Being a startup CEO is the most demanding and mentally exhausting job I’ve ever had. Your decisions affect not only the future of your company but the future of the people who trust you to make the right decisions for the company, hence for them. It’s incredibly demanding. It never stops, and it’s also the most thrilling experience of my professional life.
My Background Being a CEO
Here’s some of my background if you don’t know me: our company Slidebean is a web presentation platform that is way more efficient than PowerPoint. We have 600,000+ sign-ups from all over the world, over $1MM in annual revenue, and are growing fast. We are a US company with 20+ people based in New York City and San Jose, in my native Costa Rica.
I’m the CEO and one of three company founders. Besides our products (because we’ve added more since we founded Slidebean), we create content on multiple platforms. All of it from my experience managing this company, a successful one, and a previous endeavor, which went out of business.
As a startup CEO, you’ll need creativity, people skills, number skills, patience, and resolve, but before all that, the most critical skill set you require, as a founder, is the ability to learn and adapt quickly.
To be a good CEO, you will need to know a bit of everything. You will need to do a bit of everything in your company, especially when starting up, from tech tasks like setting up an email to routing your domain- to understanding the employment legislation in your city, state, and country.
As your company grows, you can delegate these tasks, but keep one thing in mind: it’s much easier to build a team by delegating your tasks than hiring people to do things you have no idea how to do. When you know how to do something, you know how long it should take others to do it, which keeps your teams efficient.
Knowing how to do everything also means that you have to learn a bit about everything. To elaborate on this, I want to go back to my background. Coming out of high school, I decided to study computer science, which didn’t end up doing it for me, but it gave me some basic knowledge in coding. It has been insanely helpful as the CEO of a tech company. At least in the abstract, I understand how most of our features work.
After quitting computer science, I did my undergrad in digital animation, as in the guys that do this stuff for a living. Unfortunately, I fell out of love with this career path and dropped out when I started my first business; however, I learned to design. Now I don’t consider myself an excellent designer, but I know how things work.
I know how long things take to make, I can tell good and bad websites apart, and before Slidebean existed, I could build a nice-looking pitch deck without any help.
For now, as you can see, I don’t have a business background. Still, I know accounting, financial models, human resources, I live and breathe Excel, I know legal documentation for startups, I know stocks and loans. Now, I can’t say I’m an expert in any of these matters, but I understand them. You have to, as a startup CEO. You must learn something new every day and learn quickly–no career path can prepare you for that.
While this may vary from company to company, I will break down the tasks I need to perform at Slidebean. As a reference, we are a team of 30 people based in 2 countries at writing. Let’s start with my core tasks. I feel I’ll never be able to delegate these. Then, I’ll move to the functions that I am already looking to pass to somebody else on the team.
Rule #1: Don’t run out of money.
Rule #2: Don’t run out of money: balance new hires, budget expansion with revenue forecasts, and spend capital efficiently. I’m understating how important this is.
- Define the company roadmap and strategy: from yearly to quarterly to monthly plans.
- Connect the tasks of all the teams: ensure we are all rowing in the same direction and sync feature launches with marketing campaigns and customer training.
- Optimize and facilitate, to the best of my abilities, so that teams can work more efficiently.
- Preside over the Board of Directors, and keep board members and investors updated and informed.
- Create and care for the company culture. Again, this is easier said than done and so much more important than it sounds.
- Keep the team motivated. Our revenue information is open to everyone in the company, so they know, every day, whether it’s meeting our expectations or not.
- It’s my job to keep everyone calm to perform to their full potential.
Deal with compliance: understanding legal and tax situations and how the company is addressing them.
- Approve large product or service purchases.
- Oversee the marketing site (our landing pages) and the strategy to improve it.
- Lead some of our new marketing experiments, once again, to understand them and then delegate them.
- Manage potential partnerships.
- Define salaries and benefits packages for our team based on our company budget.
- Create and follow up on critical partnerships and business proposals.
Must-have skills to be a startup CEO
So, starting a company is a marathon, not a sprint (not my quote, by the way). Therefore, if you consider starting a business, you need to prepare yourself for what’s to come.
What are your priorities?
- Don’t start a company for the sake of starting a company: I see a lot of entrepreneurs who just ‘wanted to build a business’ and sat down to find an idea. That’s the wrong approach.
- In most cases, your startup idea comes from your own experience: a unique industry insight you learned at your job, an exceptional talent you acquired, or a business opportunity that you have the skills to monetize.
- Uncertainty: be prepared for not knowing where your company is going. You will have limited visibility about your future for the first few months or even years, so embrace living in the moment.
- Most startups fail; that’s a sad but very real statistic, so be prepared mentally and financially to deal with failure even if your idea is excellent. Don’t quit your day job until you are ready and know when to return to a day job.
- Long working hours: as a founder-CEO, you are working on your business 100% of the time. Your brain will always be on your business, and it’s incredibly exhausting. Even vacations are hard to enjoy when people’s lives depend on your decisions.
I can talk all day about drawing boundaries and setting aside personal time, but the truth is, as a founder, vacations and holidays don’t mean what they used to be when you were an employee. Your business is a part of you, period. So, be prepared for the marathon of your life.