Top 4 jobs of a startup CEO #blindpost

by jeffhilimire on October 21, 2013

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Johnson Cook, the dude that sits right behind me at Atlanta Tech Village, and who flew the pirate flag on top of the building last week cementing himself forever in my consciousness as a true bad@ass, wrote a post recently called, The Top 3 Jobs of a Startup CEO. I read all of Johnson’s posts, but this one sounded like the perfect blindpost so I grabbed the headline and did my own thing with it (without reading his post first), per the blindpost rules.

This topic is particularly appropriate for me as I’ve been a new startup CEO for the past month and I’ve had to remember what it was like when I did this the first time.

I cheated a little bit and added a 4th to Johnson’s post, so…

The 4 Jobs of a Startup CEO

#1. Set the course. It may sound obvious, but the #1 thing a startup CEO must do is set the vision for the company. That vision can change and morph over time (see #4 below), but at the outset the course has to be set and a vision presented that the team and investors can get behind. I’m not a big believer in creating a 20-page business plan, but I do believe a one-page executive summary and a definitive goal for the company should be the minimum that a CEO creates at the outset.

#2. Build the right team. The smaller the team, the more important every person on that team is. With Dragon Army, I started with two co-founders that I knew to be excellent and from there we’ve interviewed and hired what I believe to be a best-of-breed game development team. When you’re creating a product, especially a creative product such as games, the team you put together is the most critical indicator of success. They have to be passionate about the vision, inspired to do the best work of their careers, and most importantly they have to enjoy working together. As we built our team, we had to make sure that this would be a group that could get into the trenches and hash out ideas and come out of that process not wanting to kill each other. I hope we succeeded :)

#3. Create an atmosphere for the team to be successful. Once the team is set, its the CEO’s job to make sure the team can bring the vision to life. For most startups, that will mean fundraising to ensure the team can be supported properly to allow them to succeed (salary, benefits, equipment, etc.). It also applies to the environment that the team works in. I’m incredibly lucky to have David as a partner so we’re in the thick of the Village which I personally believe to be the best atmosphere I’ve ever worked in. The CEO also has to ensure the communication is appropriate within the team and that they feel empowered to make decisions and share their opinion – one of my golden rules for startup employees!

#4. Steer the ship. Once the course is set, the team is in place and they’re able to successfully build the product, its the job of the CEO to steer the ship and ensure the company is pointed in the right direction. When you start a company, you will have many assumptions that you’ve built into the plan and as you build momentum you will almost definitely realize that some of your assumptions were incorrect. I’m not necessarily talking about full pivots – where you fairly significantly change course – but more the little adjustments that will put your company on the right course. You’ll want to listen to your team, the market, investors, and experienced friends and then you’ll have to make the gut call on what changes need to be made. If you’ve built up the trust with your team and if they have a true voice within the company, they will back you and trust your leadership.

~ if you liked this blindpost, here are more you can check out. And a handful of my friends will suggest blindposts for me to write from time to time, please feel free to do that too!

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  • davidv

    Jeff, David Verklin here. I have been following your progress on Dragon Army. How about a catch up call–or email me? David

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