Small company or Startup CEO

Recently, I was working with a company on a hands-on project and I came across a very different work culture. It was a flat organization and one of the most unusual aspects I found was the CEO’s task list. It typically included Marketing & Product team tasks. There was no official Product team – the CEO filled this role. And there was a Marketing team but it was fairly new. So the typical role of the CEO was running product A/B tests and he would pick up some small marketing tasks he found interesting. This was apart from the usual query solving of the team and logistical stuff like invoice clearance and all that.

I found it pretty odd because in all my years I have never come across a CEO with such a task list. Except if it is a family run business and the director has a lot of money to spend. Or if it is a bootstrapping startup and they don’t have the funds to hire more people (which was not the case here).

I do hear of startup CEOs wanting free time so they can dabble in actual hands-on tasks. I think a lot of CEOs find themselves too much in a managerial role and not enough hands-on time with simple tasks. But at the end of the day, they don’t find themselves free for these smaller roles at least in a dedicated manner. I think they don’t find themselves free is because they are a lot more growth-oriented.

So I got thinking after seeing this CEO doing much smaller tasks as his role, what is the role of the small company or startup CEO?

And here are few points that come to my mind,

People Growth

I think one key role for the CEO is to look to the team. The team, at least the core team, is crucial for the company. And to develop insight into their working style and ensure that their productivity spikes. This has been a common matter that a lot of the Indian startups I have worked in focus on. Time is taken to help employees improve their work. Help them understand their own working patterns and work processes within the team and improve them. Plus, the CEO should have an innate understanding of their motivation and groove and steer them in a direction of higher productivity. And very often we see huge productivity spikes by making the right adjustments.

I think this is a key CEO role at least for the people that are below him in the hierarchy. Or how it pans out in a flat system. And this is not an easy role when the leading team may be as experienced or sometimes even more experienced than the CEO! But this is required otherwise the top level will crunch.

Team Productivity

While this would be the role largely of the team leader, the CEO would also be mindful of the overall team productivity and spot problems or improvements required. This could be sorted by a goal-oriented structure. Keeping higher goals pushes teams to perform more efficiently.

Company Direction

Again this goes without saying. But what does this include?

As per me, this includes,

  • Vision / Mission / Branding – Articulated well, so that, it is broad enough to make sense for long-term company growth but also specific enough to translate into actionables for the team. And the CEO must look to implement a culture of this vision in all company work.
  • Company Growth – would depend on growth plans of each team too. So overall the CEO must ensure that clear growth plans for all teams are in place. It should then translate into growth plans for the company.

Industry connections & Insight

Should have deeper than rest industry insight. This allows him/her to predict upcoming trends and potential challenges in the future. Especially in today’s world, technology is totally disrupting industries across the spectrum. I don’t think any company management can sit and keep doing whatever they are doing and think that will be enough. Constantly newer avenues should be monitored if not engaged. This includes changing trends, competitor behavior and insider news.

360 Overview

Apart from the above, the CEO obviously must have the bird’s eye view of the company and various teams. So that also results in them directing the company and teams. I feel this gets compromised if the CEO is an ongoing working member of any particular team.

Though of course as mentioned earlier, in a bootstrapping startup the CEO would wear a lot of caps because other resources cannot be afforded. But when they can be afforded I feel the main onus of necessary team tasks must be on someone other than the CEO.

If the CEO wants to have hands-on tasks then it would make more sense for him/her to do a rotation system. Picking up tasks from different teams in rotation. This way they also get a ground-level view of the teams working processes and get to know different junior members.

Revenue & Revenue Model

Especially for a startup CEO, he/she would need to delve into figuring out the business model. Because by “startup” we understand a company which doesn’t have a validated revenue model in place. In which case, that would, of course, be a key onus of the CEO. If the revenue model is established, or even if not the task of managing the cash flow and accounting etc would also fall onto the CEO.

These are my thoughts on this. And overall, I think these tasks are plentiful. Out of passion if a CEO indulges in smaller team tasks it’s cool.

What are your thoughts on this? Also any interesting, unique, odd, cool stories of CEOs you have worked with?

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