneur has no one to blame but himself, for any loss that the company incurs. It is this that almost always makes an entrepreneur hungry, and provides the impetus to take disproportionate risks.
2. DAY-TO-DAY JOB: A CEO's profile is known and defined - that of overseeing day-to-day management. An entrepreneur's turf is undefined, unlimited and evolving. He can afford the luxury of ignoring the customary affairs in an organization.
3. PRIMARY FOCUS: When it comes to the primary purpose they serve, entrepreneurs and CEOs differ by a yard. An entrepreneur’s focus is on launching a start up, creating and subsequently expanding a market for its products or services. In other words, an entrepreneur often creates a new ecosystem or operates in a new ecosystem to support a business idea.
CEOs focus on balancing and ironing out the creases within an existing ecosystem. In essence, a CEO is like an engine that is introduced to pull bogies. An entrepreneur is like an engine that chugs along, adding more bogies on its way.
4. CURRENT VS. FUTURE: A CEO's vision is often myopic. It involves taking stock of things as they stand today and assess happenings in the market now; rather than evaluating what could be suitable for the company tomorrow (read years down the road). Talking in terms of ratio, while a CEO's focus on today vis-a-vis tomorrow is 70:30, an entrepreneur's is 30:70.
5. KEY MOTIVATOR: For entrepreneurs, the key driver is their compelling vision, i.e. why they started the business in the first place. For a CEO, the key driver is justifying their competency in keeping with their role. Chances are handsome bonuses, and jacked salaries drive a CEO more than his compelling vision.
Times are changing at breakneck speed, expectations are expanding to unrealistic levels, and delivery timelines are getting more pressing than ever. It is continuously blurring the lines between the two business leader breeds. That’s precisely why injecting the entrepreneurial spirit to a CEO’s modus operandi (and vice versa) is imminent, and also a vital formula for success.