Seriously, what does a CEO of an early-stage startup do?
Pretty much everything, but what does ‘everything’ mean?
We all have been there while working for others. What exactly does the CEO? CEOs seem to be busy all day but we have no idea what they do, right?
Being CEO is like:
Not even close.
Well, now I’m in the position of answering that question, leveraging the year I have in running YData.
As CEO, we do have many roles and wear many hats. The very first, is to prove that there is a business. There are plenty of ideas out there, many cool projects, and great leaders. The thing is, an investor is not looking for just one cool project based on a hyped technology, they’re looking for a business that ultimately will get them high returns.
The very first, is to prove that there is a business.
Of course it changes a lot depending on the stage of your startup. But at the start, you might want to wear the hat of a market researcher. Talking with prospect customers to understand if they would become their potential to buy-in is probably the best to start.
Talking with prospect customers to understand if they would become their potential to buy-in is probably the best to start.
The second step is to build what you’ve proposed to build. The business won’t appear by magic and at this point you don’t have money to hire a team to work for you. It is time to let go of the social life you like so much and deep dive into product development.
If you have the chance, you’ll start selling as soon as possible, so you can have both revenue and feedback. Selling while developing the product? It seems insane, right? But building a product with customer feedback is halfway to Product-Market-Fit.
You’re on the right track but things should be happening faster. Meaning, you should have a team working with you so you can deliver faster to your customer and charge more. That’s when you realize you need external capital. The roles start pilling up because you still need to research the market and also competitors, still need to develop your product and sell it. And now you’ll be selling a company to investors. While you’re fundraising, all of your other roles go to a minimum to keep the business alive. It is exhausting and time-consuming.
While you’re fundraising, all of your other roles go to minimum to keep the business alive.
Now that you have money in the bank, you need to spend it! The worst thing you can do to your investors in to keep the money without even trying! Congratulations, you just got promoted to head hunter! But don’t forget you still have to do everything else you were doing before! Probably at this point you already master the sales techniques, since you have sold your product to customers, sold your company and vision to investors and now you’re going to sell the same to possible employees. They know that joining an early-stage startup is risky and probably will get them lower wages, so it is your job to convince them otherwise.
They know that joining an early-stage startup is risky and probably will get them lower wages, so it is your job to convince them otherwise.
As Head of HR, it is your job to keep everyone aligned on what they should be doing and keep them motivated. It seems easier than it actually is.
Almost forgot! During all of this time you were also the marketeer of the company. Someone needs to spread the word, do the press release about your recent funding, and create content for the company.
Last but not least, don’t forget to pay the salaries of your new employees. That’s not cool.
… don’t forget to pay the salaries of your new employees.
During your startup life, you’ll be changing roles on an hourly basis and sometimes you’ll feel overwhelmed. But as once a wise guy told me, ‘everything is workable’. If you have the grit, you’ll sort it out.
Also, get comfortable in getting NO’s. NO’s from investors, NO’s from clients, NO’s from possible hires. NO’s from journalists. In fact, nobody cares until you make it.
… nobody cares until you make it.
Finally, to help you during the way, here are some tips and tricks to help you survive:
- Do the YCombinator Startup School or the Sam Altman’s compilation. Or both!
- Read the content provided by some major VC firms (a16z, 7 questions by Sequoia).
- Read some PG’s essays. Also, Mark Suster usually has very good insights to share.
- There’s plenty of good content online but I definitely recommend reading these two books:
5. Subscribe to newsletters that make sense for your business.
6. Surround yourself by great people that can help you build your venture.
7. Keep calm. Everything is workable.
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