All the Austin tech CEOs I talk to seem to agree on one thing: Running a startup is hard. We asked three of them to share some wisdom about how they handle their biggest hurdles. Here are the top three challenges for CEOs and advice from people who have dealt with all of them.
#3. The right approach for the pitch
Monique Maley (pictured below right) has a lot of experience making good presentations—she spent the first 15 years of her career as an actor for stage, TV and film—and coaches entrepreneurs on what makes a good pitch through her company, Articulate Persuasion
She said investors want to know a lot more than whether you have a good product.
“I’m not buying your product,” she said. “You want me to buy your business. Your business is not your platform or your widget. What I need to know is how big your market is. How valuable are you, where do you line up in the competitive landscape? What do your financials and projections look like? What kind of traction and relationships to you have in that space? How will you acquire clients? That’s essential.”
Karen Bantuveris, Founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot
, understands the temptation to focus on the product.
“When you have huge volumes of incredible user stories and positive feedback streaming like we do, it's hard not to focus on that,” she said. “But feedback alone won't get you funded.”
#2. Growing as you scale
There is so much to think about when your business is growing, from boosting your backend support to hiring and training new employees, that some founders forget they have to learn new skills, too.
So much of leadership relies on communication and perception that Maley spends a lot of her time coaching her clients on how they present themselves to others.
“Just because you're leadership material doesn't mean you're seen as leadership material,” she said. “Communication and collaboration are essential, especially in tech, whether you’re talking to direct reports or your board of directors.”
One of the growing pains CEOs scaling startups face is when the social dynamic of the company shifts from a few friends in the proverbial garage to professionals sharing an office.
“We’re transitioning from club to company,” Bantuveris (pictured left) said of VolunteerSpot. One of her challenges: “Balancing the value of truly caring about people with the realization you can't be best friends with everyone.”
#1: It’s OK to change course in a crisis
If anyone knows about being adaptable when life throws your plans in a blender, it’s Maley. She had hired 40 employees for one of her previous ventures when her office burned down two weeks before the company was due to launch.
She was able to relocate, but the business opened only four days before Sept. 11, 2001. The coincidence was devastating.
“People get so married to their original idea that they are not really living and breathing in the moment,” she said. “What people call failure is really just another step in the process. If not a better company, it at least makes you a better leader.”
When the bad news is less obvious, Bantuveris said fostering the right culture can help you see it coming early.
“You have to cultivate an environment where your team is comfortable sharing all news—good and bad,” she said. “It's how fast you learn and iterate that becomes most important.”
Brad Weimert (pictured right) is the founder and CEO of Easy Pay Direct
, an electronic transaction platform for small businesses. He emphasizes a balanced, active lifestyle for staying sane amid the stress of running a business, but said sometimes you just have to make a decision with the information you have and be willing to correct it later.
In other words, tolerate risk.
“One of my core beliefs is that nothing is a big deal,” he said. “Obviously certain decisions have more weight than others, but understanding there's always another decision we can make helps me stay relaxed and present.”
Weimert said it’s important to move. Literally.
“Motion creates emotion,” he said. “For me, that’s running, cycling, lifting weights… or I’ll challenge the staff to a skipping contest.”
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