The Startup CEO Survival Guide

One of the trickiest parts about being a startup founder is juggling multiple demands on your time and paying attention to what matters. Product must ship, clients need to be tended to and employees must get paid. Here’s how I prioritize my activities each day:

Raise money. I used to complain about how raising money was a distraction from running the business. I now realize that keeping my company funded is the single most important thing that I do. Without money there is no startup!

To be successful raising money you need to be very persistent. Not every investor will like your idea -- in truth, most won’t. Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, recently said that his business plan was rejected 40 times before he got the company funded.

Hire the right people. Attracting the right people to an early-stage startup is key. But you don’t necessarily need to hire C-level executives, at least not in the beginning. Instead, hire smart people who want to help you succeed. I joined my previous startup, in part, because I wanted to help a friend be successful. Now I’m looking for people to do the same for me.

Conversely, you should weed out people that have unreasonable demands like a huge salary or co-founder status long after the company has been founded. These people are more interested in helping themselves than fulfilling the mission of your company.

Market the company (and yourself). Being a startup CEO is like running for political office. Don’t get in the race unless you’re willing to put yourself out there. Making people aware of your company (and yourself) is essential to raising money, attracting talent, and gaining customers.

Regularly contributing to industry publications is important to raising your profile. Self-publishing is also a great way to examine industry issues and become more strategic in your thinking. You should absolutely participate in social media like Twitter and attend industry events.

It’s also important to get to know the trade press. Don’t expect a PR agency to do all the work for you. Most journalists will want to hear directly from you, so constantly refine your pitch and feel comfortable with what you’re saying.

Own the product. I’ve written before about the importance of CEOs never losing control of their product. You don’t need to personally design and build the product, of course, but you should maintain ownership of the roadmap. This is your baby!

Connect with clients. Once you hire salespeople, don’t put yourself in a bubble and become disconnected from customers. Get in front of clients so you can hear how they are using your product and how it can be better.

Getting out to see clients also demonstrates leadership. You are showing your team that you are willing to hustle alongside them to win and retain business. My personal goal is to visit at least one client a week and participate in as many sales calls as possible. By the end of the week, if I’m not sick of being on the New York subway system, then I know that I haven’t seen enough clients.

If you’re successful, you’ll eventually be able to delegate some of these tasks and focus more on scaling the business. Longer term, building great teams that can execute the mission is essential. But early on you must focus on all of the activities that are critical to getting to that next stage.

Correction: Jeremiah Owyang actually works for Altimeter Group and not Forrester, as erroneously noted (and then corrected) in last Friday's Online Spin.

Tags: management
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2 comments about "The Startup CEO Survival Guide".
  1. Michel Giasson from NuCaptcha , October 17, 2012 at 12:59 a.m.
    Excellent article Matt! This is a list that will serve any start up CEO very well. I'll save it as it's so easy to forget some of the key items when you are in the thick of it. The only item I would add is to carve-out some time for goal planning -- if not daily then at least on a weekly. Someone said "start with the end in mind" - I can't remember who said this but I think it's good advice.
  2. Matt Straz from Namely , October 18, 2012 at 7 a.m.
    That is a great add, Michel. Goals are essential.