12 tips for first-time startup CEO

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Same is true with a start-up. And if the CEO of the start-up happens to be that weakest link, whole organization goes for a toss. At times we focus so much on idea, team composition, marketing etc that we overlook the most crucial aspect of the startup- the founders. Below are few tips for the first time startup CEO which would help them be relevant and competitive forever.  Most of these tips hold good for the entire team and not just the boss.


1)      Marathon not a sprint

Start-up is a marathon, not a sprint. Your start-up won’t turn into a billion dollar company or be acquired overnight. You know this already!!right??

But the crux is, this is not happening in the next  20 months as well. So be prepared mentally, physically and (last but not the least) financially to keep your start-up floating till it reaches its logical end. Even while picking up your team (co-founders, colleagues etc), look for at-least half a decade into future. Employee retention should be an important agenda on the table while recruiting new hires.

2)      Don’t burn out

Take care of your health as much as your organization (if not more). If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you look after your startup? And if you fall ill, you will anyway be forced to take a break.  Sleep 8 hours daily. There will be days leading to sleepless nights, say a product launch. But this should be an exception and not a norm. I know founders who sleep no more than 3-4 hours. This can be very effective in short run but it comes with a long term cost.

3)      Don’t destroy your social life

Your organization is a vital part of life but not the life itself. You need to strike a right balance between social and professional life. Socialize with your family and friends more often. Meeting your acquaintances should be as frequent in your calendar as your team meetings.  It helps you rejuvenate and start afresh. Solution to the hardest problem might crop up when you are doing something completely unrelated. Also these people can be the flag bearers for your company. No publicity equals word of mouth.

4)  Build a great advisory board

Startup is a nascent organization. A single move can make or break the entire company. So rather than committing the mistake and learning the hard way, we should learn from mistakes of others. Hence it becomes very vital to have a great advisory board which brings to the table not only experience but also expertise.

5)      Communicate and be transparent with your team

Communication is the nervous system of your start-up. If it breaks down, you are screwed big time. Every stake holder of the organization has the right to know what is happening in the company (both good and bad).

A typical movie scene:

“I have two news for you, one good and another bad. Which one should I say?”

“Good one” comes the reply.

As the founder, we are more than happy sharing our milestones. But we withhold our failures. While founders desist from sharing failures lest it demoralizes the team, it can actually be the kick that sets the ball rolling. Trust is quintessential for the startup. We have no choice but to be transparent.

6)      Don’t do everything, you are not superhuman

Most startups try to do everything in no time. Hence they are walking left, right and center. Same is true with the founders, they feel they are super-humans. They want to handle finances, look after the operations and preside over the technical and marketing team. You must not take so much on to your plate that you virtually have time for nothing. Quality and quantity are foes forever. Hence if you try doing to many things, you end up compromising with the quality.

7)      Prove yourself

A lot of people have pinned their hopes on you and your competence. Investors bet their money on you, employees trust you with their livelihood, clients trust you with their business. Hence you must prove your credentials. As a founder, you must acknowledge the great responsibility you shoulder and take all your decisions sensibly. Any wayward steps can send your stakeholders into the state of frenzy.

8)      Define Vision and be its storyteller

As a founder, it’s your primary responsibility to objectively define your vision and be its storyteller. A precise vision helps put a clear timeline and objective for the company. It also gives clarity as to what the organization is supposed to do and what it should abstain from doing.

9)      Be Flexible

This is no start-up mantra. Being flexible helps you in life as much as in start-ups. You start with a plan and it doesn’t work out. You must be flexible enough to change the entire course of action. Reluctance to change is what killed the mobile giant Nokia and is engulfing many startups every now and then. Evolve, be open to feedback and never hesitate to change. Move on!!!

10) No to fancy offices

Curtail the burn-out of your startup during gestation period. Avoid fancy offices or over-priced decorations if they come at the cost of essentials. These things can be had once you are well-off. More the monthly burn-out of your startup, more is the pressure on you to deliver quickly.

11)      Learn new tricks

As a founder you need to be relevant and same is true for your startup. Learn new tricks of the trade, track the latest developments in the industry and stay updated. Technology changes everyday and you run the risk of becoming obsolete if you sit back and continue doing what your forefathers did.

12)  Chasing customers not investors
yes, you need money to keep the business rolling and money comes from investors. So you need to chase or convince your investors but should they top your priority list? NEVER!!!

Try and target your customers, build a loyal customer base. If you have customer for your product or service, you will find investors eventually. But if you have investor, it doesn’t guarantee customers. And if you don’t have customers, investors would part ways.