Being the CEO of a startup is a hard and complex job. Here’s my quick list of the 13 things every startup CEO should make sure to do each week:
Remember your One Thing. Your startup can only do one thing well at a time. Know Your One Thing. Write it on the wall. Repeat it every day. Put it at the top of every regular company-wide communication. Don’t let anything distract you and your team from it.
Remember that you’re only as good as The Team around you. Spend time cultivating your team. Bring in people who are better at their jobs than you could ever be. Motivate them and drive them to do things they never thought they could do. Give them freedom to roam and discover while guiding them towards the One Thing. Treat your co-workers like family. Startups can be a grind. Getting your team to love being part of your company is critical to success. A startup is not just a place to work, it’s a way of life. As CEO, your job is not to do everyone else’s job. Your job is to help everyone else do their jobs better. Also make sure to give regular feedback to your executives on your expectations for them and areas where you need them to improve.
Set the Tone. Everyone — your co-workers, your customers, your partners, your investors, the press, your Twitter and Facebook followers — takes their cues from you. Does your company value Speed? Analytics? Innovation? Customer Service? Ultimately your company culture will largely reflect how you function as CEO. So, don’t be a rude jerk. Walk the walk and personally act the way you want people to think about when they think about your company. It’s easy to get this wrong. If you run around like a chicken with its head cut off, your company will too. If you forget to smile, your company will too. If you lack patience, your company will too. If you don’t say please and thank you, neither will your company. The company is bigger than any one individual but it reflects the personalities and work habits of its employees, and you’re the leader.
Spend at least 75% of your personal time on your Product. Your company is only as good as its product. Put your stamp on it. Insist that it be excellent. Dig in and get your hands dirty and manage features and user benefits. Where I come from the CEO must be the Chief Product Officer. As CEO you should feel responsible for every pixel on the screen. I know that may seem like overkill but your product is the user-facing output of all your hard work and its every function should reflect your goals and objectives.
Run the Numbers. I’m talking less budget and cash flow here and more key metrics. Send a weekly email to your team summarizing all the key data that drives your business. Write this email yourself. Writing the email will force you to dig in and analyze the data. Own the data. Share the data. Make it your job to make sure that everyone in the company is focused on the numbers that really drive your business. Boil it down to at most 3 to 5 metrics that really matter.
Exercise. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. Make yourself go to the gym at least 4 days per week, preferably 5 or 6. Working out gives you the energy and stamina to solve complex problems. Being CEO is incredibly mentally challenging. Use the gym as a way to stay fresh and to clear your head. If you don’t do this already, I promise you you’ll be shocked at how much easier life gets when you are regularly working out. Step away from the keyboard and enter the gym!
Ask for Feedback. Guess what? You’re not as smart as you think you are. And you will make mistakes. Ask your employees, customers, partners, etc. for regular feedback. Make sure you have at least 1 executive on your team who can give you honest feedback about your own performance. Make sure you have at least 1 outside board member or close advisor who can give you regular input on corporate development issues (e.g. fundraising, board management).
Get Out of the Office. It’s all too easy to manage from behind the keyboard and just live around your email inbox. Get out of the office and talk to real customers, partners, suppliers, bloggers, press, etc. Listen to what they have to say and take it to heart. Don’t just feed them the vision. Stop and listen to the reality.
Blog, Tweet, Read, & Participate in CEO forums. Writing stuff like this is therapeutic. Share your lessons learned, pain points, and your tips and tricks. Don’t be afraid to hang it all out there and get feedback from your virtual network. Read hacker news to keep up on what other startup CEOs and tech geeks are sharing. Leverage your investors’ networks to get advice and input from other CEO’s who are in similar situations.
Manage Cash. Cash is your lifeblood. You must know at all times how much cash you have left, how long it can last you, and what the impact of decisions you make will have on your cash position. And don’t forget to raise more money long before you need it!
Act Like an Investor. At the end of each week, ask yourself the following question: Did our actions this past week increase value? What was the ROI on your time spent this past week? If you go 2 weeks in a row or 2 weeks in a month without a positive ROI on your time spent, you’re clearly doing the wrong things.
Have fun. This stuff is too hard and takes too much energy to not enjoy it. Make sure to have fun every single day. Even the tough days need to have some joy in them. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing the wrong things. One of my favorite sayings is, “mature, but don’t grow up.”
Love. Love your company. Love your co-workers. Love your investors. Love your partners. Love your suppliers. And most importantly, love the people you come home to — the people whose support makes it possible for you to get up and do it again each day.