7 things I wish I knew before my first Startup CEO role

1) The startup shock - I came from a multinational background where the size and structure of the company drove my daily diary. I had a massive "Oh Crap" moment in month 1 of startup life trying to get my head around all the things I should be doing, their ranking by importance and not having enough hours in the day to get everything done. I had a business plan but not a properly thought out execution plan.  

2) Sound market research - We had a great solution but our our initial value proposition was too broad and this over complicated the sales process at times. You do, learn from it, tweak it and repeat. This should never change.  

3) Sales messaging - Competitors are great and if you don't have any then find some of the nearest competitors. Competitors are great for two reasons: -

A) Competitors allow you to differentiate your offering on value, price, and features.

B) They allow you to position your solution with the right buyers who know how to categorise and buy your offering.

4) Importance of a sound execution plan - Business plans are traditionally not execution plans. This needs to change. Execution plans not only put it up to you to define what you will do in your first 30, 60 and 90 days to increase your chances of success but gives confidence to investors, team members and even your family who are there to support you in delivering on your plan.

5) Minimum viable product - Do Fail Learn Repeat until you get it right. I took a product to the market offering three distinct value streams and with the benefit of hindsight I should have have focused primarily on one value point. Having three value streams meant we often ended up with too many people at the decision table. More often than not this slowed the sales closing time or even killed off our chances down to confusion around department ownership, budget, buyer motives.

6) Hire Sales people very very slowly - I didn't know enough about sales hiring to get it right and I jumped into a few hires without a strong hiring methodology, which would have increased the chances of success. Remember it's no fun for the candidate either if you get the hiring process wrong and the responsibility is primarily with you the CEO to invest enough time in the process as well as the on-boarding of your new sales hire. Regardless of sales lead time, with the right process you should know within 30 days if the sales hire is going to deliver for your business.

7) First client case study is key - Startup selling is hard, you or your product won't be well known in the market and you will often rely on someone taking a chance to try it out before others follow. Tip - Offer a price reduction in return for a case study, which you will only look for when the product has proven its value in the business. Then use video for the case study; repurpose it (blog, website, sales presentations) across all marketing platforms.

I continue to learn everyday “you learn you grow” and I am a better startup CEO today then last year, or the year before or the year before that…..


A) Take your business plan even if it's an old one and agree 10 actions applicable from today under each section heading then Track, update, and repeat. This will not only set a positive drumbeat of activity but it’s also a great way to plot your journey use for any pivoting decisions and team performance.

B) Sales people are very good at selling themselves and interviews are just a snapshot.  Income validation and multiple left field reference checks are essential (Sales hiring is the topic of a future blog article).

C) Offer a price reduction in return for a case study.  You will only look for this when the product has proven its value in the business.   Then use the video for the case study and repurpose it across all marketing platforms (blog, website, sales presentations).

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