What is the role of a CEO in a startup

Being a startup CEO is the most demanding and mentally exhausting job I've ever had. The decisions you make, affect not only the future of your company but the future of the people who trust you to make the right decisions for the company they work for.

It's extremely demanding. It never stops... and it's also the most thrilling experience of my professional life. This is Startup CEO Roles and Responsibilities.

BTW- this is part of a new course on starting a business- check out this link for more info.

My Background

Here’s some of my background in case you don’t know me: our company Slidebean is a web presentation platform, way more efficient than PowerPoint. We have over 600,000 sign-ups from all over the world, over $1MM in annual revenue and growing fast. We are a US company with a team of 20+ people based in New York City and in San Jose, Costa Rica, where I'm originally from.

I'm the CEO, and one of three company founders- and everything in these videos comes from my own experience, managing this, we'll call it a successful company, and a previous one, who went out of business.

What you need to be a good startup CEO

As a startup CEO you'll need creativity, people skills, number skills, patience, resolve... but before all that, I think the most critical skill set a founder need is the ability to learn and adapt fast.

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To be a good CEO you will need to know a bit of everything

You will need to do a bit of everything in your company, especially when starting up- from tech tasks such as setting up an email to routing your domain- to understanding the employment legislation in your city, state, and country.  As your company grows, you can delegate these tasks, but it's much easier to build a team by delegating your tasks, than by hiring people to do things you have no idea how to do.

When you know how to do something, you know how long it should take others to do it, which keeps your teams efficient.

However, knowing how to do everything means, well, that you have to learn a bit about everything. Going back to my background, coming out of high school I decided to study computer science, which didn't end up doing it for me but gave some basic knowledge in coding which has been insanely useful as the CEO of a tech company. I understand, at least in the abstract, how most of our features work.

After quitting computer science, I did my undergrad in digital animation, as in the guys that do this stuff for a living.

I fell out of love with this career path and ended up dropping out when I started my first business; however, I learned to design. Now I don't consider myself an excellent designer, but I know how things work, I know how long things take to make, I can tell good websites and bad websites apart, and before Slidebean existed, I could build a nice-looking pitch deck without any help. We'll get back to that later.

So as you can see, I don't have a business background. Still, I know accounting, financial models, human resources, I live and breathe Excel, I know legal documentation for startups, I know stocks, loans... I can't say I'm an expert in either of these matters, but I understand them. As a startup CEO, you just have to. You have to learn something new every day, and you have to learn fast, and no career path can prepare you.

Startup CEO common responsibilities

So while this may vary from company to company, I'm going to breakdown the tasks I need to perform at Slidebean. Again, at the time of writing, we are a team of 20 people based in 2 countries.

Starting with my core tasks, or the ones I feel I'll never be able to delegate- and then moving to the functions that I am already looking to pass along to somebody else on the team.

Rules for Startups CEO

Rule #1: Don't run out of money.
Rule #2: Don't run out of money. Balance new hires, budget expansion with revenue forecasts to spend capital efficiently. I'm understating how important this is.

  • Define the company roadmap and strategy: from yearly to quarterly to monthly plans.
  • Connect the tasks of all the teams: ensure we are all rowing in the same direction, and sync feature launches with marketing campaigns and customer training.
  • Optimize and facilitate, to the best of my abilities, so that teams can work more efficiently.
  • Preside over the Board of Directors, and keep board members and investors updated and informed.
  • Create and care for the company culture. Again, this is easier said than done, and so much more important than it sounds.
  • Keep the team motivated. Our revenue information is open to everyone in the team, so they know, every day,  whether it's meeting our expectations or not.
  • It's my job to keep everyone calm so they can perform to their full potential.
    Deal with compliance: understanding legal and tax situations and how the company is addressing them.

Specific tasks to be delegated soon

  • Write the scripts for these weekly videos, and oversee the content marketing efforts we make.
  • Approve large product or service purchases.
  • Oversee the marketing site (our landing pages) and the strategy to improve it.
  • Lead some of our new marketing experiments, once again, so I can understand them and then delegate them.
  • Manage potential partnerships.
  • Define salaries and benefits packages for our team, based on our company budget.
  • Create and follow up on critical partnerships and business proposals.
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Must-have skills to be a startup CEO

So, starting a company is a marathon, not a sprint (not my quote, by the way). If you are considering starting a business, you need to prepare yourself for what's to come.  

Top 3 priorities

  • Don't start a company for the sake of starting a company: I see a lot of entrepreneurs who just 'wanted to build a business' and sat down to find an idea. That's the wrong approach.
  • In most cases, your startup idea comes from your own experience: a unique industry insight you learned at your job, an exceptional talent you acquired, or a business opportunity that you have the skills to monetize.
  • Uncertainty: be prepared for not knowing where your company is going. For the first few months or even years, you will have limited visibility about your future, so embrace living in the moment.
  • Most startups fail, that's a sad but very real statistic, so even if your idea is great, be prepared mentally and financially to deal with failure. Don't quit your day job until you are ready and know when to go back to a day job.
  • Long working hours: as a founder-CEO, you are working on your business 100% of the time. Your brain is always going to be on your business, and it's incredibly exhausting. Even vacations are hard to enjoy when people's lives depend on your decisions.

I can talk all day about drawing boundaries and setting aside personal time, but the truth is as a founder, vacations and holidays don't mean what they used to mean when you are an employee. Your business is a part of you; period. So be prepared for the marathon of your life.


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