Your job as the CEO of an early-stage startup is to prove there is a business. Every entrepreneur has startup ideas and anyone can buy a domain name and create a landing page for it in an afternoon. In fact, today, anyone can also create and launch an app idea in just a few days, with or without a technical background or budget. But none of this suddenly turns an idea into a tested and validated product, and a promising business worth pursuing.
The role of a startup CEO can change every day and the amount of time you spend on each role will vary and depend on the stage, unexpected tasks and priorities, which makes it hard to put an actual role for the CEO of an early-stage startup. It’s anything and everything a founder needs to do to prove a business. This includes but not limited to these three positions.
1. Customer Development And Support
Business strategy, business development, product development, marketing and hiring are all based on this key startup success ingredient. Your team will help you make important decisions, but at the end of the day, it is your call and you owe everyone a clear execution plan. Speaking with future customers is what will help you create this plan.
Recently, a friend of mine shared the lessons he learned from his failed startup. Long story short, his first users later told him that the reason they hadn’t continued using his solution didn’t have anything to do with the functionality of the product. It was because of other intangible factors such as the social capital and relationships they built in competing platforms. This is an example of a startup that wasn’t able to prove a business because it ran out of funds to pivot, which was all due to poor communication with customers.
2. Hiring A-Players
Proving there is a business essentially means building a product people need and will pay for. Through customer development and support, you will gather insights to identify customer problems and their expected solution. But insights alone are useless without the critical development and marketing piece. This is where your team plays a big role.
In the beginning, it can be tempting to hire a team based on costs and ability to get the job done. Just because they can do the job, it does not mean they are the right team for the startup. In fact, hiring the wrong team is one of the top three reasons for startup failure.
Your budget aside, you should be looking for three things in your early-stage startup team members: skills, culture fit, and their long-term goals. The skills part is where you evaluate their previous work and how it relates to your startup product. The culture fit at this stage isn’t just about whether they share startup values and beliefs but also how comfortable they are and used to the ups and downs of a starting venture.
Finally, you want to know their long-term goals to understand whether your job is just a short-term project they are taking to fill a gap and make some extra money, or a business they see themselves working in the future.
If your budget is not enough to hire A players, don’t settle with the second or third best. Instead, hire the A-players as leaders to rising talents. This way, you can reduce costs while keeping the best and training future leaders by today’s best.
3. Selling The Product And The Vision
Marketing includes the set of initiatives that attract leads. Sales is interacting with leads directly, through calls and face to face meetings, and indirectly, through email and other online campaigns, to convert them into paying customers.
In the early stages, a marketing expert can help attract the leads, but only you can sell the solution, especially if you haven’t launched the first version of the product yet or released an OK solution with big plans for the future. This applies to customers, partners and investors who will primarily invest and bet in your ability to turn an idea into a business.
Finally, there is more. In between customer development and support, recruiting and sales meetings, some of your roles as a CEO may include conducting market research, drawing wireframes and building prototypes, account management, bookkeeping, networking, legal work, and anything you need to do to prove a business.
The truth is you can’t do it all on your own and even if you could, no one is great at all of those key roles. At the same time, it does not make sense to fill every position at the idea stage. So get your hands dirty and delegate progressively.