The initial public offering (IPO) is the most important stage in the evolution of an entrepreneurial firm. While numerous studies have investigated the determinants of the going public decision and the post-IPO performance, few studies have studied factors that influence the transition speed from the entrepreneurial firm stage to the professional firm stage. Leveraging a unique sample of 428 firms listed on Growth Enterprise Market in Shenzhen Stock exchange between 2009 and 2016, we assert that the entrepreneurial founder of the IPO firm is the key determinant of the transition speed. Based on the Upper Echelon theory and institution-based view, we suggest a founder’s personal characteristics and external institutions drive the time to IPO. Our findings reveal the strategic importance of the founder and contribute to an improved understanding of why firms vary in the “going public speed” in an important emerging economy, China.