(and 10 other things to think about)
So, first off let’s set the parameters for what “newly minted CEO” means. I am assuming the following:
- This is your first time running something that is investor backed.
- You are a founder or co-founder, and you picked this seat (you crazy person you)...
- You have raised more than sufficient money to make a real go of it.
- You now have a board of directors (if you are doing it right, you do) and have signed up for a plan on strategy and budget.
- You are confident you can do this (but you are waking up at night wondering what to do…).
If you are a bootstrapper, good on ya, that is truly the best way to go if you can do it, these things still apply to you as well. If you are a wantrapreneur, keep trying, but really, at some point, it’s time to go back and get a “normal” job. I used to think I was a great guitar player until I saw what a real one looks like and goes through. I still play guitar, but not for money.
So here are the three things to focus on:
It’s really quite simple. If you have revenue, everything else is possible. That not-for-profit arm you want to spin up. That R&D project you want to play with. That company jet. That salary bump for your best people. And on and on…
The way to achieve all the things you want to build is to deliver revenue. Along with providing fuel to your enterprise, it provides comfort to your investors that you are focused, can do what you say you’re going to do, and be trusted with more of their money when the time and opportunity are right.
It’s really kind of simple. So… go do it. (He says grinning — it ain’t simple.)
Here are ten things to think about. There are really hundreds, and if you are a recovering, active, or newly minted CEO, and I have missed something, please add to the conversation below or on the socials!
- Focus. Pick three big things to work on per week — note, you won’t get them all done in one week, this list often stays the same week to week. Celebrate when you knock one off.
- What is your mission? Your company’s mission? And by proxy, your team’s mission? Please make it inspiring, nearly doable, and measurable.
- Secure three trusted [competent] advisors — no more, no less. One of the mistakes I made and see made by other newly minted CEO’s is they get too much input from too many unqualified people. There is a difference between market intel from associates and great advice from people who have already had the success of building a great company. Choose wisely. Find people who have what you want, and ask them to advise you. Offer a vested equity incentive, it will be the best dilution you’ll ever take.
- Get your team pace/cadence right. You set the pace for the organization, whether you have 3 people or 30 — you need a regular cadence with them. There are times when you have to move faster than you’d like, but an intentional, brisk pace is a good baseline for growth. Urgency matters at the beginning.
- Communication is key. Make your communications crisp, accurate and direct. And, measure twice, cut once. It’s your job to know everything about where the company is. With 3 people it is obviously easier to know it all. But if you are doing it right, it will quickly be 10, and you need to revisit your tactics and keep lines of communication open.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Set timelines for yourself in front of your team and then hit those timelines. Create accountability that includes you, and then show everyone else how it’s done.
- It’s ok to be wrong, just don’t be wrong for too long. I borrowed this one from the team Ruby For Families. Mistakes are ok, but correct them, learn, and move on.
- Up your tech game, please. If you are an executive in the modern world, you need to have a top notch tech game. Have all the cables and connectors, don’t need to plug your phone in (have a brick charger), have your presentation (sales, investor, company story, whatever) on the desktop ready to open, have your desktop clean. Little things matter. If you are fumbling around with your tech, you are sending a much bigger message.
- Investors. Establish a regular cadence with your current cap table/investors. And always be warming up new investors.
- Do something healthy for yourself every day. Then do it, every day. I still struggle with this one, but it’s part of creating a whole person. And while committing to being a whole person is hard, that’s part of what makes a great leader. For me, it’s yoga, playing music, focused family time, meditation… and please, don’t expect to do this perfectly, just try.
This is by no means a complete list, if I’ve missed something glaring, feel free to add it in the comments. If you know someone who needs to read it share. And, here are a couple other links to other great lists from folks waaay smarter than I.
Now go build something great!