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Berkonomics

The seven attributes of a highly successful start–up CEO

Dave’s note:  This week we welcome guest author, David Friedman, to tell us about his favorite startup CEO, and his take after interviewing her – asking for her list of attributes for startup success.  

By David Friedman

I met Kirsten Mangers several years ago after she successfully sold her startup, Webvisible.   Kirsten is the founder of ChickLabs, an incubator that focuses on helping primarily women entrepreneurs.  She is also the CEO of Immunogum, a start–up in Newport Beach, California.

Here are Kirsten’s Magnificent Seven attributes and roles for an entrepreneurial CEO:

Chief sales person. Selling is required whether it is for sales of the company’s products or selling the business idea to investors. Pure and simple, it is the number one attribute.  If a CEO cannot get comfortable selling, then he/she needs to find a strong complement or a replacement CEO.

Group of friendly businesspeople in suits standing head to head

Seven attributes of a highly successful start-up CEO

Culture Maven. The culture of a company attracts and retains great people.   Think about the culture of Google or Apple and you get somewhat different impressions.   But culture will help you succeed and be one of the differentiators to also–rans.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Chief Strategist. As Louis Carroll said in Alice and Wonderland: “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  CEOs need to set the direction and if necessary make the decisions to pivot the company.  Early startups will go through false starts and pivoting will be essential.

Teacher, tutor, and mentor. Kirsten claimed to be a whiteboard fanatic.  Where there is a whiteboard, she could share ideas and interact with the staff on a regular basis and even get others to critique, comment, and debate those ideas.   This goes along with the concept that the CEO needs to be a visible leader and wander about with the team.

You have to challenge yourself and others – even with ideas that seem outrageous.   Why?  You stay fresh and there may be a kernel of insight into the new idea or someone else may see another path to success buried in that idea. Someone may say: that’s crazy, but what if we did this?  Challenging prevailing wisdom and valuing the diversity of thought among people is critical to engage your team.

Chief Reporter and Scribe. This is the issue of transparency.   The CEO of a start–up needs to create an environment where everyone on the team feels that they understand and can contribute to the business’s success.   With normally smallish teams and fewer people, such discussions keep the team engaged and motivated.  I have personally witnessed employees banding together to find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

Chief Recruiter. To be successful, a strong team needs to be assembled and nurtured.  As Kirsten said, it all starts with people – and finding the best people is the biggest challenge.  When she interviews someone, she has asked some interesting questions to probe the character, drive, and attitudes of the recruit.   One question I like is: “If you were on a three–hour flight and could sit next to one person, who would that person be and why?”   From this answer you can determine motivation and quest for learning, both of which are critical in a start–up

I believe that these sage words of wisdom from Kirsten will help an aspiring entrepreneur be successful and potentially be as successful as Kirsten.  It can’t hurt for more seasoned managers either

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