Top 5 priorities for a startup CEO (in order)

When advising or mentoring startup founder-CEO’s, or when governing my own priorities as the CEO of mParticle, here is the basic framework that I use to sort through all the things I need to prioritize and balance. This isn’t exhaustive and other people may think about things differently, and as always I reserve the right to be wrong but, this is just how I do it. So here are what I believe to be the top 5 things a startup CEO needs to do, in this order.

1. Don’t run out of money!

A. If cash is getting low, meet with investors. Without cash on hand nothing else matters and its not profitability that kills startups, its cash flow.

B. If your cash position is fine, focus on growth levers (sales/customers/users). Help sell to win business so that cash doesn’t get low or focus on product/UX. This approach allows you to ensure the product roadmap is aligned to market needs.

Side note: Fundraising never ends. Meet with new & existing investors before you need money. You should be using the meeting to plant seeds and to figure out what metrics they would want to see in order to participate in the next fundraise. Use those metrics to guide priorities internally.

2. Motivate, support, and grow your team

A. Provide consistent updates to the team. Share victories and challenges across the org. Strong communication is the basis of any good relationship and you need a good relationship with your team.

B. Give employees a platform to communicate publicly and privately. Proactively address individual and group concerns and make changes based on this feedback.

C. Spend time recruiting. If you are actively hiring this should be a top priority, if you aren’t but you get referred to a potential candidate, always meet them and consider it an opportunity to impress (whether you would hire them or not).

3. Plan

A. The role of a CEO is to be able to steer and balance a company with limited resources on a path toward profitability, financing, and/or an exit. Like a kid trying to solve a maze with a pencil, start at the end and work backwards. What are the tactics required to execute the strategy. What most people don’t realize is that the early success of startups is almost always about tactics rather than strategy.

B. Be involved with all aspects of the business but defer to experts and empower stakeholders. This will also provide motivation throughout.

C. Have contingency plans for contingency plans knowing that almost no model is ever accurate, and things usually dont go as smooth as you hope (especially early on)

4. Tell the story

A. Make sure employees know the latest story. They are your biggest advocates so make sure they know the latest and greatest version of the story.

B. From 1B, talk to customers. But even more importantly listen to what they want.

C. Make sure investors know the latest, provide regular updates and ask for help.

D. Actively blog, tweet, and engage the press and other outlets as well with important business updates. Media relationships can be just as important as key client and investor relationships.

5. Be cool.

Culture is often times formed top down whether deliberately or subconsciously. Stay calm and remain positive at all times, even when you’re not calm deep down.

I would love to hear people’s thoughts…

Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking

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