The 7 Attributes of a Highly Successful Start-up CEO.

11 08 2015

I met Kirsten Mangers several years ago after she successfully sold her startup, Webvisible.   And over the years I have gained a strong appreciation for her abilities and most important, her style.   Kirsten is the founder of ChickLabs, an incubator that focuses on helping primarily women entrepreneurs.  She is also the CEO of Immunogum, a start-up in Newport, CA and one in which TechCoastAngels invested.entrepreneurial CEO

I was invited to a meeting at an entrepreneurial office called the VINE which is off the UC Irvine campus because I am an angel investor with TCA and one who works with startup CEOS in my consulting practice.   The key- and only- speaker, though, was Kirsten and she shared her thoughts on what makes a successful start-up CEO with a large cadre of young aspiring entrepreneurs.

I thought I would share some of those thoughts with my readers.  Clearly, the CEO is THE most important role in a company.  She is the quarterback of the business.  I want to point out, as well, that angel investors are looking at the CEO, his/her characteristics, trustworthiness, and credibility as a critical and sometimes the most important decision factor in making an investment.

Here are Kirsten’s Magnificent Seven attributes and roles for an entrepreneurial CEO.

  1. Chief sales person. Selling is required whether it is for sales of the company’s products or selling the business idea to investors. Pure and simple, it is the number one attribute.  If a CEO cannot get comfortable selling then he/she needs to find a strong complement or a replacement CEO.
  2. Culture Maven. The culture of a company attracts and retains great people.   Think about the culture of Google or Apple and you get somewhat different impressions.   But culture will help you succeed and be one of the differentiators to also-rans.
  3. Chief Strategist. As Louis Carroll said in Alice and Wonderland:  “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  CEOs need to set the direction and if necessary make the decisions to pivot the company.  Early startups will go through false starts and pivoting will be essential.
  4. Teacher, tutor, and mentor. Kirsten claimed to be a whiteboard fanatic.  Where there is a whiteboard, she could share ideas and interact with the staff on a regular basis and even get others to critique, comment, and debate those ideas.   This goes along with the concept that the CEO needs to be a visible leader and wander about with the team.
  5. You have to challenge yourself and others even with ideas that seem outrageous.   Why?  You stay fresh and there may be a kernel of insight into the new idea or someone else may see another path to success buried in that idea. Someone may say: that’s crazy but what if we did this?  Challenging prevailing wisdom and valuing the diversity of though among people is critical to engage your team.
  6. Chief Reporter and Scribe. This is the issue of transparency.   The CEO of a start-up needs to create an environment where everyone on the team feels that they understand and can contribute to the business’s success.   With normally smallish teams and fewer people, such discussions keep the team engaged and motivated.  I have personally witnessed employees banding together to find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
  7. Chief Recruiter. To be successful, a strong team needs to be assembled and nurtured.  As Kirsten said, it all starts with people and finding the best people is the biggest challenge.  When she interviews someone, she has asked some interesting questions to probe the character, drive, and attitudes of the recruit.   One question I like is: if you were on a three hour flight and could sit next to one person, who would that person be and why?   From this answer you can determine motivation and quest for learning, both of which are critical in a start-up

These sage words of wisdom from Kirsten will help the aspiring entrepreneur be successful and potentially be as successful as Kirsten.

Let me know your thoughts.

david

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