In Atlanta Ventures, we see quite a few brilliant single technical founder startups. These are smart guys who really know how to build stuff, have a great personality, great insight on the problems of the world, and tons of energy. Yet, of every one that we’ve seen we have agreed internally that they aren’t investable until they find a good Startup CEO.
There are a whole host of reasons why every company needs at least 2 co-founders. But I’d like to specifically share my thoughts on the CEO role. It really comes down to three priorities. In my opinion these 3 things should the 90% focus of every startup CEO.
JOB #1. Cash. Fundraising.
This may be the CEO’s own money. Or it more likely means doing the road show and pitching to investors. However it happens, it is the CEOs job to be sure that the company is well capitalized to accomplish it’s mission. Setting out on a journey to build a company takes capital. There’s no way around it. Bootstrapping is always an option, so if that’s the chosen path, then the CEO should be an amazing sales guy at bringing in customers to get that cash needed to bootstrap. Bottom line, CEO needs to fill up the gas tank.
JOB #2. Recruiting and Supporting the Team.
I learned this two-part lesson from two guys named Jack.
First Jack Daly — the most amazing speaker I’ve ever seen, who helps entrepreneurs get off their ass and build a sales organization. He reminds you over and over that you have to be always actively recruiting your sales team. Good sales people DO NOT apply for jobs. They make a ton of money, already. They are GOOD. Instead, you have to ABR (Always Be Recruiting). You have to know the A-players around you and be forming relationships with them so you can bring them to your team on their schedule, not yours.
The same goes for engineers. Especially now, when engineers are the scarcest resource for every company, no matter the size… you can’t rest. You must always be out there recruiting.
Second was Jack Welch. I’ll never forget when I was in the College of Business at Georgia Tech and he came to speak. He said that he always told the folks at GE Headquarters their phone should ring more inbound than calls outbound. They should reply to more e-mails than they initiate. His point is that management’s job is to support the company. Not create work for the company. I believe the Startup CEO is about the only management there is in early stage, so it’s important to be there to support your team. Not manage them.
Another good example is Home Depot’s upside down org chart. The customer is on the top, followed by the front line store service people, with the corporate management being all the way at the bottom. You get the idea.
The third job of a Startup CEO…. let’s hold that one for tomorrow. It’s my favorite.