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Role of the CEO in a Start-up

If you are one of the main founders of a company, you may become the CEO. It is always a good position to have, but a very challenging one too. You will need to constantly perform well in order to retain that position and grow the company. Your multi-tasking skills along with hard work, common sense and execution oriented attitude will take you a long way. You should possess the domain expertise, great people skills, ability to sell, telescopic and microscopic view (high level view of the ecosystem along with attention to detail), and unlimited strength to execute the plan.

Know Why you are Doing it

You should evaluate why you want to run a start-up. There may-be a combination of reasons like below, – you want to make a difference, create amazing products, services, or solve some significant customer problems, or create a new market altogether. – you hate corporate work culture, or working for others – you don’t want to leave your home, and / or work with friends – you want to get the pride by building a great start-up into a sustainable business – you want to make lots and lots of money by starting your own company and making it a success whatever the reason, you should be clear about that and very convinced you are willing to do “whatever it takes” to make it work.

All odds are against you

Most odds are against you. The competition is likely to be strong, clients don’t need to deal with a new company, many do not believe you can build this business, almost nobody wants to invest into you, most people do not want to work for you due to uncertain future and job security. This is the start. Fortunately it would get only better from here.

Be Very, Very Strong – Manage your Emotions Well

You would need to come up against all odds mentioned above and try to run your business. It is a very hard thing to do. You will need to be mentally very strong, and need full conviction. Most probably would question you at times, why you are doing this at all. You will have more bad days than good days. Your team members, investors, clients, competitors, partners, regulators would have issues that you need to take care of, on top of obviously doing your job of running the company which is hard enough as is. You will have moments of glories, mostly short lived, and possibly periods of sad moments. You must not get too excited with the victories, neither too depressed with failures. The way you manage your emotions, will have a big impact on the rest of your team’s moral. You need to have a heart of steel to deal with all that and still keep going on with 110% commitment and lead the rest of your team. It is a journey less taken, but certainly worth pursuing as you will come out as a very strong person at the end.

Be opportunistic

All crisis present opportunities. You must look out for them, even in the tough times. Be open to all partnerships. As a start-up, you will not have resources to do everything. But if you can combine the efforts with some other companies, start-ups, individuals, and strike the partnership balance well, you may be able to become very relevant to your customers.

Be ambitious but realistic

You should be fairly positive and ambitious, but always balance it with realistic attitude. Do not set unachievable targets, but surely be aggressive and try to push yourself and the rest of the team to get out of your comfort zone. You might like to evaluate in your mind the worst case scenarios and try to hedge against them, or think a bit how would you manage them.


You need to be very open to learning. This the most invaluable return you get from a start-up tremendous learning. Depending upon your background, you will need to get involved in Admin, Strategy, Product, Service, Marketing, Finance, Operations, and various other roles in which you will need to smartly become well aware. You must include rest of your team with appropriate skill sets to run their functions, but be close to and aware of what all is happening in your company. This will let you better run the start-up.

Organizational structure

As far as possible, a start-up CEO should be hands-on with HR processes including hiring, moving people around and conducting regular review sessions. The CEO must be responsible aligning business strategy with the team members as well as organizational structure (mostly flat). I suspect you would spend anywhere between 25-75% of your time in hiring, motivating, and running other HR related processes. You must be close to your team members and listen to them regularly for organizational improvement ideas.

It’s all about the People – Inspire, do not Manage

You need to be able to inspire people including your team members (creating a good team is a must), clients, partners, investors etc. If you can make them believe in you, lead by example, and act professionally and honestly, you have higher probability of succeeding. You should let them do things their way, try to look at the broad outcomes you need from each person, and not worry too much about the way they do it (unless it causes some problems for others). If you manage to inspire your team members enough that they are keen to work themselves (especially when you are not around) then you have managed the right culture. And you should be willing to share the credit if things work out, and take the blame if they don’t.

Listen to everyone, but make your own decision

Your team members, co-founders, board etc. must have smart people. You should take their opinion into broad level strategy, execution plan, and various other matters as relevant. But at the end, you must make your own decision, as objectively as you can. Make sure you communicate out well why you made the decision you made (as most likely the others may have had a split opinion). Subsequently you should commit to your decision and see it through, and be willing to change / adapt if required. You will make some wrong decisions, but make sure you learn from them, admit your mistakes, don’t repeat them, and adapt as quickly as you realize you should.


You must be good in communication; sharing information is a key aspect of your job. You need to ensure there is an appropriate communication process within the organization that leads to more aware and productive teams. Open communication can lead to transparency which aids employee motivation and growth.


You will need to make various strategies and big decisions in the start-up. Many of these decisions would be made with various unknowns and uncertainties. It would be like picking a direction without clear visibility ahead. They will range from hiring strategy, product strategy, marketing strategy, funding strategy etc. Be prepared to have some of them wrong to some extent, but you must get majority right, and correct the mistakes fairly quickly. Plus you will need to keep a very high level view of what’s happening in the market, and where you need to adapt your business strategy.

Share equity

You should try and incentivize everyone in the company with shares (and salaries, bonus) and various perks you can. People tend to work harder if they are well incentivized and see the upside in working if they get direct benefits of the company growth.

Be open to a better CEO

You should not feel that you are the best person to run this organization. You have a title of the founder that stays with you always, you could have several other responsible positions if you can replace yourself with a better and more experienced CEO who may be able to run and meet the objectives of your start-up better than you.

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