The 6 C’s of CEO

xBM4F1UHaving held that three-letter title for a couple of startups now, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t even begin to describe what my role actually is.

Here are 6 “Chief” roles that CEOs actually fill for their teams.

Chief Student

Attributes: learns fast, learns well

A founding CEO must be able to pick up a variety of topics. And fast.

You’re likely working on a team of 1-2 other co-founders with little, if any, capital to hire others. This means that you need to fill in the team’s gaps in knowledge. Study up.

Whether it’s marketing, accounting, business development, or even human resources, you better figure out what’s going on, because no one else is. Your job is to study like that procrastinating student the night before the exam. Cram like there’s no tomorrow!

Chief Editor

Attributes: make hats look good on others

Cramming doesn’t work in the long run if you want your business to be successful. That’s why you hire people who are way smarter than you, and who can do their respective jobs far better than you can.

For example, in the beginning, I had to do all of the design work at Kloudless. Those were unsightly times. When we hired a real designer, she took over all the design work. I give her input and feedback, but she drives. I’m the editor, she’s the writer.

As the cliché goes, a CEO wears a lot of hats. But once you’ve hired a few folks, you have to give them up and help your employees look good wearing them.

Chief Garbage Man

Attributes: removes obstacles, occasionally takes out trash

Now that you’ve brought in the experts, it’s now your responsibility to get rid of anything that may prevent your employees from doing their best work.

This means anything ranging from picking up sandwiches to taking out the office trash.

You’re paying your team the big bucks. Do you really want them to spend their valuable time doing menial labor?

Chief Psychologist

Attributes: good listening skills, can empathize

Sometimes obstacles aren’t so simple to remove. Or even identify, for that matter.

Even the smallest annoyance can turn into a distracting frustration. Nip these issues in the bud.

I have biweekly one-on-one meetings with each employee to discuss a wide range of topics. Sometimes I give performance-related feedback. Other times, they’re telling me their level of satisfaction with the latest office snack options. Anything and everything goes. Two-way traffic on this street.

Happy team = productive team

You have to foster the feeling of openness and trust. Best way to get your employees to open up is to really listen and connect on a level deeper than just giving performance reviews. Happiness at work matters just as much as happiness outside of work.

Pro-tip: bribing them with food or coffee often works well here.

Chief Gandalf

Attributes: rallies the team, tells the future

Everyone on the team has a specific responsibility. To pull all the pieces together, it’s important that they know they’re contributing to a grander goal.

At Kloudless, I host an all-hands meeting every week to discuss what’s been accomplished in all parts of the company, such as product, design, business development, and how they all relate to the overall direction of the company. Everyone spends the entire week hard at work, so it’s easy to lose sight of how the pieces fall into the big picture.

I’m constantly editing (See Chief Editor) what the vision of the company is and how that’s communicated internally. The vision is what the entire company rallies to. It’s what guides the organization in its growth.

Ultimately, people aren’t joining your startup for the salary. They’re joining because of your fortune telling powers.

Chief Breadwinner

Attributes: puts money in the bank

This one is simple.

Whether you’re raising money or making money, you, as CEO, have to make sure there’s money in the bank.

No money =  no employees. And you’re back to being Chief Student.

These are the Chief positions I take on at my company. Which ones do you fill?

How Can You Avoid a Bad Hire? Shun Credential Collectors

urlThere were 3 major signs that I had made a bad business hire. If you see any hints of these red flags, think hard about  making an immediate personnel change.

So, looks like you have two engineering degrees and an MBA? That’s cool.

Guess what?

I don’t care. Anymore that is.

A resume is full of self-reported accomplishments. A bunch of titles and credentials. A timeline of past experiences. But, can a resume tell me how well a candidate can actually do on the job?

Some resumes are ‘shiny’. Too-good-to-be-true, checklists of titles and accomplishments. They are distracting, and staring at them for too long can result in a severe case of credential awe.

I had credential awe once. It led to a poor hiring decision that was detrimental to my company.

We needed a biz dev guy.

Someone with enough previous experience to hit the ground running and hustle for our tiny startup. After searching for a few weeks, I got a shiny resume in my inbox from a guy we’ll call Paul.

Paul’s resume looked a bit like this:

  1. Overcame incredible hardships as a kid
  2. Won a bunch of national-level competitions
  3. Top of his undergraduate engineering class
  4. Master’s in Engineering
  5. MBA from a prestigious school
  6. Previous experience with titles similar to what I was looking for

I felt like a kid who just got everything on his Christmas list.

I invited Paul to a coffee chat, where he strongly expressed interest in joining. I was amazed that someone so accomplished would want to join my comparably unaccomplished startup.

I brought him in for a full day of interviews. Paul did well. Not stellar as I had hoped, but it didn’t matter. Blinded by credential awe, I had already made up my mind to do whatever it took to bring him on board. I even had a couple of our investors give him a call to convince him that Kloudless was the place to be. After brief negotiations, he signed his offer. We high-fived. Talked of grandeur.

The honeymoon wouldn’t last.

RED FLAG #1: Paul, Title Hunter

Kloudless is a meritocracy. All new employees receive the lowest position title for their functional role and move up as they deliver results. I make this clear at the moment a candidate receives the offer letter, and I reiterate it during new hire orientation.

Two weeks into the job, Paul pulled me aside after a Friday all-hands meeting. He wanted to be COO.

In hindsight, I’m not surprised. While he was negotiating his offer, he made it a point that he didn’t want to be just plain old “Business Development” at Kloudless. He wanted to be COO.

Having to say ‘No’ to the same request did not make me happy.

Having to say ‘No’ three more times over the next month was infuriating.

RED FLAG #2: When did we hire a big company exec?

At a small startup, you expect everyone to contribute to anything they can. Doesn’t matter if the task is big or small, interesting or menial. The success of the startup is your core responsibility.

No task was too big or small for Paul to delegate. He seemed especially averse to activities that required any work that didn’t involve him talking at a whiteboard. Even with a consistent stream of feedback from weekly 1-on-1’s, I couldn’t break his habit of never completing tasks on his own.

He was a C-level executive at a big company. He wanted to make all the high-level decisions, but not participate in any of the hands-on execution.

RED FLAG #3: Lots of talk and very little walk

Paul was the king of buzzwords. You could tell he was getting his daily TechCrunch fix. Not that buzzwords are a bad thing, but Paul would throw them around to gloss over discussions and talk down on others. It was as if he felt the need to constantly remind everyone that he was the experienced business guy here.

It wasn’t just the vocabulary. He’d say things like “Oh, I know [your pick of big name investor here] from a party. It’ll be easy to bring him on.” In Paul’s time at Kloudless, he killed one business deal (that I had started and handed over to him), got one business lead (which he lost a couple months later), and zero (0) new investors.

Ultimately, all this fancy talk was used to hide his inability to get real stuff done (See Red Flag #2).

So, I fired him.

The culture mismatch itself was enough reason to part ways. Throw in the lack of tangible results and sprinkle on some unpleasant arguments over a silly (and undeserved) title. Well, that just made the decision trivial.

We had enough in our back pocket to recover, but a hiring blunder like this can tear a small startup apart.

What other red flags have you seen from employees that are looking out for Number 1?