Five Responsibilities for the Startup CEO

startup ceosJust like every tribe needs a chief, every startup needs a CEO, regardless of how small the business may be. So what is the role of the startup CEO, who’s usually the founder as well?

1. The visionary: In the early days, a startup’s prospects heavily depend on the strength and passion of the vision, as well as the determination to make it come to reality. As the chief visionary officer, the CEO needs to clearly articulate the vision and establish the path that will be followed to pursue it.

2. Create a differentiated strategic plan: Let’s be honest, few startups are unique, which makes it crucial to be different in some way. It may not be a huge difference but it is enough to give a startup a way to rise above the crowd. The challenge is the competitive landscape continually shifts so a CEO always has to be tweaking the dials.

3. Have the right resources at the right time: As startups grow and evolve, they need different people to do different jobs. Sometimes, the people who do the heavy lifting during the early days don’t have the skills or aptitude to thrive in a fast-growing environment. In other cases, more experienced people need to be hired, which could see the CEO replacing himself, which is always a tough pill to swallow. Bottom line: a startup without the right people is like a car with the wrong engine.

4. Tactical execution: The right product at the right time with the right people is a great formula for success but it won’t matter without tactical execution. It means making the right decisions at the right time, which includes everything from sales and marketing to communications and hiring. Like a car, startups need to fire on all cylinders to run well.

5. Making sure the business is properly capitalized: This is an interesting and dynamic challenge because the financial needs of startups can quickly change depending on the maturity and growth of the business. In the early days, proper capitalization may mean finding low-cost working space and small checks from friends and family. But as the startup grows, the financing requirements change to capitalize on the opportunity. As a result, the CEO spends a lot of time determining the capital needs, and then doing the blocking and tackling to attract it into the business.

In many respects, the startup CEO is the ultimate multi-tasker because they have their hands on all facets of the business. It is a make-or-break proposition depending on how well they do their jobs.

What do you think are the key responsibilities of the startup CEO?

More: To see more thoughts on the role of the startup CEO, check out Learn to Duck, which talks about the five “smells”.

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  • Michael Coulson

    Hi Mark – good post thanks

    I could go on about this one for days, but let me just chime in about number 1: You’re right i that vision is incredibly important, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem for startups is to resist the daily opportunities that present themselves – ie, to believe in your vision enough to know when NOT to alter the product to suit a client’s needs. Or even harder, to know which pathways are rabbit holes and which are trojan horses, that may end up furthering your end vision.

    This game gets played out so often in the yin yang between product marketing and sales, and a good CEO needs to have carefully selected lieutenants who can strike a balance between what is good for the company long-term and what is necessary for the company right now.

    • Mark Evans

      Good points. Thanks for the insight and comment.

  • Derrick Fung

    Great points. I think one of the most important traits is the ability to sell. Selling to potential investors, employees, and customers.

  • Jeremy Toeman

    good post mark, but i think the role of “fundraiser” isn’t emphasized enough. fundamentally, THAT is the job. a great fundraiser can hire all the other people with the money they raise, but a lousy fundraiser won’t keep a company afloat…

    • Mark Evans

      It is interesting to see how startup CEOs spend so much time raising money. I think it’s only afterward that they realize the importance of having good people to run operations while they’re doing the VC thing. Thanks for the comment.

  • Glen Hellman

    #1 Build a revenue engine! Nothing beats revenue.


      I would say focus on building a great product first. Revenue is a result of making a great product. Sometimes when all you have on the brain is revenue, you take short cuts and ruin your business.

      • Glen Hellman

        I find that too many entrepreneurs are focused on product and not enough on making money. Oracle became oracle because they sold the crap out of a crappy product with a great vision. They captured faster than better products could get to market. They fixed the problem later.

        History is riddled with fabulous products that don’t make money. The Segway, the Xerox Star, Ingress RDBMS. It’s not enough to build it and they will come. They have to pay for it too. Execution trumps Secret Sauce.

        • Jay Oza

          I agree. You can make the product better by learning, but there are no guarantees that you will get a sale by building a great product. Companies want solution now and will stick with you if you are making it slightly better.

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