This guest post was written by Seth Sternberg, the CEO and Co-founder of Meebo. His last guest post was about the job of a pre-launch startup CEO. In this one, he discusses how that job changes when your company grows to 200 people.
The job of CEO at a 200 person company is pretty different from the life I had 6 years ago—just before Meebo launched. It’s a lot less about what I do and a lot more about how I enable others. In today’s world, if you zoom out to a very macro-level view, there are three things I do. 1. Strategy. 2. People. 3. Resource allocation.
You always hear that part of a CEO’s job is to come up with the “strategy”. But what does that really mean? In my world it’s listen, synthesize and communicate.
Listening means listening to everyone. Blogs, your employees, the press, other entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, customers and users—anyone who might have an interesting or informative point of view on what your company does. Bandied together, those constituencies form your market.
Synthesizing means taking all those things you’ve been listening to, deciphering signal (10% of it) from noise (90% of it), and adjusting course based on new points of view or new information. It’s rare that you’ll gather the exact strategy you should follow from the signal, but put it together and apply your own secret sauce and you have your winner.
And finally you communicate the newly formed strategy (to the extent you’ve decided to adjust course) to the market – the same people you’ve been listening to. At the end of day, you are your company’s chief sales person. To investors, the press, recruits, customers and users. You need to convince all of these people you’ve been listening to that you heard them, you internalized it all, and you came up with the winning strategy.
Together, I call these three pieces The Strategy Funnel. You listen, you synthesize and communicate and then you start all over again, listening to the feedback after you’ve communicated.
So many things are happening on a daily basis that it becomes very hard to stay on top of it all. In fact, you really can’t. Rather, you rely on your team to truly own the pieces of the overall puzzle that they are responsible for. This requires lots of things, top among them is trust.
First, you need to make sure you have the right folks in the right positions. Beyond ensuring that their skills (both hard and soft) are right for the role, you need to make sure that they continue to scale into that role as it inevitably becomes more complex with the growth of the company. Someone who was great at 100 people may hit a wall at 160 people.
Second, you need to make sure that these people are empowered to run their parts of the show. A lot of this empowerment comes through information, which of course needs to be communicated in some way. Counterintuitive as it may seem, ensuring that communication lines are very high bandwidth within the company is one of the top things you can do to empower people. Well…that, and not be a micromanager.
Third, you need to make sure you’ve clearly communicated the mission to your folks. If your leadership team doesn’t understand the mission or strategy, then neither will their respective teams. Watch how quickly progress will grind to a halt without a clearly articulated strategy in place—it won’t be pretty.
Fourth, you are your company’s chief recruiter. If one of our teams needs me to sell a candidate, I’ll get on the phone day or night, weekday or weekend. Heck, I’ve even flown out to see a candidate or two if they’re someone super special. Your company lives or dies by its team, regardless of whether you’re 2 people or 200. Attract the absolute best and brightest to work with your team and you’re already winning.
As your company grows and leaders at your company come to run specific functions, each function will vie for the company’s resources to best achieve its goals. Let’s unpack that for a minute. Since you can’t know everything that’s happening within the company, and therefore rely on your leadership team to run their respective functions, how do you make sure everyone’s on the right track? You provide clear goals for them to achieve. You measure these goals through a set of mutually agreed upon metrics that they are working to attain. Often, they will have a bonus tied to the achievement of these goals. So not only is there a sense of professional pride with meeting goals, but a bonus is often on the line too. And since you’re already hiring fantastic people who are intrinsically motivated, these people will work very hard to achieve their own team goals and thusly, the company’s goals.
One of the ways folks work to achieve their goals is to draw resources from the company. Some services are often shared at the corporate level—recruiting, HR, facilities and financial analysis would be an example. Other services are often shared between teams. For example, the ads team is as dependent on our engineering team to provide them with enough engineers to build new ad products as is our consumer products team to build the (very cool) checkins service we’re working on at Meebo. The leaders of these teams, at some level, compete for these shared resources—the more they get—the more likely they are to meet their goals.
You, as the CEO, are the ultimate “disinterested third party” between each of these teams. You, more than anyone, are tasked to make certain that the overall company meets its goals—not just its revenue goals or product goals, but all of them! As such, you make the call on how resources are allocated between competing priorities within the company.
That’s the end of the formal programming. Strategy, People and Resource Allocation are the three things I really spend my time on. But before we part, just one more thing. You are human. You make mistakes. You get stressed. But at all times, be real! Your people and your market want to hear from you—they want to know you and know what you stand for. They can sniff bullshit a mile away. Don’t disengage with reality behind the CEO’s magic curtain—it’s all too easy. Keep it real.