“Okay,” I said to the group assembled in our large conference room, “We are the launch team for our first product.” The team consisted of Adolfo, my cofounder and VP Marketing, Shoba, our Test Engineering Director, Dave, our Manufacturing Director, and Mary, our Public Relations consultant.
“Let’s go through the schedule of what everyone needs to do, so we can successfully launch our products,” I said. We had already done a soft launch of our first product, with no marketing, in March.
Now it was April, and we had eight weeks to prepare for the launch of 16 products. To say the least, this was a logistical challenge. And most startups aren’t exactly known for their logistical prowess.
A lot of things had to be done in the right order to ensure success. We had to make sure our distribution partners had product on their shelves ahead of the launch (this was Dave and Shoba’s job). We had to get all the sales supporting collateral done (this was Adolfo’s job).
Startup CEO misconception #1: You don’t just get to sit back and direct traffic. You actually have to get your hands dirty too.
Oh, don’t think for a second that I didn’t have a lot to do as well. I did, in fact. I gave myself one of the worst jobs possible; getting our new website up and running properly.
I hired someone to develop the site, but I was up all night the night before our launch getting everything right. I think we got the site buttoned down around 5:30 AM, just in time for me to go work…
That’s what you should expect too. Command and control only works in the movies.
Startup CEO misconception #2: You’ll never stop getting your hands dirty.
Have you heard the story about the startup CEO that had to clean the bathroom? That was me, and it will likely be you too.
Your bathrooms at work are a pretty important piece of real estate. Every employee is going to visit your bathroom. Many customers that come to your office are going to visit your bathroom. Oh, and don’t forget your investors because they might visit your bathroom too.
A clean bathroom could literally be the difference between your company getting funded or not getting funded. That means, even if you have a cleaning crew like we eventually did, that you might need to clean the toilets.
Startup CEO misconception #3. Travel is not sexy
Don’t get me wrong, I loved being CEO, but it’s not a sexy job. If you’re expecting people to fawn over you like you’re a rock star, then you’re in the wrong line of work. There’s more:
- It’s not sexy to be grinding at 4 AM for another flight, and…
- It’s not sexy to be in the middle seat on a 12 hour flight to London, and…
- It’s not sexy to be in another hotel room without your family, and…
- Oh, and that hotel you’re staying at in Paris? It’s not the George V. It’s the very unsexy Holiday Inn.
Startup CEO misconception #4: Just because you’re the CEO doesn’t mean that your team is going to listen to you.
“What did I say? Tell me what I said?” The best CEO I ever worked with, the late Jack Gifford, founder and CEO of Maxim Integrated Products, used to ask people that after he gave them guidance.
Then you were forced to repeat what Gifford instructed you to do. The reason Gifford did this, you’ll quickly learn, is that many times people don’t listen to what you say.
You’ll get frustrated, over and over again, when your direction and guidance is ignored. That’s why, even though various members will complain, you’ll have lots of status meetings.
Status meetings force discipline and accountability in your organization. Then remember this simple management trick: Who, will do what, by when.
The “who” is what one person, not two or three people, but one person will be responsible for this task.
The “do what” is what specific action will be taken.
The “when” is what specific date, not week or other vague answer such as “soon,” will the action be completed by.
Startup CEO misconception #5: Your investors expect you to screw up.
“He’s a first time CEO, he’s going to make lots of mistakes,” Gary, a partner at the VC fund I was an EIR, said in an investment review meeting.
Your investors are not expecting you to have all the answers. And your investors aren’t expecting you to be perfect.
However, your investors are expecting you to be transparent about your mistakes and never surprise them. Just as importantly, your investors are expecting you to have a plan for how you intend to fix these mistakes.
Startup CEO misconception #6: You’re going to learn that your board meetings are a necessary evil.
If you’re like I was, then you’ll likely have this romanticized view of your board meetings. After all, this is where all the key decisions of the company are made, right?
The reality is a little different. In fact, it’s a bad sign if your board is getting too involved in the day to day decision making of your company. That’s an indication that you’re not doing your job.
No one wants to be in your board meeting. Your board is looking for a status update, not to make major decisions. More than anything, your board members are just hoping that your company is going to be their one portfolio company that runs smoothly without too many problems.
Startup CEO misconception #7: You don’t actually have to implement your investors advice.
“You should get into the module business,” Samir, a partner at “Donald Ventures,” said to me during an update meeting I gave to the partnership.
I smiled and continued on with me presentation.
Samir’s suggestion was the typical, looney toons, suggestion of a VC with no operating experience or understanding of our industry. You’ll likely have your version of Samir suggest equally outlandish ideas to you.
Here’s the deal, if you follow Samir’s advice and the advice is wrong, then it’s your fault, not Samir’s fault. Instead, do what you think is the right thing. At least, if you fail, you’ll fail doing what you believe in.