Is It Really Worth It To Be A Startup CEO?

happy ceo

“Are you having fun?” Bob Dobkin, our only angel investor, asked me when I was giving him an update on our progress about two months after we closed our Series A funding.

[Do you want to grow your business? Maybe can I help.  Click here.]

Bob was the co-founder and CTO/VP Engineering of Linear Technology. Linear was arguably the most successful analog semiconductor company of the last thirty years. It was coup having Bob involved with our company.

“I’m having the time of my life, Bob,” I answered.

And I was having the time of my life. It was fun recruiting and building the team. It was fun working with the engineering team on developing our products. In fact, even dealing with the problems was sort of fun.

You’d better enjoy dealing with problems because you’re going to have a lot of problems to deal with on your journey. For example…


You have to be prepared to deal with employee issues as a CEO.


A few months later I called Bob. He answered the phone as he always did, “Hi Brett!”

“Bob, I fired ‘Randy’ today.” Randy was my co-founder, and he had introduced me to Bob.

“What happened?” Bob asked me.

“Randy was getting into fights with the whole management team, so I had to let him go.”

“Okay,” Bob said, matter of factly. Then he said something surprising, “How are you doing?”

“I’m okay, Bob. It really bummed me out to have to fire Randy because he was so strong.”

I wasn’t sure how Bob would react, so it was a relief that he was supportive.


You have to be prepared to deal with vendor issues as a CEO.


“Have you ever worked with TSMC?” I asked Bob about six months later. TSMC is considered the best semiconductor foundry in the world.

“Yes,” Bob said.

“Have you ever had any problems with them?”

“No, what happened?”

“They inverted a mask layer on our first product,” I said. “It’s an op amp that Jeroen (our VP Engineering) designed. When we got the wafers back, the part was operating like a dead short.”

“That’s bad,” Bob said. “What’s it going to cost you?”

“Well the good news is they (TSMC) will run the wafers for free. The bad news it will delay us about two months. And we’ll never get that time back.”

“How’s ‘Raul’ (one of our investors that Bob knew very well) taking it?” Bob asked.

“He’s been fine with it,” I said.

“How are you doing?” Bob again asked me.

“I’m good,” I said. “There’s not much you can do about stuff like that. It is frustrating though.

“We chose the best foundry in the world explicitly to avoid situations like this, and we still got screwed.”

We both laughed.


You have to be prepared to deal with customer issues as CEO.


“Hi Brett!” Bob said, as he answered my latest call. We’d been operational, and in revenue, now for well over two years. “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well. Are you guys (Linear Technology) doing any business with Nest?”

“I can’t say,” Bob said. “What’s going on?”

“We’re having a really hard time with them right now. We’ve been working with them, and we essentially did the design of their smoke detector. Obviously, we designed it around one of our parts.

“Now, they’ve designed us out at the last second after two pilot runs…”

“Who’d they design you out for?” Bob asked.

“Microchip, if you can believe it,” I said. “I was wondering if you have any pull with the Nest people.”

“I don’t,” Bob said. “I wish I could help.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I think one of my board members knows Tony Fadell (Nest’s CEO). It’s a big deal for us to lose, especially because we’re closing our next round of funding.”

“How are you doing?” Bob asked me again.

“You know, even with all the issues and trying to close our funding, I’m doing fine…”

“Are you having fun?” Bob interrupted me to ask.

“Yeah, I’m having the time of my life,” I said.


You have to be prepared to deal with investor issues as CEO.


“Is Raul causing you any trouble,” Bob asked me during our next call. Bob knew Raul very well, and he knew that Raul was capable of creating a lot of problems.

“Yes, he is,” I said. “They (‘Donald Ventures’, the fund Raul worked for) have pulled their support for the next round of funding. Gill (our other investor) is still supporting us.

“Plus it helps that we have so much interest from other potential investors.”

“Do you think I can help?” Bob asked.

“Not with Raul,” I said. “However, I may want you to speak with some of the potential investors we’re talking with.”

“Of course,” Bob said. “Anything I can do to help. How are you doing?”

“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate you asking. I’m doing okay. The truth is I am really stressed, but I’m glad to be the one dealing with this.”

That's the great thing about CEO. You have control over solving the problems.  And, at least for me, I liked knowing it was on me to find a way to solve the problems.


You also have a lot of fun as CEO too!


All through my journey as a startup CEO, I was able to speak with Bob. It was more to update him than anything else.

Bob was a legend in our industry. To give you an idea, he was revered in the same way Steve Jobs was or Elon Musk is.

One day, about one year into our existence, Bob came by to visit our office and say hello. We were chatting in my office when Bob went up to the white board and started drawing out potential ideas for new products.

What a thrill! That time time together is a highlight of my time as CEO. So yeah, in case you’re wondering, despite all the problems, despite all the crap from Raul and Donald Ventures, being a CEO was definitely worth it!


Do You Want To Grow Your Business?  Maybe I Can Help.  Click Here.