John Tedesco Will Succeed Me as CEO (But I’m Taking on a New Role at Leadpages)

We’ve got a lot to go over here, so . . .

Let’s Cut to the Chase

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that effective August 1, our current COO, John Tedesco, will succeed me as the CEO of Leadpages and I will continue as Chairman of the Board. Here’s the press release.

John’s appointment concludes a search kicked off by myself, the board, and our C-level execs. It’s an exciting move for the future of Leadpages. John has my utmost support.

During our rapid growth, the CEO role has shifted dramatically, and I wanted to pass the baton to someone with scaling in their DNA. I’m thrilled that our top candidate ended up being my friend and mentor—someone I know is deeply dedicated to the spirit and mission of Leadpages and Drip, and to the 47,000 businesses that depend on us for growth and revenue.

My History with John

John started out mentoring me and our cofounder, Tracy Simmons, in early 2014. He used to meet with me during monthly breakfasts, asking for nothing in return. Later, John would become an official advisor, then our Chief Customer Officer, then Chief Operating Officer, and now CEO.

John Tedesco

Prior to John’s new role, our CFO, VP of Engineering, VP of Product, and Directors of Customer Support and Customer Success all reported to him (which means John essentially managed—directly or indirectly—over 80% of the org chart). And to top it off, John runs our leadership team meetings . . . so he’s effectively been running the company already, just without the official title.

When executed properly, promotions simply label what someone is already doing and empower them to double down on their genius. And that’s exactly what this is.

Tracy and I have always been impressed with John’s relentless intellect and dedication to always confronting the truth—but also his kindness and steadfast spirit during both good and bad times. He’s improved everything he’s touched. There was simply nobody better for the job.

The Backstory

I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished since Tracy, our technical cofounder Simon Payne, and I founded Leadpages in January of 2013. We’ve grown to 175 people and $25 million in recurring revenue (which doesn’t include revenue from services, coaching, our certification program, etc.). We have over 46,000 paying customers and have raised $38 million in funding.

When we started, I was a blogger living with my parents.

When we started, our team had never built a software product, negotiated a term sheet, raised venture capital, done an office buildout, attended a board meeting, acquired a company, made the Inc. 5000 (three years in a row), held a live conference (or a virtual conference), or hired industry-leading senior executives via a national search.

Now we’ve done all of these things. I sometimes wake up and pinch myself, barely believing that we’ve gotten to take this journey with our first SaaS startup.

All in all, I think I’m a pretty good $0–$20M startup CEO. But we’re well beyond that now and it’s time to have the scaling dude in the seat to take us to $100M+. And that dude is John Tedesco.

Building a company is one thing. Running a large business at scale, however, is something entirely different.

I love seeing where the future is taking us, envisioning a product around that opportunity, shouting from the rooftops about said product, and building systems to distribute it at scale.

I cherish the early stages of a company: building a new product with a small team and out-innovating the incumbents. This stuff is in my zone of genius.

But success at this stage calls forth the need for a different set of CEO skills. At this stage, we need to focus on a different set of challenges, like managing a large number of employees, establishing procedures, and driving alignment and strategy across departments. To be successful as the “scale CEO” you have to be as passionate about what happens inside the building as what happens outside the building (i.e., in the market).

As LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman has said:

“[Scale] CEOs need to derive satisfaction from the nuts and bolts of building a company, not just building product and articulating the vision. They need to be passionate about leadership, management, and organizational processes as the company scales.

“To be a successful growth-stage CEO, you need to be ready to manage a 1,000-person organization and devote substantial time to time-consuming things like running meetings and other business process. You can’t just do the exciting stuff like making the final call on product and speaking at conferences, while shuffling off everything else to the mythical COO who loves doing all the dirty work and doesn’t want any of the credit.”

As we grew over 100 people, I had to spend more time on process and organization, and I just wasn’t passionate about these things. I’d rather spend time strategizing around the future of marketing and thinking about high-level problems than running leadership team meetings or working on incentive plans.

Harvard Business School’s Noam Wasserman has been studying what he calls “the founder’s dilemma” for nearly a decade. In his paper “Rich Versus King: The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma,” he analyzed data from 460 American startups. His research showed that, paradoxically, “founders maximize the value of their equity stakes by giving up the CEO position: controlling for company size, age, and other factors, the more decision-making control kept, the lower the value of the entrepreneur’s equity stake.”

I might someday be the guy to take a company all the way to $100 million, but for this company (my first software company), that won’t be me.

So What’s Next for Me?

My first priority is to do everything I can to support John and the company during this transition.

But the reality is that this won’t involve much fanfare. In the last six months I’ve been reducing my role as I hand more and more over to John and our CMO, Dustin Robertson.

That said, I’ll still be involved in high-level company and product strategy, and I’ll still be repping Leadpages and Drip on podcasts, stages, and webinars near you. I’ll also spend some time sleeping in, taking a much-needed staycation, and spending more time with my 13-month old twin girls.

In short, it’s time for me to shift away from a day-to-day role back to a visionary and evangelist role. I’ll still be involved in the business and be in the office regularly. But the buck needs to stop with someone, and that someone needs to be somebody who is in the office daily, who is focused on day-to-day operations in addition to strategy, who is broadly empowered, and who is constantly communicating with the company and syncing across teams.

What’s Next for Leadpages?

Lots. John’s appointment opens a new chapter for the company. Companies have several founding moments, and this is one of them.

John has the heart, the smarts, the dedication, and the unrelenting courage and moral authority to take us to the next level. And I’m excited to watch this next chapter unfold (this time in a supportive role).

Leadpages + Drip under John won’t be the exact same thing as it was under my direction. That’s a good thing.

I believe it will be different and we will be better. If I didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t be making this change.

Final Thoughts

There was a time when Leadpages was “The Clay Collins Show.” When the company essentially looked like a marketing guru had partnered with software developers to build yet another martech product.

But we’ve come a long way since then. Leadpages is now a company where multiple generations of innovators, rulebreakers, engineers, marketers, customer advocates, and leaders will leave their mark. And the early company doesn’t hold a candle to the maturity and sustainability that our current company has.

Startups are a team sport, and our team keeps up-leveling over and over again.

With each successive generation of employees, the people grasping the baton are more capable than the people handing it to them.

And that’s the way it should be.

Onwards and upwards,
Clay