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3 Key Characteristics of the Best Startup CEOs

Wanna succeed in the startup world? You're gonna need a laser-like focus and the ability to become a sponge -- for learning purposes, that is.

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When you look at the world’s top startups and then at their CEOs, you find similar characteristics across the board. Startup CEOs are crazy enough to start a company from scratch and strong enough to build a rock-solid team around their idea.

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Related: 7 Leadership Qualities of All Great Leaders

As a startup CEO, you'll likely feel that your company’s weight is on your shoulders, while every decision you make can have a profound impact on your success. Made the wrong hire and now feeling scared to fire him/her? Too bad. Just one bad player could ruin the culture you’ve spent months building, so firing is probably your best choice.

Decided to target the wrong market? Better make a pivot before it’s too late.

Startup CEOs need to think on their feet and adapt to every situation. And, if you're a young CEO, your startup is likely almost an extension of you. You think about it constantly and always need to be ready to pitch.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a company or already started one, see how you fit with the most common characteristics of startup CEOs described below.


When times get tough, the tough get going. As every startup CEO knows. that journey to success will be a roller coaster. But even if you're the CEO, and you start going downhill, you won't be willing to quit. Regardless of how bootstrapped they may become, true entrepreneurs need to know how to get by with what they have.

For an example, look to Josh Anton of Drunk Mode. When his company first started its mobile app that helps students stay safe on a night out, it didn’t even have a developer. Most people would first go out and find a tech team. Anton started by interviewing potential customers. He knew that if he could prove people would use this app, he could then recruit a top notch developer.

Drunk Mode now has more than 1.2 million downloads and often is the most viral app of the moment in the App Store.

Laser focus

If you’re thinking of starting a company, you probably won’t have the money, team or even the time to do everything you want to do. Instead of focusing on a product with a ton of features, however, start with just a few and expand to something bigger. This could also mean starting in one market and then expanding.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

When Andy Altman was starting GigTown, an app that enables you to hire local musicians Uber-style, he knew he had to focus on one market. Though his desire was to launch nationwide, starting with one city made all the difference.

GigTown started in San Diego, gaining widespread attention from musicians, DJs, artists and even music festivals, like Kaboo. If GigTown had launched nationwide from the get-go, it wouldn’t have had a market to dive into and probably would have failed.

A sponge-like nature

Being an entrepreneur requires a learning curve. If you’re not willing to learn, think about leaving the startup world. You need to be able to soak in everything and anything you can, just like a sponge. The more you learn, the better.

Julian Wright, the founder of Shotzu, an on-demand photography service, learned early on that in order to grow fast, he needed to focus on a business-to-business model. For most Uber-like businesses, entrepreneurs focus on the business-to-consumer market. But after testing both markets, Wright realized that with the rise in popularity of food delivery services like Sooma Eats and Hungry, photography had become a vital need for these startups to photograph their culinary offerings.

Related: 5 Unforgettable Leadership Qualities for Successful Entrepreneurs

Though every startup CEO is different, most have similar characteristics that enable their ability to lead, scale and eventually sell. If you’re thinking of starting a company, see how you fit these characteristics to ensure that you too grow into a strong CEO.

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