Inside the Mind of a Startup CEO: What does a startup CEO really do?

In many companies, there is a vast difference between what the CEO should be doing and what they are doing. Startup CEOs in particular should focus on just a few key things and then inspire others to handle the rest. It’s important for a startup CEO to keep their focus on the big picture and the critical elements that will keep the startup in business. So what are these critical elements?

According to venture capitalist Fred Wilson of, startups CEOs should only be responsible for three things:

  1. Set the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicate it to stakeholders.
  2. Recruit, hire, and retain the very best talent for the company.
  3. Make sure there is always enough cash in the bank.

This list is a really good start to understanding what a CEO should be doing. However, I think we can expand a bit on these three items to get a fuller picture of what a CEO really does.

Set the Vision

Certainly, the CEO must set the overall vision for the company. This vision must be communicated not only to the stockholders, but to employees and customers as well. The CEO should argue for the attainability of this vision and is responsible for clearly communicating and selling it. Assuring the vision is shared and understood by everyone in the business leads to the creation of a winning company culture. Your employees should be personally involved in the growth of the business. The CEO also sets the tone for the way business is done on a daily basis while leading and inspiring their teams to go places they would never have gone on their own.

Hire the Best

While a CEO is responsible for recruiting, hiring, and maintaining the best staff, they are also responsible for driving them to levels of performance that exceed expectations. This leadership role is critical to the success of any startup. A great CEO will set an exemplary example for the team and for the company vision.

Focus on Cash Flow

It’s true that a good CEO will always be sure to have enough money in the bank. One quick way to fail with a startup is to run out of cash, and a good CEO keeps the startup focused on cash flow at all times to avoid this pitfall. But beyond that, a startup CEO must be the primary moneymaker: raising capital when needed, closing business, and leading the company in sales. In the early stages, all employees are looking to the CEO for inspiration and commitment, so it’s important that any CEO work harder than anyone else to bring in money during this key time.

… and a Few More Things

A great CEO also knows that it isn’t enough to just come up with a vision, even if the vision is clear and well written. The vision represents the big picture for what the business hopes to attain. But in order to be successful, it is critical for the CEO to take that idealist vision of the company and break it down into bite-sized, specific, actionable objectives that can be easily tracked and attained by everyone on the team. But most of all, what a startup CEO truly needs to do is inspire confidence. Every startup is going to face bumps along the road and a great CEO will stare down risk with a steady gaze, demanding confidence from the executive team, the board members, and all of the employees. As the captain of the ship it is critical that a CEO exude both poise and determination when faced with challenging or risky situations. If the CEO isn’t worried or rattled, then the team can draw its confidence from the CEO’s strength.

A startup CEO that embodies the qualities we’ve discussed won’t ensure the success of a startup, but it will certainly help set the company up for the best chance of success.

This article was originally published on Linkedin Pulse.


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