Make Room: Launch Pad Welcomes New Female CEO

By Chris Schultz, entrepreneur and founder of Launch Pad.

In late October of this year, I handed over my role as CEO of Launch Pad—the company I founded 10 years ago. This is the first time I have not been a CEO of a company in 20 years.

I fired myself because I was no longer the best person for the job of running the company. I decided to make room for my partner in work and life, Anne Driscoll, to take the reins.

This was all my idea. One night this past summer, sitting over dinner outside, I blurted out, “I think you should take over as CEO.”

“You’ve had more experience than me at scaling companies. You’re the leader we need right now.”

As my proposal hung in the air, a shooting star swept across the sky right above her head—a sign from the Universe.

By the end of dinner it was decided and, in late October of this year, we announced the leadership change to the Launch Pad community.

The factors behind the decision for us are threefold:

  1. Anne is the right person to be CEO right now. I’ve done 0-1. Anne has scaled 1-18 million. She’s a Silicon Valley veteran, a leader, and a strategist. She’s been an exec, but never a CEO, and I’m eager to watch her rise to this challenge.
  2. Launch Pad has 68 percent female employees and this is an opportunity to live our values of the importance of representation in the top leadership position. Reflected in Anne as CEO are all the other powerful women on our team who push us forward every day.
  3. We believe that change is healthy and spurs personal growth. This is not just a shake up at the top—we are realigning across our team so we can all keep growing. It’s like going to see a band whose lead singer moves to the drums and the guitarist and keyboardist switch between songs. You know how talented they are because they can, at any moment, play different instruments and roles.

Letting Go

Through this transition I’ve been trying to tune in to my feelings. It’s hard to step aside. I’ll miss the power of the office of CEO—people take your calls, people are excited to spend time with you, and people respect your decisions. As a founder, it feels like letting go of control of my baby. While I know it’s the right thing, it’s scary because I care about the company so deeply.

I’m really not in charge anymore—Anne is not just CEO, she’s also the majority owner of the company. I’m entrusting something I created to her stewardship.

What’s Next

All of this begs the obvious question—what I am going to do now? Well, since we’re married and spend way too much time talking about the business, I’m not going far. I’m becoming Chief Community Officer and we are announcing our new Launch Pad Venture Fund that I’m going to begin to raise. Supporting the growth of the entrepreneurs in the Launch Pad community has always been my passion and we want to continue to deliver this support as we scale.

Investing in startups in momentum markets as we open 20 new Launch Pad locations across the country is core to our strategy, and I’m excited to focus on it. I have a track record of performance investing as an angel (93 percent IRR) and am excited to raise a fund and continue to invest in great founders across the country.

Make Room

As I reflect on stepping aside to make room for Anne, I’m confident it’s the right decision for Launch Pad. On a larger scale, I hope this might inspire other men who look like me in leadership positions to evaluate whether the time is right for them to make room in their organizations. Making room doesn’t have to mean putting yourself out to pasture, but it does mean reflecting on whether your organization reflects your values.

The simple fact is that creating diversity in leadership positions in the C-suite and on boards is not simply a pipeline problem. Letting go of power isn’t easy or natural, but if we look at this nation’s C-suites, boards, and government institutions like the Senate, we see a lot of white men in positions of power. I, for one, don’t want to wait a generation or two for our leaders to organically become representative of our company, our community, and our country. We have to be the change we want to see.

I’ve been on corporate boards where we took questions from employees about the lack of diversity on the board. Maybe rather than explaining classes of voting stock it’s time to look in the mirror. And, if you look like me, make room for someone else who doesn’t. Or if a white man is running your diversity and inclusion initiatives, (Yes, this is something we see.) maybe it’s time to make room.

I’m making room for a woman to run Launch Pad. We will continue to make room in our organization for diversity in leadership, and I hope this inspires you to look for opportunities to do the same.