So you want to be the CEO of a tech startup.
First, let's define what a startup is. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup provides the following definition, "A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty." A tech startup is simply that, but more specifically, an organization focused on delivering value that is enabled through technology. Whether it's a web or mobile app, software is essential to the company's delivery of value. In the case of platforms like Uber, Airbnb, Lending Club, Snapchat, and many other unicorns, they depend on software to foster connections between producers of value and consumers of value. No software, no company.
Here are five places to start your CEO job search:
1. Executive Search Firms
Executive search firms typically place candidates at established enterprises, but there are also startup-specific executive search firms. It's easy to imagine that a startup's existing leadership is heads down and focused on growth that the time may not exist to secure and interview enough candidates for an executive role. As an example, Daversa Partners has an extensive portfolio of tech startup clients for whom they've placed leaders in executive roles. Receiving a warm intro to an individual at a search firm would be the first step in using this option to secure the top position at a rocketship company.
2. Entrepreneur in Residence
Some venture capital firms will want to keep entrepreneurs on staff when they have a need. Usually, a portfolio company will need a replacement CEO and they can easily call upon an Entrepreneur in Residence. Or, the EIR could look at the VC's incoming deal flow and identify a differentiated business opportunity that the VC would have first-dibs to fund. Unfortunately, most of these roles are given to people who already have an existing relationship with the VC firm's partners and/or have already started a business which failed or was moderately successful.
The top EIR programs in the US would be with firms like: Benchmark Capital, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Accel Partners.
3. Thiel Fellowship
The man, the myth, the legend. Co-founder of Paypal. Investor in Facebook. And, a non-believer in college education. Peter launched the Thiel Fellowship to entice youngsters to start a business rather than go to college. And, he'll pay you $100,000.
There is clearly a great deal of interest in the program with over 2,800 applications last year. Not only do the fellows receive $100,000, the money is not buying equity in the startup businesses. Instead, it's a grant. The program has seen success with a collective valuation of $1bn across all the fellows' businesses.
A CEO job posting will never be highly marketed. The board will not want the company to be perceived as weak during its search for a CEO. Furthermore, the CEO may not even know their position is in jeopardy. Lastly, the influx of applications that a CEO job posting generates would inundate any HR department and attract a ton of ill qualified respondents.
The search for a CEO is like insider trading without the illegality. A select few know XYZ company is actively looking for a CEO. They discuss the role amongst themselves and provide recommendations from their network. Who are these gatekeepers in your network? Who is that person that people go to for business advice? Have a couple of those in your network and let it be known that you're interested in a CEO role.
Secondly, cast a wide net. Meet someone new everyday. You never know where an opportunity will come from so make sure to continually add new weak ties because it's the people with whom we are the least connected that offer us the most opportunity.
5. Job Boards
Angellist is a hot bed for tech savvy candidates to look for new jobs; however, they don't have a formal CEO role on their job posting site. You can still search for CEO roles and find a few openings. This is probably you're best job posting site to look at. We've seen the best recruiting traction for our company on Angellist. We've even posted a CEO position at one of our client's startup because the the tech industry audience that searches for employment within Angellist is highly qualified.
If you do a search on Monster for CEO jobs in San Francisco, no luck. In New York, we found one posting, offering an hourly CEO role for up to $30 an hour. Not exactly targeting top-calibre talent. Linkedin had a couple postings, but not for startups. As you'll see, it's not easy.