Insights from Early-Stage CEOs in the time of COVID
A little while ago I admitted a mistake, that I hadn't taken the time to really understand who my ideal client is, what are their life objectives, what are their goals, etc.
So I put together a survey of 9 questions and 25 people responded. Thank you for your input. I am deeply humbled by your contribution and willingness to share.
Now I get to share the results with you!
How would you describe yourself? About 60% of the people who took the survey were 1st time CEO and founders. That's not surprising because of where I posted the link to the survey, in startup communities, and the title of the survey was geared that way, I admit. But nearly 30% had been a CEO/Founder before. Clearly the respondents have entrepreneur spirits.
Goal for the Company in 5 years? 44% want to be acquired in that time frame while 40% want to be profitable. The respondents want to build a company that is making a difference and practicing sound business strategies.
Where do you seek information? This was an open-ended question but the #1 response was that the respondents look to their own network for information. They go to people they know: advisors, mentors, investors, other founders. The #2 response was that they do their own research on Google and the Internet.
Top 3 Issues: The Top 3 Issues facing startups today are:
Funding/Financing - This is not a surprise for any startup but it has taken on greater weight during this pandemic. At this time many startups are simply in survival mode. With so much uncertainty in the economy, many founders are wondering about the impact on the investment community. Are they investing as usual or are they waiting to see how the economy is impacted? How are they adjusting to the new environment? Are they investing in the same areas or are they changing?
Sales/Traction/Distribution - In this economy, many sales channels are being affected. Traction is always a big issue for startups. Every company needs traction to get funding because they have trouble getting funding without traction. This issue is even bigger now with survival such a paramount focus.
Talent - This always a big issue and it remains the same in this environment, though the focus has shifted slightly. Yes, you want to find the right talent, the right subject matter expert, and the right technical engineer, but now the focus is leaning toward talent retention. How do we ensure we're able to retain the people we have?
Others - Coming in a close 4th was product development, building out the roadmap, and obtaining product/market fit. This is often higher in the rankings but due to macroeconomic events has slid to #4.
The Biggest Fears of CEOs/Founders: The biggest fear by far was the fear of being a "bad" leader, of letting people down that depend on you, of being viewed as a "failure", and of being embarrassed. Part of this fear is the disappointment of not having your vision, your "reason why", being created. The other part of the fear is feeling responsible for the well-being of others; your team, your investors, your family, and friends.
What do you think you need in order to achieve the goals for your company? The top response was better sales and marketing, whether through finding the right talent, the right strategy, the right tools/skills, or the right partnerships. A close second was finding the right advisors or mentors to help the startups through difficult times and avoid mistakes and learning the hard way. The third was access to capital/money.
What did you learn the hard way that you wished you knew earlier The biggest response was learning to be a Leader. This isn't surprising since most of the respondents are first time CEOs. Learning to lead was too often done the hard way and often learned through losing key talent, problems managing developers and product changes, and being able to focus on the "right" thing, whether that is identifying the ideal customer or a metric to track progress. A related issue is how to communicate; to employees, prospects, and investors. And a consistent point was how to manage finances; raising capital as well as spending/preserving cash.
What do you like about being a CEO/Founder? While learning to lead was often done the hard way this is what the respondents liked the best: being a leader. They felt like what they did every day mattered. They're able to control their own destiny. They loved the freedom and the responsibility to shape a company. They feel like they're making a difference and that they're learning something new all the time.
What do you NOT like about being a CEO/Founder? The top response to this question is the flip-side of being a leader: having the responsibility of the well-being of others, of making the wrong decisions, and a lot of pressure. There's a lot of stress, uncertainty, and loneliness being a startup founder. Letting people go is very hard. Another point raised several times was not having the right advisors and getting advice from investors that haven't ever run a business before. Often these feelings are emphasized because there is no salary to start. Everything goes into the company.
The current situation is very challenging. CEOs at all stages around the world are doing their best to navigate one of the most uncertain times in their tenures.
As a startup CEO, you are not alone. Your circumstances may be different but what you're experiencing may not be. As you can see here, you're not alone in these feelings.
I'm deeply humbled and grateful to the people that helped with this survey. The insights obtained were very enlightening to me and I hope they are to you, too. I hope you learned something from other CEOs and Founders and realize that what you're feeling is valid and shared by others.
If you'd like to participate in the survey you still can. The entire survey takes about 5 minutes. Click the link below to start the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/R63J5VP
I wish good health and success to you, your families, employees, colleagues, and friends as you navigate through these extremely challenging times.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to also visit our website to learn more about the services we offer to help you Position Your Potential: https://www.therevenuegroup.net/.
I also invite you to download our Pitch Deck Outline that lays out for you what should be in your deck, in what order, and most importantly why by clicking on the link above or texting "Startup" to 66866. Unfortunately, this only works on US carriers. If you are outside of the United States please email me and I'll send you the Pitch Deck Outline directly.