There are a multitude of factors involved in the success or failure of any new venture, but one enduring differentiator is the person at the top. Even with the best idea in the world, without the right personality to make it happen, it will never fulfil its potential. And it takes a special type of character to navigate the rocky road from fledgling start-up to billion-dollar success story.
So what separates the great from the good?
Vision: Every new business starts with an idea, but the really great start-up CEOs start with a vision. That means seeing an opportunity to make the world a better place, or revolutionise an industry, and crucially having the belief to make it happen. Visionaries have the passion and energy to inspire investors, employees and customers, so that people are desperate to be involved. Think Jeff bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. These are the people that change the world.
A dream team: Steve Jobs once said: "The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world," and this is true of all great start-up CEOs. They understand the importance of hiring the most talented people to execute their vision and personally put the hours in to making sure they get them. On the flipside, if somebody isn't right, the best CEOs have the guts to let them go, before it's too late.
Listening: While great CEOs set the strategy, they also know when it's time to keep quiet and listen to those around them. They spend time digesting the feedback and opinions of employees, investors and customers, before considering, and often acting upon, their suggestions. Top CEOs are also experts at asking the right questions to understand what matters most to their stakeholders and get to the core of the issues that matter.
Storytelling: There's no point having a vision if you can't inspire others, which is why every great start-up CEO also has to be an awesome communicator and storyteller. As the face and voice of the brand, particularly in the early days, it's up to the CEO to bring the business to life. Doing so ensures buy-in and loyalty from staff, investors and most importantly, customers.
Making the tough decisions: Running a business requires hundreds of decisions every day, often about things you've never done before or in areas outside your expertise. But as start-up CEO it's all on you, and being able to take the right course of action when under pressure, is what separates the good from great. Many start-up CEOs choose to work with a mentor to help them make big decisions faster, helping their business to move forward more quickly.
Creating a culture: Given the importance of hiring and keeping the best people, the ability to create a unique company culture is another must-have for the best CEOs. Working for a start-up can be tough, so employees need to feel valued and inspired to stay motivated. A strong culture, led by an inspiring CEO, will support the business as it goes through periods of rapid growth and change, enabling it to maintain the essence of where it started. This transition from start-up to established company can be difficult to navigate, and how the CEO responds is crucial to the future of the business.
Being a master of the pivot: An extension of being a great visionary is the ability to perceive, predict and respond to changes in the market, so the business always stays one step ahead. Pivoting your business is no easy feat, requiring guts, confidence and finely tuned business instincts. But it can be the difference between coming out on top, and being a non-starter.
Commitment: Rome wasn't built in a day, and the majority of successful start-up CEOs have been toiling away for years, suffering through numerous failures, before we've ever heard of them. But with an unbreakable spirit, they'll keep working tirelessly until they've achieved their objectives and made their vision a reality. Their determination means they'll never settle for second best.