Running a startup is hard. Really hard. But behind every successful startup is usually a great CEO. Here are 13 attributes that have helped startup CEO’s stand out.
They are good at both hiring AND firing.
“Whenever you find a really great CEO you find someone who has a knack for hiring. That means selling other people on your dream or your business. Especially when it doesn’t seem all that important or seems very risky. I used to work for a CEO who was awesome at hiring, but couldn’t fire anyone. Doomed the business. Many of the best CEOs get others to follow no matter what.” — Robert Scoble, futurist at Rackspace
Being street smart is more important than being book smart.
“Getting out and understanding customers is far more important than book smarts or computer research.” — Mark Suster, partner at Upfront Ventures
Put your self-interest behind.
“Most entrepreneurs have a healthy dose of self-interest. However, serially successful startup leaders place their stakeholders’ well being before their own personal gain. Situations inevitably arise in which key executives could covertly self-deal and enhance their financial outcomes at the expense of their fellow employees and investors. Consistent winners resist this temptation.” — John Greathouse, entrepreneur, investor, and professor
It’s OK to be unconventional.
“[Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh] has conviction in his ideas. From the big examples of offering people money to quit the company after training (and doubling down again offering people severance if they didn’t adopt his new management system called Holocracy), to smaller examples of his choice to live in a Trailer Park next to the office with a pet Alpaca, despite selling Unicorn to Amazon, shows he will pursue his true beliefs and not let others get in the way of his vision.” — Daniel Rodic, cofounder of Exact Media
They are detail oriented, but don’t micromanage.
“A CEO has to be detail oriented, but not micro manage (there is a difference). Building a company is all about making all the pieces fit together so the machine can deliver predictable results at scale.” — Henning Moe, sales guy and entrepreneur
Have the courage to do something big.
“Interestingly no one has said courage. You must have courage to even take the plunge. Thereafter, you need the courage to follow your own path when everyone around you says you’re crazy, wrong, or inexperienced. You need the courage to do what you think is right regardless of conventional wisdom. And finally, you need the courage to stand out, to be extraordinary, to make enemies (if need be), to say “no” when everyone else would have said “yes,” and to be confident enough to be yourself.” — Tolis Dimopoulos, startup attorney, Sophos Law Firm
Don’t be delusional. Be realistic.
“Legendary startup ceos understand the game they are playing. They know that less than 1% of technology startups are ever worth $1 billion. They are not delusional about the fact that our industry produces a small number of legendary successes, handfuls of also-rans, and buckets of road kill.” — Christopher Lochhead, cofounding partner
Be able to delegate.
“Founders are great because they can do so much. Unlimited energy, passion and time. But once the company gets to a stage where they have to delegate, many founders fail because they want to control. I call it the rule of tens. If you manage 0-10 people you can be on top of everything. If you manage 100 people (through your direct reports), then you have to delegate responsibility. Your direct reports often ask you for advice, but then act. If you manage (through your direct reports) 1000 people, then people will tell you what they did – after they did it. It takes a different skill set for each factor of ten employees.” — John Backus, venture capitalist and former entrepreneur
Every great entrepreneur is a salesman.
“You can’t start your business if you can’t sell your product or service. So if it’s not in your nature to convince someone to come around to your way of thinking, you’re not ever going to get your business off the ground.” — Gerard Danford, academic Ph.D.
They know how to motivate others.
“They know not only how to sell their idea and vision, but also how to charge people with energy and drive to pursue them.” — Yulichka YD
Enjoy a certain level of tension.
“I think that the ability to embrace, explore and allow creative tension is something that separates the top 10%. I’ve seen many CEOs who try to avoid conflict or aim for consensus most of the time, and this can stifle creativity. Of course, this is just one attribute to accompany all the other great ones listed here.” — Alice Chan, PR consultant
They happen to be lucky.
“Luck. Anyone who could be classified as being in the top 10% who doesn’t own up to having plenty of luck on their way there is kidding themselves.” — Chris Puttick, cofounder of Two Ten
Willing to learn every day.
“You need to keep learning every day. The faster you can tighten up your feedback loops and make your organization a learning organization that can adapt and implement based upon things out in the marketplace the better off you will be.” — Joseph Puopolo