Entrepreneurs

Why firing himself as CEO was the best thing Tucker Max ever did for his start-up

After Tucker Max started his business, Book in a Box, in 2014, he took on the role of CEO, as many founders do. There was just one problem: He was terrible at it.

"A year and half into the company we had an amazing idea, we had all these clients, we were growing incredibly fast — and everything was comping apart at the seams," he explains on "The James Altucher Show" podcast.

The company, which helps thought leaders write and publish their own books, was growing. But Max, a writer by trade, had no idea how to scale a business. And nearly everything he was supposed to oversee or implement as CEO was failing.

Tucker Max attends the premiere of 'I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell' in 2009.
Getty Images | Toby Canham
Tucker Max attends the premiere of 'I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell' in 2009.

"We had a very complicated business and we were not doing a good job," says Max. "Our financials weren't in order. We were making money, and it's not like we had receipts in shoe boxes or something, but we didn't know exactly how much each book cost because the way were paying freelancers and stuff it was hard to reconcile accounts.

"Or the way we were hiring and on-boarding freelancers — the good ones were doing a great job and the bad ones were creating horrible customer experiences for our authors," he tells Altucher. "Our authors hated them.

"There were a lot of things that we just weren't doing right."

It all came to a head when Max and his co-founder, Zach Obront, invited one of their clients, J.T. McCormick, to sit in on a management meeting.

Max, a self-described "difficult and overpowering" person, got upset about something minor and started yelling at his general manager. McCormick, who at the time was president of software company Headspring Systems, jumped in to defuse the situation.

It taught Max a valuable lesson. "Basically what he did was he made me see what I was doing," he explains.

First, McCormick misdirected, to get Max out of his "spin cycle of anger," says the founder. Then he asked Max, "Why are you doing this company?"

After Max told McCormick about his mission, McCormick asked, "When you yell, does it help your goal or hurt it?"

"He kind of painted a picture of the company a few years in [the future] doing really well," says Max, "and then something happening and me blowing up and basically causing really important people to quit.

"He said, 'Would you want that?'" No, Max wouldn't. "'Can a CEO have that?'" Max says McCormick asked. No, he can't.

McCormick saw Max screwing up in so many ways – ways that McCormick knew he himself could fix. "I know this can be a billion dollar company," Max says McCormick told him, "but you guys aren't going to do it. No offense."

"At first I was like f--- you," admits Max. But McCormick was right.

"He made me understand that what I was doing was destroying what I was trying to accomplish," says Max.

Not long after, Max fired himself as CEO and hired McCormick.

"I had to ask myself the question, 'Do I want to have a great company or do I want to be in charge?'" explains Max on the Altucher podcast. "Is it about me or is it about our mission?"

Max chose the mission, and he says as soon as he made the decision to appoint McCormick CEO, he felt a thousand pounds lighter. "I'm like, I'm going to bring in this guy who has the exact skill set we need and I am going to put him in charge and I am going to step out of being in charge. And I'm going to report to him."

McCormick, who started in March 2016, had to spend "most of last year unf---ing our messes," says Max, including firing nine of the 11 people Max had hired. Still, in just over a year, McCormick's leadership has taken Book in a Box from 50 to 450 books and has multiplied the company's revenue, according to Max.

"We're going to do $10 million or $20 million this year," he says.

Max still owns the majority of the company, but now his role is as director of product. He develops new releases, like Speech in a Box and Podcast in a Box, which he tells Altucher are coming soon.

"I was really a garbage entrepreneur," says Max. "We were always chasing the cool shiny thing," he says.

Now, with McCormick at the helm, "we're building a great company."

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