The past one year, has been one hell of a ride. 10 months ago, i posted that i’m stepping on to be the CEO of the company. It was not a natural decision, since i’m not the kind who dreamt of being one someday.
Fast forward today, i’m slowly getting used to the position, and i think i have reached a point, that i know what i am doing. So now, i’m not going to use the i don’t like this position excuse anymore, since i’m starting to like it and i think i’m getting good at it. (Apparently, it is still hard to know if i’m doing a good job or not, but i’m the kind of person who self-congratulates myself for things i think i’m doing a job well done. Hehe.)
I prefer to learn on the job, experiment, fail, learn, and try-again; this is my modus operandi. So these past months had been a cycle of experiments. From this experience, i learned that the CEO title is practically useless in a startup stage. Or, at least what the title meant to be. More on this later.
During the startup stage, there’s is only one single focus, and that’s building the product and bringing it to revenue. And to do that, you need the special forces team. Everything has to be the best of the best in what they do, and must be in the most productive group in their class.
At this stage, the CEO and the other founders, must work on many aspects of the business. On the implementation level, everyone must be working hands-on, coding, testing, marketing, selling, business development, office errands, everything. While at the same time, on the big picture level, the founders, must also work on the direction of the company — making sure, everyone is marching towards the same direction.
As you start to get revenue, then you go into operations mode, while at the same time build the next version of your product. At this stage, you start to hire more people. You get customer support, sales, implementation managers, support engineers, and more programmers. And as you hire more people, then you need to expand the admin side of the business, HR, Finance, and Office management.
It is in this growing stage that the founders change mode. And doing CEO stuff (one founder!) is now more important.
When i posted about becoming a CEO earlier, i mentioned the following:
I don’t have a problem with the work expected of a CEO. It is very similar to what i’m already doing anyway. Though, having the title, i agree has some intense feeling to it. There’s a constant expectation that i have to figure out the next move (24 hours, 7 days a week). Compared to as a GM, where the overall strategy and vision is set already. As a CEO, i have to constantly find that next big thing we have to do, while at the same time, improve what we already have.
So what can be expected from me moving forward? I think more visibility. I will probably be blogging more. It’s the bread and butter of CEOs, inspire people, get people to move forward, get customers on board, talk, write, talk, write, make a speech, pat someone’s back. It’s a lot of hard work.
Man, was i wrong on the blogging and talking part. What i explained there, is actually what i saw from the outside. On the outside, CEOs talk a lot, go around places, talk to people, write talking e-mails, making talking speeches, all kinds of talking. What i did not know at that time, is what a CEO really do. But thanks to experience and a lot of learnings over time (books, blogs, people), here’s what i have learned.
CEO must be building companies. Companies must be building products. Products must be delivering value to customers. Customers in return gives us revenue. Revenue then becomes the fuel the CEO can use to grow the company. Whereby company = ideology and people.
Compared to a startup, where a CEO must be focused in building a product; in a growing company (Series A for the investor-minded people out there), a CEO must be building the company.
I still don’t know the exact steps to build a company, and i also think, there’s no single set of silver bullets, but i’m confident i have more knowledge now to move things forward. Here’s what i know so far that i have to do.
As a CEO, it’s important to get to clarity in everything we do. To know exactly what we want to be as a company. This is the company vision. A vision that is not dependent on a single person, but a collective idea from the key founding team of the company.
Once we have an idea what we plan to be, it’s good to connect that with what we are good at. The core strength. The identifying factor of the company. We are a company that is good at X, Y, Z. Keep it short, since jack-of-all-trades company, gets nowhere.
Then, we find our purpose. We want to be this company, and we are good at this, and this will be our purpose. A company without purpose, is a useless diamond; know that purpose drive companies forward.
After knowing what we are, what we are good at, what’s our purpose, then it’s time to sit down and identify our strategy. We call it the company values. It’s the company’s HOW; how we achieve our mission and brings us closer to our vision. Our values are our modus operandi. This easily equates to the company culture, the ways of the founders, the style and the quirkiness of the team.
Collectively, the vision, core, mission and the company values, i will call them the company ideals.
And once we have these ingredients, then it’s time to define our company goals. Company goals are the concrete representation of these ideals.
How then products fit in company building? Products are the tangible results of the company ideals. An evolutionary output of these components. Evolutionary since markets change over time and products become obsolete; however, the company ideals stays the same, at least for a longer time than market and product opportunities.
Products are not the company. Often we say, a company must always focus on their product. I think that’s a limited view of a company. Companies focus on product, so they in turn deliver value. Which in turn… okok, you get the point. But companies must be mindful of the products and the value they are delivering, and check if they are in line with the company ideals.
Now why is the ideals important? Remember, Company = ideology and people.
- Ideals give companies meaning. A purpose.
- People believe and are driven by these ideals.
- And when people are driven, inspired and motivated by these ideas, then they do great things.
- And these great things are the company’s products, and is the source of the company’s impact.
- And over time, these ideals serves as a guide, as the company moves forward.
Of course, knowing these things is the first step, and only one step in the process of company building. It’s true, i’m getting all these concepts straight out of a few business books i’m reading. But i’m using these concepts, to put everything we do in the company in proper perspective. I’m using these to achieve clarity. Since once we have clarity, then it’s so much easier to move forward.
So, what’s important now, is what we will do with these ideals. And i think this is the ultimate test in building a company, where the CEO is responsible. And of course, everything else no one is responsible — at least this one will never change. 🙂
I intentionally did not mention our company ideals here, since i’m reserving that for our company website and blog.
How i will do my responsibility, is also a good topic for another post. 🙂
How then are these ideals identified? Founders don’t really need to look far and beyond. They only need to find their collective ideals’ resize-window handle, and resize accordingly to fit a bigger group of people.