Being the CEO of a startup isn't always a fun job. In the early days you're putting out fires all the time, and it's usually the CEO who has to dive into the flames before everyone else. At the same time, you're not just in a management role. Chances are you're also the head of marketing, sales, or engineering as well. Put that on top of the fact that this may be the first time you've served in the role, and you have your work cut out for you.
Now passing the first year of serving as the CEO of our startup, I've learned what really matters the most. Sometimes it's hard for people to understand the challenges that startup CEOs go through. And it's not until you've served in that role for sometime, that you begin to understand how to be a CEO. As your startup goes from being founded to hitting new milestones, these are the three things you should care about the most. I hope if you're the CEO of your startup, you're able to experience all three.
1. You want your executive team to be your best friends.
When we first hired people, I thought that as the CEO my job was to put my emotions to the side and hire strictly based on skill. Who cares if I didn't personally like the person, as long as they did great work right? Overtime, I've learned that my job is so much easier when my management team is a group of my best friends.
Think about the traits of your closest friends. Chances are that they are the ones who always have your back. Best friends are the people in our lives that we trust, and can admit our faults to. They're also the people that we want to be successful, regardless of what that means for us. And when CEOs define success by training someone to be better than they are, that's when they become great leaders.
2. You build your startup to last for 100 years
One of the things I always hear in San Francisco from founders is a fantasy of an exit. For a company that just started, when you think about it it's almost sad. The day you're happiest is the same day you give up what you built. With that said, in the early days I also dreamed about that day with my own startup. Having a big check, not having to worry about money anymore, and achieving startup glory. But the more I really worked inside of my startup, the more I started thinking about why I love it so much.
When I use the products we build, I become fascinated. I literally spend Friday and Saturday nights just studying
every piece of our product. I love finding bugs, and figuring out what new features we can build. I don't do this because I'm thinking about an exit; I do it because it makes me happy. And when a CEO makes that transition, the culture begins to change.
The leader starts thinking more about who's going to replace him, and long-term success for the company. Things like a vision, and mission for the company starts becoming more important. You start asking why your company needs to exist. I don't believe that a CEO needs to have a certain skillset to be successful. With that said, I do believe that great CEOs need to love their company to be exceptional. And that's only possible if you want to build an organization that will still exist when you're gone.
3. They don't want to have to be perfect
One of the hardest things for me to do in the early days of our company was admitting when I was wrong. I felt that as the CEO, I should hide my mistakes as much as possible. This changed when I began avoiding asking my teammates for help when I got stuck. I realized that by not admitting when I screwed up, I would never be able to improve as the leader.
So now I've made it a habit to admit to my team whenever I mess up. At first I was hesitant to do this, and now I do it all the time. Not only has this made it easier for everyone else to admit faults, but it has also built a greater sense of trust within our organization.
Last week, I messed up on an organizational task and told our Head of Customer Service. Expecting him to be upset, I emailed him and called him with an apology. The first thing he did was email me and tell me not to worry, and that he already was fixing the problem. After I emailed him again saying how thankful I was, he just responded with, "No worries, I always have your back." Those are the small things that CEOs remember throughout their careers.