Must-Have Skills for a Startup CEO

Writing for Forbes, Deeb argued that being a “startup CEO” was one of the hardest jobs in the business world given the wide range of skills that were needed in order to be successful and the enormous odds against the new company surviving, and the lack of resources relative to a CEO at a Fortune 500 company.  He noted that there is no universal profile for “the best startup CEO” and that people differ in terms of skills, style and personality and companies face different challenges with respect to market conditions; however, in his view there were a handful of “must-have” skills for increasing the chances of being a successful startup CEO that included the following:

  • “A clear vision of where the ship is sailing”, which means the ability to articulate and execute a plan for creating a unique and competitive solution to a real world problem for potential customers
  • “A finger on the pulse of the industry and competitive trends”, which involves staying on top of trends and collecting information that can be used to steer the company in the direction it needs to stay afloat once the journey has been launched
  • “Solid team management skills to keep all employees sailing in the same direction”, which includes articulating the vision to employees, building a consensus for the vision among employees and listening to and implementing ideas from employees about how to improve and achieve the vision
  • “Impeccable sales and motivational skills, while maintaining credibility with clients, investors and employees”, which means acting as the “Chief Evangelist” for the new business and generating excitement for the vision while simultaneously demonstrating business judgment, intelligence and credibility
  • “Keep the business on plan and budget”, which involves setting and pursuing “achievable proof-of-concept points”, creating strategies for the key drivers of success and putting the right people in place to manage them and relentless tracking progress to spot and address problems quickly
  • “Keep the company liquid”, which starts with setting the right proof-of-concept points and then establishing a reasonable timetable to achieve those points and making sure that the company has enough capital, including a cushion, to achieve those goals 

Deeb’s suggestions obviously overlap and the startup CEO has to keep each of them in mind as he or she runs the business and interacts with employees, customers and investors.  For example, as a practical matter the most important concern of the CEO at the beginning is to “keep the company liquid and in business” and the best way to do this is to be sure that the launch phase business plan is focused on attainment of proof-of-concept points that prospective investors have accepted as reasonable triggers for providing additional funding.  At the same time, when budgeting for the pursuit of the initial goals the CEO must be realistic and anticipate the problems will inevitably arise as they usually do for startups.  This means that the CEO must have a “Plan B” in mind and must be prepared to make difficult decisions, including salary reductions and even layoffs, in order to keep the company going long enough to find smoother waters.

Source: G. Deeb, “The 6 Must-Have Skills For A Startup CEO”, Forbes (February 12, 2014),  [accessed June 24, 2015] 

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