How to Succeed as a Startup Founder & CEO

November 21, 2016

How to Succeed as a Startup Founder & CEO

Founding a startup and leading it to success is arguably the most thrilling, challenging and rewarding experience possible in the business world. I would know because I’ve done it. Twice.

My first startup, The Brookeside Group, Inc., is a management consulting and training company focused on high-value business relationships. Our tag line, “Be the Best in B2B,” embodies our work helping strategic account teams build stronger, mutually beneficial “trusted advisor” relationships with key clients. 

In working with Brookeside clients, I spotted the need for accurate, client information to help account teams become Trusted Advisors to their clients. That realization paved the way for my second venture, salesEQUITY. As we began leveraging early versions of the salesEQUITY product in Brookeside’s training and consulting services, we realized there was a much broader market for the software. Hence was born as a SaaS-based, B2B client feedback, and coaching platform.

Building a Successful Startup (or 2)

Every startup CEO has experienced challenges in founding and growing their business: managing cash flow, recruiting great talent, marketing, selling, offering stellar customer service, investing in the business, investing in yourself, etc. While trying, these challenges can be the best part of running a startup! Nothing beats the rush of facing a new obstacle, knocking it down (or at least beating it back for a while), and moving on to the next.

In addition to facing challenges, building a successful startup requires understanding true customer value and how to deliver it. In my life as a “double CEO” and founder, I have found the key to a great company is learning how to sell so you can make your customers successful. If you are delivering true customer value, you cannot fail; and if you are not delivering true customer value, you cannot succeed.

With this in mind, I have five pieces of advice for aspiring startup CEOs and founders:

1. Do not leave client relationships to chance.

Creating a product is hard, but creating a client is the real challenge. Today we kick off all client relationships by drafting a Customer Journey Map – or what I like to call, our customer’s “Journey to Wow!” At some point in the future, I want my clients to say, “Wow! That was an exceptional experience,” or, “Wow! I got exceptional value.” 

You cannot leave this “Journey to Wow” to chance. You must craft the experience for your clients by proactively managing the relationship and demonstrating your “savvy” to ensure that you help them win! 

2. Fail fast, but learn. 

A great startup founder and CEO embraces experimentation and learns from mistakes. You never know where you’ll get your next big idea.

3. Be fact-based & decisive.

Get comfortable with math and run the numbers – whether it be cash flow, projections, lead-to-sale conversion rates, etc. When working on your strategy and tactics, gather as many facts as possible and then use your best judgment to decide on your future moves.  

4. Invest in great talent.

Companies don’t do business, people do. Find great people to work with, and treat them with respect and kindness. 

5. Get out of the office.

Being the CEO of two startups is exhilarating and fulfilling work, but it is important for workers at all levels to find ways to enjoy life outside the office. This is even more imperative when you are balancing the success of two startups. 

What should you do when you’re not in the office? Here are some ideas:

  • Play more. When I am not working, my family is my top priority. As my kids were growing, up I coached their sports teams, volunteered at their schools, and served on various associated boards and committees. Now that my kids are older, I have rediscovered my love for coaching and have started leading youth sports teams again. 
  • Learn from others. My professional mentor is Bob Stringer, the inventor of the original “Organizational Climate” model of measuring aroused motivation. I count on Bob both for professional advice regarding our business model, the salesEQUITY approach, etc., but also for counsel on how to grow a great company. My wife Julia is my personal mentor, because she keeps me focused on what’s truly important in life.
  • Be a knowledge sponge. I’m also an avid non-fiction reader (Yes, I’m the guy who reads all those crazy business books you see in the airport book store.) I’ve contributed to 45 books on client relationships and am working hard to finish and publish my own book on sales equity.


Tom Cates is founder, chief client officer, and chief storyteller of salesEQUITYFollow him on Twitter: @salesEQUITY

Image via Unsplash