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Before starting a company or focusing on your startup full-time, think thoroughly if being a co-founder and chief executive is the right path for you. It’s nearly impossible to anticipate every aspect of what leading a company will feel like, as every startup has a different set of challenges. But there are many common CEO responsibilities such as leadership, operations, recruiting, strategy, and business development.
Idea. Idea. Idea.
Is there an idea keeping you up at night? Are you willing to make lifestyle sacrifices for this idea? If you really want to start a company, but don’t yet have a solid idea, brainstorm and research markets until you’re so obsessed with solving the problem that you can’t imagine doing anything else with your time.
By focusing on a space you’re familiar with, your team and product will have a competitive advantage over the “me too” companies. Domain expertise can come from previous jobs or personal interests.
Startup Operating Experience
Previously building a company (whether it succeeded or failed) will definitely help, but it’s not always a requirement. You can bring operating experience to the table from co-founding a company, having been an early employee, or having built new products inside of another startup. If you haven’t built something from scratch, you may want to consider starting with a side project.
A Strong, Diverse, Multi City Network
You will need to constantly tap into your network for feedback requests, investor introductions, media relations, and recruiting referrals. Having a strong network from the beginning will make all of these interactions easier. If you supported a few friends or colleagues in the past when they were getting started, now would be a good time to reach out for help with your new venture.
Co-Founders + Collaborators
Do you have a co-founder or a collaborator? Starting a company by yourself can be difficult if you don’t have a co-founder to brainstorm ideas with, share the workload with, and get additional perspectives on a problem. If your strength is business strategy, I would strongly suggest finding a technical co-founder.
Starting a company as a solo founder is possible if you have the core skills (engineering, design, business) to get something up and running on your own. If you’re up for the challenge, you can learn how to code and build your first prototype!
Revenue + Capital
How will you and your co-founder(s) support yourselves until your company has revenue and/or capital? If you plan on raising money for your idea, keep in mind that the fundraising process could take 1-3 months.
You’re likely to have many sleepless or low sleep nights before and after you launch. Being a CEO or CTO is not a 9-5 job, It’s a 24/7 job. Sometimes you won’t be able to sleep because you’re brainstorming, other times you will be woken up by a server crashing. Your sleeping patterns will start to feel like a roller coaster ride. Make sure your mind and body can handle this type of lifestyle.
Being a Leader + Mentor
Have you previously held a leadership position as a manager of employees or interns? If your idea takes off and you receive funding and/or early revenue, you might be scaling your team quicker than you thought. In addition to operations, you will be responsible for managing senior executives that manage junior employees. Your team, especially your youngest employees, will look up to you as mentor.
Hiring + Firing Employees
If you answered yes to the last question, have you ever hired or fired an employee? You will be responsible for recruiting talent, especially in the beginning. You might even have to fire an employee (or your co-founder) down the line. You may hire someone and discover later that they’re not the right culture or skill-set fit. At the end of the day you have to decide what’s best for the future of your company.
You will be establishing which projects are most important for your team to be working on. There will be constant shifts in priorities and deadlines based on your product roadmap and the needs of your users. You must sense when there is a need for a shift in priorities and quickly communicate that to your team so everyone is on the same page about how they should be spending their time.
Workflow + Productivity
Are you comfortable not knowing what’s coming tomorrow and the week after? There will undoubtedly be new challenges that pop-up everyday such as team disputes, a server crashing, a user issue to take care of, bugs to fix, or a client needing troubleshooting help. It will be your job to successfully put out these fires while keeping the rest of your team calm and focused under pressure.
While there will be numerous challenges to take care of, there will also be rewarding challenges, such as learning to code and choosing which logo design to use for your company’s identity. You must be open to learning something new tomorrow about yourself, your team, users, product, and ecosystem.
Business Development + Sales
Are you skilled at selling people products they didn’t know they need until they meet you? You will be responsible for crafting strategic partnership proposals and leading meetings with potential clients and investors. This skill-set will also come in handy when you’re recruiting and communicating your company’s story and vision to potential hires.
Making Mistakes + Learning From Them
Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is how you fix mistakes and the lessons you take away from the challenge. You won’t have time to dwell on your mistakes, because by the time you’re done fixing one there will be something else to take care of.
There will be numerous times when you have to get up in front of a crowd to talk about your company. This might be at Meetups and conferences, and pitching potential investors, advertisers, and customers. You must be comfortable presenting your ideas, products and vision to small and large groups of people.
Not everyone is going to like your idea. You will receive feedback from multiple perspectives through your friends, family, investors, users, clients, and journalists. It will be your responsibility, along with your product team, to synthesize and prioritize which ideas to implement. My advice is to gage feedback based on the domain expertise of the person giving end. Your mother may not know anything about your target market, but a potential investor who is a veteran of your industry does.
“I felt that there was an opportunity to create a new organization that inspired kids and treated kids like adults and gave them responsibility and gave them lots of tools to be powerful and creative.” – Zach Klein, CEO of DIY.org
- — Steve Jobs in Wired, February 1996
- – Steve Jobs (via howtoworkwithcreativepeople)
A few of my favorite reads on culture and recruiting for startups…
The importance of culture and fit in the hiring process, by Fred Wilson.