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February 20, 2023
Min read

“I told my company I failed them as CEO. The response was overwhelming”

Written By
Steve Howe
With thanks To
Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit | Co-founder & CEO of Marsbased

When Àlex founded a development consultancy with two childhood friends, he assumed he’d be doing what he knows best—developing.

He assumed wrong: 

“They’re like: oh no, you’re not going to develop. You’re going to do sales. I thought: that ‘ain't gonna work.”

To his co-founders it was a no-brainer. Àlex spoke great English, enjoyed travelling, and was pretty sociable. So they set a goal for him to earn €10,000 in monthly recurring revenue—enough for them to quit their full-time jobs. He decided to give it a shot.  

Àlex did well. So well, in fact, that they generated enough business to hire a developer. Then another. Then another.

Suddenly, Àlex wasn’t just selling to keep a passion project alive. He was selling to support a growing number of employees.

“There were three, four, then eventually ten families depending on my performance as a salesperson. A feeling of vertigo crept over me.” 

<quote-author>Àlex Bacardit<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder & CEO of Marsbased<quote-company>

Each new developer meant Àlex had to make an additional €5,000 in sales each month, just to avoid that hiring quickly becoming a firing. But if he focussed too much on new clients, he’d lose his existing ones. That’s a lot of pressure for a first-time entrepreneur more used to writing code than contracts. 

On the surface, things seemed fine. Àlex was hitting his sales targets. You’re doing a great job, his co-founders told him. The company was growing. But underneath it all, Àlex felt like he was frantically treading water. He couldn’t understand why his colleagues put so much faith in him to keep the company afloat. 

Assuming nobody would relate, Àlex did what many people do—he bottled up his anxiety and got on with the job.

“I literally don’t care”  

Over the course of the next three years, the company grew steadily. Through time and repetition, Àlex became more comfortable with this growth—in fact, he was now the one badgering the other co-founders for more developers. 

But the idea he wasn’t right for the role clung to him like a malicious bug in the code. Suddenly, they lost two of their biggest clients—and Àlex started doubting himself all over again. He felt like his opinion was worth nothing. 

So he checked out. As co-founders, they were supposed to make decisions as a trio. Àlex’s stock response? 

“Whatever you guys decide. I literally don’t care about the outcome.” 

Demotivated with business as usual, his ideas became disconnected from the reality of the company. Like the time he suggested they organise a flashy conference with private dinners for their existing clients—when all they needed him to do was find new ones. 

Àlex felt disconnected from the team, too. He wasn’t in the trenches, coding with his comrades. He was strutting around the general’s office, chattering away on lengthy phone calls about who-knows-what. He didn’t feel worthy of their respect:

“I wasn’t a point of reference for the developers. They could look up to my co-founders, but not to me.”

Opening the door to vulnerability    

In 2020 the sales pipeline completely dried up. Pre-pandemic, Àlex was getting five leads a week. In the first six months of the pandemic, he got five leads total

He had a realisation. For the company to move forward, perhaps he had to step back. That’s what companies do, right? Get a new CEO when the old one becomes ineffective? In a fit of desperation, he opened his laptop, drafted a letter, and posted it on the company’s internal message board: 

“I’ve been underdelivering. I might not be the right CEO for you.” 

He waited. Then the responses arrived. 

Many of them reassured Àlex he was doing a great job. That he couldn’t be blamed for external forces. 

But perhaps more significant were the responses in which employees shared their own struggles:

“There was depression, there was burnout, there was a lack of motivation… it opened the door for everyone to express their vulnerability as an employee of the company.”

<quote-author>Àlex Bacardit<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder & CEO of Marsbased<quote-company>

Roles reversed, developers opened up to Àlex about going through a crap time. They no longer referenced his code—but they started to reference his vulnerability. 

He hopes this becomes the norm for leaders in tech and beyond: 

“The leaders I grew up with were these iron-willed people who showed no signs of fragility. Those of the present and future lead with empathy.” 

Thanks for sharing  

When he started a business with his two best friends, Àlex felt like a fraud. Despite the evidence suggesting otherwise, he could never escape the feeling that he was an imposter—someone playing at CEO while desperately pining for his coding comfort zone. 

That is, until he shared his inner turmoil with the entire company. By doing so, he demonstrated he was exactly the right person to lead the way. Sure, he wasn’t fixing bugs. But he tackled the elephant in the room by announcing: it’s okay to not be okay.  

Àlex now regularly shares his thoughts with his colleagues. Recently, a prospective client wanted to run drug tests, credit checks, and background screening on the company. All pretty invasive. Àlex’s reply? He said no, even though it meant turning down a big contract and lots of money. 

He told the company and the response, once again, was loud and clear—thanks for sharing.

Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit is co-founder and CEO at development consultancy MarsBased, and director of Startup Grind Barcelona—a community of entrepreneurs. He also completed Day of the Tentacle in just three hours.

Oliva therapist photograph

5 tips for fighting imposter syndrome

by Oliva therapist

Juliet Whitford


If you’ve got that niggling feeling that you’re not quite hitting the mark—don’t shy away from it. Acknowledge what’s going on and give yourself a chance to reflect. Is this a temporary dip in self confidence, or is this happening a lot?

Put a name on it

Are you constantly expecting more of yourself than other people? Are your standards unrealistically high? Do you insist on delivering too much on your own? These can all be signs that you’re living with imposter syndrome. If so, call it out.

Reflect on the source

Dig a little deeper into where your imposter comes from. Does it remind you of the past? For example, if authority figures like teachers and parents set the bar too high this can translate into imposter syndrome as adults. Making these connections gives a new perspective by separating ‘then’ feelings from ‘now’ feelings.

Fight feelings with facts

Imposter syndrome leads us to distrust our abilities. It relies on us interpreting feelings of self- doubt as facts. Write down your achievements and use the list to challenge your imposter sensations. This can give you lots of evidence to take on your imposter.

Open up

One of the best ways to fight off your imposter is to go public like Àlex. The opposite of being an imposter is being authentic—and often that means having the courage to show vulnerability. This gives you permission to be human, and lets your team be human with their response too.