Critical Advice For Startup CEOs

If you’re tenacious- and you’re willing to constantly adapt to change- you can make it as a start-up CEO. If not, you’ll almost certainly fail.

Now, that’s a pretty strong statement, but my experience tells me that tenacity and adaptability are the two key traits that a CEO (any CEO) must have- and these traits are even more crucial for a start-up.

That said, here’s my best advice for CEOs:

Cash or Profit?

I had a residential plumbing company as an accounting client years ago. They did $3 million in annual sales, and it sure looked like they were hitting the cover off the ball. Great reputation in the community- and who doesn’t need a great plumber?

But the owner so stressed it was making him physically sick.

The business was constantly short cash.

Turns out that the plumbing company had taken on a large commercial plumbing job, and the business lost a lot of money on the deal- enough money that they barely had enough cash to operate. To keep his sanity, the owner sold a portion of the business to an investor to raise operating cash.

If a profitable company can’t generate cash fast enough to operate, they can’t survive. I liked Gary Vaynerhuck’s comment in his answer: cash is like oxygen for a business.

Plan your cash flow carefully- and be prepared to raise more cash if you run short.

All About The Money

Every time I’ve tried to “make a lot of money”- I haven’t. I just had a conversation yesterday with someone who was (sadly) out of work. He’s never worked in sales, but he was looking into sales jobs “because you can make a lot of money”.

That’s not the right reason.

Managing a start-up requires a huge time commitment, without any certainty about the outcome. It has to be about excellence- and being passionate about achieving excellence.

Be excellent- people will find you and buy your product or service.

Activity vs. Growth

My wife likes to refer to “activity for activity’s sake” as polishing a brick. It doesn’t really get you anywhere.

As a self-employed person, I have to plan what I do carefully. I spend most of my time writing, so I do my toughest writing work in the morning. I outline work and do marketing later in the day. Most important, I get paid to write- so I need to do my best work (and a lot of it) as a first priority.

Figure that out in your own business. I know a very successful financial services rep who has sign over his desk called “The Job”, and it lists exactly what he should be doing for clients.

Innovation: Starbucks Example

Successful CEOs innovate, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is a great example of an innovator. Here’s one example of innovation:

The goal of every marketer is to cultivate brand advocates. Zuberance defines a brand advocate as a “highly satisfied customer…who recommends their favorite brands and products without being paid to do so.” (Italics added).

Brand advocates are salespeople who promote your product for free.

Think about it: during the holidays, do people mention to you how much they love the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte? If someone did, that person is a brand advocate. If you ran by Starbucks based on their recommendation, you can start to see the power of the brand.

The ability to innovate is a key trait for a start-up CEO.

Succeed Anyway

When people ask me what I do, I get a lot of strange and concerned looks- and so will a start-up CEO. Don’t worry about it- go succeed, anyway. Good luck!

Ken Boyd is the Co-Founder of and owns St. Louis Test Preparation ( He provides blogs, articles and speaking services on accounting and finance topics. Ken is the author of Cost Accounting for Dummies, Accounting All-In-One for Dummies, The CPA Exam for Dummies and 1,001 Accounting Questions for Dummies. Ken is a contributing writer for The Logical, and the CPA Blog. His YouTube channel (kenboydstl) has over 420 videos.


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