The Role of the Founding CEO of a Technology Startup

2:17 AM Suvir Sujan 5 Comments

In India, we are seeing many technology startups that are being started by very bright engineers who are trying to build products that are probably the best in the world from a innovation and functionality standpoint.  However, many of these super bright technologists have not given enough thought into what it takes to convert that mouse trap that they are building into a successful busineess. One of the key traits of a successful founding technology CEO the "ability to sell" both internally and externally, i.e., to either convince the first major customer to try their product and/or to convince the initial hires to join them in a business role. As VC's, we spend a lot of time introducing startups to potential new customers and helping entrpreneurs build their teams.  While we can open doors to the right customers and be a sounding board/advisor to a potential senior level candidate, the customers decision to work with a startup or candidate's decision to join a startup is predominantly influenced by the chemistry and trust between the founding team and the customer or candidate.

I would recommend that all technology entrepreneurs spend some time thinking through the role of the Founding CEO and see who is best suited amongst the founding team to best play that role.  This role doesnt often require an MBA and often can be played by one of the technology founders themselves. Many times, the technology founders  feel that they are best suited to build the product and decides to partner with a friend or acquintaince that has business development skills to do the "selling" as the CEO. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. What is critical is that the person who is "selling" has the passion and deeep understanding for the product to be able to initially sit with marquee customer for days and weeks and do whatever it takes to convince them to try their new product. Many times, this ability lies within the founding team itself and role is far better played by a tech founder evangilist within than an "MBA" who is brought in as a co-founder from the outside to serve this role of the founding CEO in the initial years of the company. However if a founding team doesnt have the Founding CEO" DNA, then bringing on someone from the outside maybe the only solution.  it is important that all the founders of a technology company understand the skills of the team and decide on who is the best founding CEO for company.


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Karthick M said...
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Interesting that you mentioned the intangibles of "chemistry", "trust", and "passion" as key ingredients of successful relationships both internally and externally. As a "founding CEO" myself in a recent startup but with more that 2 decades of global corporate experience and specific domain expertise, I can highly "correlate" to these as ingredients of successful leaders as well, and those who can take a step function leap v/s a linear one. NA blend of art and science is always necessary, and would venture to add a mindset of humility, learning, and belief. The customer and the employee successfully connect to those, and are also the reason for strong retention of business and talent.

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