As the founder of a startup, everything starts with you. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs have no idea what it means to be a great leader.
I was the founder and chief executive of my own company in 2002 at the age of 22. I was accountable for everything at my company. I certainly felt like a CEO, but after eight years, I realized I was not, and I was lost. I was young. I didn't have any business mentors. I was on a soul search that eventually would lead me to understand my true role.
What happened was I joined a peer group of fellow business leaders in my local community. For the first time, I was surrounded by CEOs who had been in the position for a much longer period of time, and who were much more successful than me. For the sake of reference, this group of CEOs who I learned so much from (and whose names I must keep private), are the heads of companies with annual revenues ranging from $5 to $500 million.
It was at this point that I finally began to see living examples of real leadership in play. And this changed my perspective about who I thought I was and who I was striving to be.
My first and most important task was to correctly define what my responsibilities were as founder and chief executive. With the help of my peers, here are the eight critical responsibilities we came up with:
1. Link the outside to the inside
Number one on my job description was inspired by an article in Harvard Business Review by Procter & Gamble's CEO and Chairman, A. G. Lafley, titled "What Only the CEO Can Do." Here is how I have interpreted it and made it work for me:
You are the link between everything outside and inside your company.
I think of it as being an intergalactic traveler. I get to travel from Earth to other planets, and vice versa. I am the link between the inside – Earth – and the outside – Planet Sparky (named after my alien-looking French bulldog).
At your company, you are the intergalactic traveler. Your company is the inside and the marketplace is the outside. It's your job as CEO to see opportunities others do not. Most of your organization (with the exception of sales people) tends to focus internally, and it's difficult for them to shift gears to focus externally. Therefore, you are to fill that void. This is not to say that you should not engage and intently listen to your internal employees. This simply means you ultimately are the one who must make the decisions.
Define the meaningful outside. It's all about looking at the outside factors affecting your company and defining what is important and what is not. Everyone on the inside depends on you to define the outside. Take Ray Kroc, McDonald's founder, as an example. People have always eaten out, but it was Kroc who defined the outside in a way no one before him ever did. His meaningful outside is, of course, now known as fast food in America and globally. If you look at your company and all of the outside influences affecting it, what matters the most? What doesn't matter?
Decide what business you're in (and not in). There are an unlimited number of businesses you can be in. How about selling language learning programs to dogs? How about selling sweaters and fleeces in Florida? How about selling data mining software to governments? How about buying a global pharmaceutical company Sterling Drug when you are Eastman Kodak? What?!? You get the point. Markets are ultimately your decision.
Consider KISSmetrics as an example. At one point, Neil Patel and Hiten Shah (the co-founders) decided that internet marketing was the business they wanted to be in. They're talented people, so they could have started any other company, but their experiences, skills and contacts were in internet marketing. When deciding your business, consider all of the above. Making the wrong decision is usually terminal.
Balance present and future. As founder and CEO, you have to make sure there's a tomorrow, but you also have to make sure there is a today. You need to constantly balance the needs of the company today with what the needs of the company may be tomorrow. For many companies, this comes in deciding on budget investments.
Going back to the failure of Kodak (there are many, but we'll focus on one), looking back now, everyone and their mom knew that digital would crush the film business, especially Kodak. They invented digital. But, it was a strategic failure to not invest in the present that ultimately led to no future.
This lesson goes the other way as well. Prematurely investing in technologies when you cannot afford to, or that markets aren't ready for, will lead to early demise as well. You have to carefully balance today's present and tomorrow's future.
2. Foundation: Purpose, vision and mission
I learned this from a presentation by Vicky Schneider on attaining exceptional people performance. Your foundation is what keeps your company up. Without it, you would sink and fall. Everything is built upon your Foundation, which I've tweaked slightly to be the following:
Purpose: This is why your company exists in the first place. It's timeless. It's fundamental even. This is the reason anyone should even care about your company.
Vision: This is what you're trying to make happen. In other words, when your company succeeds at what its purpose is, what does that look like?
Mission: This is how you accomplish your vision. It's not the entire plan; it's the super broad strokes of your plan. This explains how you do what you do each day.
Different companies use purpose, vision and mission statements interchangeably, but setting that aside, here are a few of my favorites:
You might want to check out Simon Sinek's TED talk to help you dig a little deeper on this topic:
This story originally appeared on KISSmetrics