As the CEO of a startup there are endless demands on your time. From managing co-founder relationships, to hiring, fundraising, managing company culture, and more, it’s an exercise in prioritization to get the right things done.
This is why, to be successful as a startup CEO, you must excel at more than building a game-changing product. You build and inspire the best from your team, serve as the public face of a rapidly growing company, and ultimately raise the capital needed to keep the company afloat.
Let’s take a closer look at how successful startup CEOs balance their time, starting with recruiting and managing, and ending with how fundraising fits into an already busy schedule as a company matures. At Torch, we believe personal growth leads to business growth, so we’ll also touch on how to support your own growth with leadership coaching.
Recruiting and Building a Successful Team
A startup succeeds or fails based on the talent hired to execute the vision of its founders. And it’s up to the CEO and their leadership team to clearly articulate that vision in a way that is attractive to top talent. Competition is fierce – not just for engineers, but leaders, HR specialists, marketers, and sales pros.
A CEO must therefore take an active and continuing role in identifying and recruiting top talent, providing the resources to help them develop once hired, and investing in maintaining a robust, supportive culture. In the early stages, especially when fundraising is so important, it’s a hands-on process, and for many CEOs remains that way for years, even as new leadership comes on board.
Activities associated with recruiting for startup CEOs:
- Support/oversee the acquisition of world class talent by focusing the company on a coherent recruiting strategy.
- Coach team members on recruiting best practices.
- Actively participate in recruiting meetings for strategic roles.
- Maintain long-term relationships with “A players” throughout the tech industry to expand recruiting networks.
- Pull referrals from expanded personal and professional networks.
- Create partnerships with top executive recruiters.
Managing Your Team and Leading by Example
Once you have your key leadership team on board, you serve as one of the company’s greatest examples of management. As Ali Rowghani, Partner at Y Combinator, says in his article on the “Second Job” of a Startup CEO, “Only the CEO can hire the company’s senior leadership team and make sure that they work well together. You can get help and feedback from others as you hire, but when you bring leaders like a VP of Engineering, VP of Sales, and CFO on board, the ultimate hiring decisions must be yours.”
You must meet with your senior leadership team regularly, both 1:1 and in executive team meetings to stay aligned on regular quarterly and annual goals. Managing your team also means providing regular performance evaluations and knowing when it’s time to let someone go.
- Host weekly 1:1 meetings with direct reports.
- Manage by objectives: establish reasonable, quantitative targets by which progress can be measured.
- Provide regular thought partnership and resourcing to assist in their strategic execution
- Support personal and professional development that demonstrates intimate understanding of their professional purpose and long term priorities.
Executing on Go-to-Market Strategy
The earliest stages of a startup involves a lot of tactical, day-to-day challenges. Pushing a new update out the door. Hiring the next developer to keep on track with production targets. Promoting the product and building the initial user base. As the company grows, however, the challenges evolve.
Startup CEOs will shift from being in the trenches every day to keep the company afloat into a more strategic role. They will need to delegate responsibility to a team of experts they trust to run their business successfully.
Activities associated with go-to-market strategy for startup CEOs:
- Oversee the buildout of marketing, customer success and sales organizations; hire world class leaders for those business units.
- Actively participate in sales meetings with key accounts.
- Be the face of PR strategy.
- Participate in webinars, speaking panels and field marketing events.
- Support publication of original content to drive leads and establish thought leadership
Building a Strong Company Culture
In the early days, a startup’s office might consist of half a dozen desks and a plant. A constant huddle in which all hands are on deck to tackle the next challenge. Exhausting as this might be, there’s a freedom to it that dissipates with time.
As a company grows and becomes more successful, the size of the office grows, departments are built into the org chart, and CEOs spend a larger percentage of their time in meetings, traveling, and fundraising.
This is normal, but it’s easy for a CEO to step back from the day-to-day of the business and, without realizing it, effectively disappear. Problems can arise when employees no longer see the CEO on a regular basis and the company’s previously cohesive culture begins to fracture. With many companies now embracing more remote work arrangements, being a culture champion for your company is imperative as CEO.
Activities associated with building a strong company culture for startup CEOs:
- Set up the standards and practices that support psychological safety, diversity, kindness, healthy conflict, professional development and high performance.
- Create and reinforce the importance of company values. Talk about them and reflect them in your actions.
- Champion a “people first” attitude that makes your company a highly desirable place to work.
- Participating in all-hands meetings, communicating with employees at all levels.
Fundraising is incredibly important for startups as it provides the ability to test new product ideas, market assumptions, and the ability to hire at scale. It’s likely that fundraising will be a big part of your job as CEO every 1-2 years, depending on how often you choose to raise. For this reason, it’s important to set clear expectations of what these phases will look like with your team.
During a fundraise, you’ll likely be around less in the day-to-day operations and will need to depend on the leadership team you’ve developed. By preparing for fundraising periods and coordinating with the rest of the company, you can make clear the impact fundraising will have on the company and ensure things will run smoothly. This time provides a fantastic opportunity for existing leaders to stretch their responsibilities and for new ones to emerge.
Fundraising activities for startup CEOs:
- Keep the company solvent by ensuring funds are available for business operations.
- During times of active fundraising, oversee and execute on an effective fundraising strategy, ensuring partnership with top VC’s.
- During times of non-active fundraising, maintain ongoing investor communication and trust building with current and future investors.
Balancing Your Time as Your Company Grows
Being a CEO requires you to carry out a diverse array of activities to keep your company not only afloat, but thriving and poised for growth. As you consider how you’re spending your time, ask yourself, do I have the support that I need?
If your answer to that question is no, then building your support network and self-care plan are the next steps before you can decide how to balance your time as your company grows.
Working with a coach provides you someone who is specially trained to help you get clear on your goals, discover your areas of opportunity, and help you reach your full potential.
To learn how coaching can help you as a startup CEO balance your time as your company grows, request a demo below. Our team at Torch is here to support you in your success.