Monday, January 4, 2010

The Job of a Small Company CEO

For some reason, in the past month, I've had several people ask me what's involved with being a small company CEO.  Then last week, the same question came up on a startup discussion group I subscribe to,  Apparently a few people found my answer helpful, so I've posted it here.

Having been CEO of several small tech companies in Silicon Valley, here is a summary of what I've found the job to be:
  • The CEO's #1 job is to empower his/her team to do the job that needs to be done. It is the CEO's job to put energy into the business.
  • The CEO is responsible for drawing out, synthesizing, and articulating the vision for the company both internal and external. This is not necessarily the same thing as creating the vision.
  • The CEO is responsible for creating a culture that is high integrity, high performance, but humane. Balancing these three is tougher than it looks.
  • When it comes to raising money, key customers and key partners, the CEO is the top salesperson and representative of the company. By virtue of your position, especially to investors, you are the face of the company.
  • The CEO is responsible for ensuring the company has a coherent strategy for winning in the marketplace and that the company is executing. At the startup level that means ensuring that the company creates a business model that works and understands how to acquire customers.
    So what skills does it take?
    • You should be able to pick people. Get this right, and a lot of issues go away.
    • You need to be an effective communicator of your ideas.
    • You need to be able to empathize with people and be able to put yourself in their shoes.
    • You need to have the guts to stick with your ethical values (just look around to see what happens when CEOs don't have this).
    • You need to have the ability to face the facts as they are, not as you wish them to be.
      What you don't need:
      • Brilliance - you don't need to know everything or be the most knowledgeable person in the room. In fact, this can actually be a handicap, if it stifles the willingness of your people to present views that might be contrary to yours. I've found that people spend a lot of time trying to "read the CEO". You have to create a safe environment for people to put forth their true opinions even to the point of playing dumb.
      • Charisma - I know a lot of plain vanilla, even dull CEOs who are nevertheless very effective. We can't all be Steve Jobs. CEOs come in many flavors.
      Best of luck to all of you who are or are about to assume the mantel of a small company CEO.

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