As I read my LinkedIn feed, I see a flood of founders. It is an impressive feat to start a new business and develop it. However, does every business rise to the level of being “founded” and should everyone who operates a small business or solo practice be called a founder? Recently I was speaking at a conference and to my surprise, I was introduced as the founder of my business. It was awkward because although my business has a 20-year record of success and I did start it, founder does not fit. This may be a controversial concept because calling one’s self a founder is a source of pride for many. Let’s look at the use of founder as a title on one’s resume and LinkedIn profile page.
When Founder Fits
If you have started a new business, particularly one with plans to get on the fast track. Whether the goal is to remain a privately-owned business, become public, or get acquired by a larger company, if the company you started is on track to grow beyond a solo operation or very small business, the title founder probably fits. If you grew it from a fledgling operation to a major company, founder fits. The title of founder connotes something about the culture of the company in addition to the role of the founder.
What Is a Founder?
The founder conceived, developed, and acquired funding for the business. In many cases, there is more than one founder. As a company is formed there is a decision as to who are the official co-founders. This is reserved for the those conceiving the company and involved in executive level decisions. Even though you might feel like you’ve been there from the beginning you can’t call yourself a founder unless it is so.
Include Your Functional Title
In addition to your status and role as a founder, you have a job title. Examples might be CEO, COO, CTO, President, and so on. On a resume, it would look something like this:
Founder and Chief Technology Officer (2018 – Present)
Once a Founder Always a Founder
What about when the founder leaves the company. Perhaps the controlling investors want to replace key positions. Or maybe the founder leaves to start something new. Often people are serial founders and not interested in running a company. After leaving your leadership role at the company (CEO, COO, etc.), you may stay on as an advisor. In that case, you might show your history like this:
Founder and Advisor (2019 – Present)
Founder and CEO (2017 – 2018)
If you leave the company and do not retain any role, then you would simply show your position in the past.
Founder and CEO (2017 – 2018)
Functional Titles & Legal Titles
There are legal titles required based on the way a company is incorporated. So, legally you may need to assign yourself a title of president or CEO to indicate you are the authority. However, how you market yourself is another matter. You can choose to label yourself by your function alone or your function alongside your legal title. For example, if you are a solopreneur with a consulting practice you might write, “President and Senior Corporate Consultant” on your resume and LinkedIn page.
Founder Versus Entrepreneur
Every founder is an entrepreneur, but not every entrepreneur should call themselves a founder on a resume.
If you did not create the business, you are not the founder. Maybe you bought an established company or you bought a franchise, you are not the founder. That is a clear example of when it does not fit.
The Grey Area
Although you started the business, the term founder may seem inflated based on the type of business, trajectory of the business, or the culture of the business. A business type that does not fit the common definition might be that of a one-person business with no designs to be much larger than that. Examples of this might include a CPA, an interior designer, or a psychologist. These businesses might add staff to help with administrative tasks, but they still are companies centered on one person’s practice. An exception might be this. Let’s say you started as a CPA solopreneur and then you grew this into a firm with multiple offices and a large staff. At that point adding the term founder to your title would be appropriate.
The Bottom Line
When you think of using the term founder, ask yourself if your business is characterized in these ways:
> A new business that you conceived and formed.
> A business with plans to grow quickly, such as a business with a new product or service expected to be well received. Often investments are made to facilitate the development and growth.
> A business that has grown from a small business to a large business.
> Not a solopreneur business.
> Not always, but often a business with an innovative or unique idea.
> Successful or failed, this does not matter.