Life continues to change, sometimes it is by choice, other times by chance. This time a bit of both. Based on my interest in helping managers and leaders, the experience I gained in my career, and the work that I have been doing with Develop Great Managers, and some limited Angel investing – I have started consulting with Startup CEOs.
I am finding that Startup CEOs have a great set of skills, but most do not have everything that they need to successfully run their company. The good news is that most recognize this. Some look for another founder to round out the required skillset. Others sign up with incubators to get help. And others hire with an eye on the specific skills and qualities needed.
Here is a good article on the skills or qualities that a great startup CEO has. As you can see from this list – it is unlikely that anyone can check the box on all of these!
I found that I can provide a good deal of help to all types of startup CEOs. I have leveraged my work experience, learnings from Develop Great Managers, and my recent experience in angel investing. All of these align well with the needs that these CEOs have!
How I Can Help
I can engage with startup CEOs across a wide range of areas. Here are some examples.
- Review their application/solution and provide feedback
- Clarify their market and use cases
- Provide unbiased comparison to the competition
- Evaluate architecture and engineering processes
- Share knowledge on social media marketing
- Develop measures, metrics, and goals
- Define pricing model
I have identified startups through a number of different avenues. Most are through incubators where I have listened to a large number of pitches. After the pitch, I reach out to the CEOs that have a great business idea and great energy, but where I can see some number of gaps or issues.
I offer my help in a form that takes very little of their time but demonstrates value. I dig into one or more of the areas listed above. I create a document or presentation and schedule a time for a detailed review. I provide this pro-bono.
I am open and honest in all communications. If we hit it off and they see value in continuing and expanding our relationship, then we discuss compensation for my efforts. We negotiate ownership in exchange for my time. The model is structured such that I will spend a chunk of time and will receive some ownership. As this time comes to an end we will decide if we renew for more time and additional ownership.
My goal is to be flexible and focus on areas that are most important to the CEO and their company. Here are some real examples.
Market and Use Cases
One of the companies that I am working with has identified a need and has built a good first product. They have nice traction and excellent retention. A new competitor has entered the market. This competitor has a very good product but appears to be going after a different market.
This has created significant risk for the company. The good news is that it comes as they have closed some fundraising that provides a good runway of 12-15 months. But every dollar they spend needs to be targeted at building the right features and delivering on the right marketing efforts to drive significant growth.
Their biggest gap is that they are not crystal clear on the market or markets that they are going after.
I have been helping them to address this gap. We are working on building a complete end-to-end plan that is based on focusing deeply on one or two markets and the associated use cases that will help their customers to drive more revenue and lower their costs.
There are so many ways to go to market with a product. Social media and search have made identifying customers far easier than ever before. I am working with a CEO of a company that has a product that is nearly ready to release. Testing has gone well. Early users are seeing the value. It is time to release.
With that release comes the need for a good go-to-market plan. The CEO that I am working with has never done this before. I have been fortunate enough to see a large number of startup presentations and have followed a few that are growing quickly. I have leveraged this learning to help develop a good go-to-market plan for this product.
I have been able to help the CEO to understand exactly how many customers they will get from each dollar that they spend on marketing.
Architecture and Engineering Process
I am working with a non-technical CEO who has hired an engineering team to build the product. The product is coming along. But the CEO is concerned that they are not getting their money’s worth, and after spending time with them, I am very concerned that the architecture of the product is not sufficient.
As a bit of context, I think that most products need to be rebuilt as the number of customers grows. This is because it is always better to get a product out early and adjust than to wait until it is “done.” Therefore the problem that I see with this product is not that it will have problems as the company grows, it is instead that it has been designed wrong even to handle a small number of customers.
I spent time meeting with the engineering team to understand the architecture, technologies used, and how they build and deliver software. I summarized the results of this and have provided options and recommendations for how to proceed.
The purpose of this post is to describe how I am working with startup CEOs. It is my hope that understanding the challenges that they face, the ways that I have been able to help them, and the details provided in the examples – provide value to all managers who are driving change, delivering new products, and/or innovating.
I really enjoy staying current with technology and helping managers/leaders to be successful. Working with startup CEOs has been fun and is a great fit for my experience and interests. I only have the capacity to work with a few at a time, but am excited to continue to search out new startup CEOs that need my help!
If you have a good idea and are in the process of starting your own company, there is an incredibly valuable resource available to you for free. It is called the Y Combinator Startup School. It provides valuable resources to help you with all aspects of your company. There is a discussion forum. And there is some structure to helping you track your goals and progress. I recommend taking a look!