Dear SaaStr: What’s It Really Like to Be CEO of a Startup?
Let me just throw out a few things I’ve learned that being a CEO of start-up isn’t, or isn’t as you’d expect:
- It isn’t glamorous until you are At Scale and Hot, at the very minimum. At $10m-$20m+ in revenues, maybe. Maybe not even until pre-IPO. Maybe never, not really.
- The Zero Cash Date when you run out of money will be burned in your brain. More on that here.
- You are never recruiting enough because you always need at least one more amazing person on the team and it just isn’t getting done and this is the most important thing so somehow you have to find a way even if you aren’t.
- You can’t really share, not really, because your team doesn’t really understand what it is to have all the 100% responsibility for everything, and your spouse/ S.O./ whatever can only hear about 58 times how you are about to fail before they naturally start to tune out.
- You will become a leader no matter what your background is. Even if you have never scaled before, never hired before. You will know so much, about everything, about how it is all done. People will gravitate to that, and follow you. Not everyone. But more and more over time. You will find a way here.
- People will actually care what you think in a way you’ve never experienced before. Even if you are just a CEO of a 10 person company, your customers will care, even if they are 10,000x bigger than you are. Your team will care. The CEO matters to whomever the product impacts.
- You will think about stepping down at some point, no matter if you never admit it. There’s a reason Elon Musk didn’t start off as CEO of Tesla, nor did Marc Benioff start off as CEO of Salesforce, even though they wrote the first checks. It’s hard. Don’t tell anyone when you have these thoughts. Except maybe your one closest advisor.
- You’ll be in the Founder CEO club if you have any success at all. And it’s a fun club because it lasts for life as long as your startup is at least somewhat successful. You’ll have your own language, own shared experiences, and be part of a special club that no one else really can be a part of. It’s a pretty cool club.
My non-obvious learnings.