I was visiting with my Mom a few years ago. My Mom said to me, “I found this picture from years ago. Do you remember it?”
I looked at the picture and smiled. I did remember it from when I was a little boy. It was a picture depicting my Mom with 8 arms like an octopus might have.
The analogy is obvious: Moms need 8 arms to get everything done and so do startup CEOs.
You need to be seemingly everywhere at the same time to be a successful startup CEO.
There is no one most important thing you need to do. At any given time, that most important thing might be one or more of the following:
One thing you realize pretty quickly is that you are always in fundraising mode when you are a startup CEO. You need to have your pitch down because you never know when you might meet a potential investor.
Then it’s go time, and you’d better be ready or the opportunity is lost. And, when you’re not raising money, you’re likely…
If job one as a startup CEO is fundraising, then recruiting has to be job 1A. You are always on the lookout for top talent when you are a startup CEO. Always.
Even when you’ve met your hiring goals, you still want to be interviewing potential employees. Why? Well that’s easy. You always should make room for an exceptional potential new team member.
And if you’re not fundraising or recruiting, you’re likely…
You are the going to be the best salesperson the company has probably for the lifetime of the company. You may never have sold before, but that doesn’t matter.
You will be the most passionate about your company. You will understand your company’s product(s) better than anyone else. You will be able to cut deals faster than anyone else.
The other interesting dynamic is that it’s next to impossible to find a great VP Sales for an early stage startup. So farming out the sales process to someone else is just not a realistic option.
That’s why you have to be front and center selling.
Guess what? If you’re not fundraising or recruiting or selling, then you’re likely…
D. Team building.
You set the tone for everything that happens at your company. And building your company culture is one of the most overlooked parts of being a successful startup CEO.
In fact, your company culture might be the most critical indicator of success for your company. Get your company culture right and you're off to the races, get your company culture wrong, and you’re much more likely to fail (read:
If you’re not fundraising or recruiting or selling or team building, then you might be…
A large part of being a successful CEO is understanding leverage. You can get so much more accomplished if you can get your team to do it instead of you.
Now you’re free to do only the things that you can do, and your team gets necessary experience.
But you need to stay on top of everything at a very detailed level as CEO. How do you do this without micromanaging?
You coach your team.
Coaching, done right, is a great feedback loop. You can meet with your team, review their decision making, and give guidance on how to do things better.
The pleasant surprise that I’ve seen happen many times is your team will come up with better solutions than you would.
We’re not done yet. If you’re not fundraising or recruiting or selling or team building or coaching, you could be…
F. Managing your investors.
Never surprise your investors (or your board of directors) is one of the most important things you will learn about being a CEO. There’s going to be bad news. That’s a given.
The important skill to learn is how to deliver the bad news. The best thing you can is get ahead of the story.
You get ahead of the story by not hiding bad news. Instead you immediately tell your investors the bad news, and you tell the investors your plan for recovery.
There’s more to learn. If you’re not fundraising or recruiting or selling or team building or coaching or managing your investors, then you might be…
G. Managing your suppliers or vendors.
One of the most unpleasant surprises about building your company is that your suppliers, even the best of the best, screw up. You’re going to need to stay on top of your suppliers and vendors every step of your journey.
That means you have to be very detailed in your management of your vendors. In our case that meant we had to fight for capacity versus our larger competitors, and we had to actively manage the quality of the product.
Finally, if you’re not fundraising or recruiting or selling or team building or coaching or managing your investors or managing your suppliers or vendors is…
H. Managing your customers.
You need to understand the wants and needs of your customers, especially as you're starting out. Again that falls on you at the start.
You need to actively forecast how much of your product your customers want. And you can be almost guaranteed there are going to be problems that your company created.
How you deal with these problems is an opportunity in disguise if you handle these problems correctly.
There you have it. In honor of my Mom, the eight things you simultaneously need to do well if your startup is going to succeed.
I miss you, Mom.
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