What I Wish I'd Known as a Struggling CEO
BY Marc Barros
Was it easy? Of course not. But nine months after leaving my start-up behind, I know what I would have done differently.
Sometimes being a CEO is a bit like being in Fight Club.
The first rule of Fight Club is never to talk about Fight Club, so these CEOs suffer in silence.
Recently, after receiving a late night phone call from a peer, I was reminded of all this anguish.
I constantly dealt with struggle at Contour. When I was running my first start-up, the learning curve was steep and often unforgiving. Though we were winning, it often felt like we were losing.
It's taken me nine months to fully recover from that experience. And while sleep, relaxation, and meditation have helped, writing showed me what I was too busy to notice at Contour.
Now that I've had time to reflect on my role as CEO, here are five lessons I wish someone had told me about managing the ups and downs.
1. Let your values be a guide.
A series of bad decisions can put you in a really tough spot. Some decisions seemed simple at the time, but were based on the facts at hand and not the company's values.
Since I wasn't clear from the outset about what Contour stood for, I didn't have a compass guiding me through those moments. Instead of relying on my gut, I made a series of decisions that resulted in a company with varying beliefs.
Have clear values and never waiver from them, no matter how hard the decision.
2. Know people have been through worse.
Yes, what you're going through is hard, but while this won't be comforting to hear, I can guarantee someone else has been through much worse.
When I left Contour, I was distraught. I was looking for any shoulder to cry on, but instead I received a hard dose of reality: My experience was actually typical. The more entrepreneurs I spoke with, the more I realized everyone had their own story to tell about struggling. Many had suffered more stress, less sleep, squandered more money, and been beaten up by larger competitors.
My story wasn't unique, it was common to entrepreneurs.
3. You need support.
I wish I'd surrounded myself with more entrepreneurs when I was running Contour.
By calling on domain experts to help tackle our problems instead of my peers, I neglected my personal development and missed an opportunity to learn from the people who'd "been there."
When trying to fulfill expectations of your leadership, it can be easy to forget you need help. Finding a CEO coach or advisor is great, but I recommend finding some entrepreneurs whom you can talk to and trust with your deepest fears.
4. Don't take it personal.
Founding a company is an incredibly personal experience, yet as a CEO you have an important job to do.
Separating the emotions you feel as a founder from the analytical approach required as a CEO, takes a lot of practice--especially when you realize that not everyone around the table has the same ability to put company before themselves.
5. No matter how hard it gets, never quit.
Building an amazing company is hard. It takes everything you have to will the organization to success. Sure, it would be easier to get a normal job, but you shouldn't. You chose this path, and with it comes unforgettable highs and challenging lows.
MARC BARROS is the co-founder and former CEO of Contour, a hands-free camera company. Shortly after graduating from the University of Washington, Marc co-founded Contour in 2004 and led the organization from a garage to a multi-million dollar company. Contour products were sold in over 40 countries through action sports retailers and national chains, including Best Buy and Apple. @marcbarros