Being a Startup CEO Means Doing…Everything! 

By: Tim Fulton, CEO & Founder – Ramper Innovations   Being an entrepreneur sounds sexy to lots of people. You can come and go as you please, don’t have to answer to anyone, and can take a nap after lunch if you’re so inclined.

Only that fantasy is just plain wrong! As the owner of a startup business, you work twice as hard as anyone else, must be able to do everything, and you’ll get paid last.

Doesn’t sound quite as sexy anymore, does it?

Still yearning for that lunchtime nap? Consider the kinds of stuff I and my fellow startup CEOs have to do to keep everything running smoothly:

Be Willing to Do Anything
From invoicing clients to emptying the trash, we do it all. We’re not the king with loyal subjects to do our bidding. And since a startup has an endless list of stuff that just needs to get done, and there aren’t other people to do it, guess who it falls on?

Which means if you’re thinking of starting a new business, get it into your head now that if it needs doing, you’re responsible for doing it. Any don’t worry that people will think less of you for getting your hands dirty, because they’ll actually respect you more.

Trust Their Expertise
I used to think that if I wasn’t the ‘best at everything’ in the company my team would wonder why I was in charge. Eventually I got the truth through my head; whether they’re part-time or full-time, hired expertise or college interns, you need to believe in your team and rely on them to do what you hired them to do.

This, in turn, will encourage them to believe in your leadership abilities. Your job is to listen well, sit in the big seat, and set the company tone and direction.

Mind If I Contradict Myself?
There are things you just shouldn’t do. For instance, I know my time is better spent in sales or R&D, so I have a part-time bookkeeper to deal with receipts and balancing checkbooks. I sign the checks, but leave the paperwork to her. By letting others do what they do best, I can focus on where I bring the most value to the company.

Which taught me that effectively delegating tasks is critical.

Now in a perfect world, a CEO should have nothing to do. True, this goal is unrealistic, but it highlights the importance of being a great delegator.

Ask Lots of Questions
General George Patton once said; “Tell a soldier what you want him to do, but don’t tell him how to do it, and he will surprise you with the results.”

You can get there by asking good questions and completely listening to your team members before offering your own opinions. Speaking up first cuts off conversation and prevents good ideas from landing on the table…and the bottom line.

Oh, and I hate to disappoint you, but you’re NOT the smartest person in the room. For that matter, you don’t want to be. Of course, if you’re both smart and lucky, you’ll be surrounding yourself with people who are willing to challenge your preconceived conclusions.

But because you’re the boss, many people aren’t going to contradict you…even if your idea isn’t good. So listen. Listen some more. THEN talk…and don’t criticize. The company’s sure to do better in the long run.

Manage Finances Responsibly
The two most valuable things any startup can have are time and cash. You’re going to be tempted to limit the spending by putting in more time…except there are only 168 hours in a week, and I’m guessing you’ll want to sleep and/or spend some time in there with family at some point.

Arguably, bringing in investors can solve your problems, except you’ll now be kept awake at night knowing there are other people who will be affected by the decisions you make and the work you do. These investors will also own a sizable chunk of your equity, plus you’ll have a fiduciary responsibility to do right by them.

Of course, once you start getting customers, you’ll start worrying about providing good customer service. Don’t be surprised to awaken at 3am wondering how you can support them in the best way.

But that’s a whole different story, and really not a surprise. After all, this company is your baby, and you need to be sure you take proper care of it.

And a key part of that is watching the spending CLOSELY (like it’s your own money). If you do that, you might just make it. Meaning no spending sprees on high-end laptops, fancy staff lunches, or a latte machine in the break room. Resist the temptation, establish strict budgeting rules…and stick to them.

Sexy? No. Fun? Absolutely!
Being a startup CEO means being a lot of things, but doesn’t mean being everything. Prioritize and delegate tasks effectively to your team, and:

    • Believe in your team and trust their expertise. Trust yourself for hiring them into their positions in the first place.

    • Ask questions and foster a culture of team cohesiveness.

    • Watch your money VERY closely. Check that all approved expenditures are really necessary.

    • Hire carefully. Are all positions necessary and filled with qualified people?

    • Establish clear values and a mission that provides a well-defined direction for the company.

    • Listen carefully to your board of advisors.

Plan to master the necessary skills to balance a complex variety of unique challenges. Managed effectively, and given enough time, you should be able to turn your idea into a success.

— Tim Fulton is always a friendly voice in the crowd. Reach him for more advice at

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