Why You, The CEO, Are The Most Important Person In Your Startup

“The engine that makes an Analog IC company go is a great VP Engineering or CTO,” I said to Dave, the VC partner I was working with when I was incubating my startup as an EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) at a VC fund in San Francisco. Then I continued, “Without a great VP Engineering we will not be able to recruit a great team of engineers.”

So with those sage words I went and recruited “John” to be our cofounder, VP Engineering. And John was everything I thought he would be:

  • John was a brilliant engineer, and…
  • John had a strong technical vision for our company, and…
  • John was able to recruit a strong team around him.

There you have it. That’s the end of the story, right? Well, John had one other quality that I was an absolute non-starter in a great cofounder VP Engineering:

John didn’t have a clue, not one, about how to build a company. And, worse yet, John thought he knew everything about building a company.

In fact, John told me so when he quit a few months later. John said, “I know better than you how to build a business.”

Imagine being that blind to your weaknesses? Imagine having someone like John as your key technical person? Obviously John did me a big favor when he quit.

Yes, you need a great VP Engineering, but you, the CEO, are always the most important person in your company.

I regrouped after John quit.

It took me several months, but I eventually found an equally brilliant engineer to become cofounder and VP Engineering in Jeroen. And Jeroen did have a clue about business.

Yes, Jeroen was a brilliant engineer. And yes, Jeroen had a strong technical vision for our company. And yes, Jeroen was able to recruit a strong team around him. What made Jeroen so good was the other skills he brought to the table.

Jeroen, though very mild mannered, was absolutely fanatical about our business. And Jeroen was extremely presentable to investors and customers; that’s a huge positive.

As I’m writing this, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe the VP Engineering is the most important person in your company? But here’s why you are the most important person in your company:

You are the leader of your company. And it’s very difficult for a company without a great leader to succeed.

You absolutely need a great VP Engineering to succeed, but that’s just the technology piece of the company. There’s so much more to running a company than engineering.

  • As CEO, you need to recruit the whole team, not just the engineering piece, and…
  • As CEO, you need to develop the company culture for the whole company, not just the engineering piece, and…
  • As CEO, you need to set the strategy for the whole company, not just the engineering piece, and…
  • As CEO, you need to develop the go to market strategy for the company, and..
  • As CEO, you need to be the company’s chief salesperson, and…
  • As CEO, you need to managing the company’s finances too, and finally…
  • As CEO, you have to be front and center in front of investors raising money and managing your board of directors.

In other words, as a startup CEO, you are involved in every area of the company, not just engineering.

I got really luck that Jeroen’s business skills were so advanced. He became someone that I could bounce business ideas off of. His guidance was always very sound. You’re in great shape if you get a VP Engineering that has good business skills and believes your vision.

For more, read: How Do You Evaluate A Potential Technical Co-Founder?

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I work with startup CEOs to help them grow their businesses . I built several businesses from $0 to >$100M. Learn more at www.brettjfox.com

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