Advice for Young, First-Time Startup CEOs

I will give you ten pieces of advice after working with hundreds of young entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs:

Prepare yourself mentally.

Are you ready to bear a heavy load? You will be at the helm of an organization where everything falls on you. You might have a board of directors and mentors to bounce ideas off of, but at the end of the day you are responsible for the outcomes of your decisions.

Our thoughts can be the downfall of our drive to success. You need to brush off any of the inadequacies you may feel you have and trudge ahead, through the unknowns that business brings.

If you truly want to grow emotionally as a CEO, you will be required to handle situations of loneliness, sadness and depression. Grow by not pushing these feelings aside in the hope that they will disappear. Embrace them. Some of the best ideas come from the darkness.

You will have people yelling at you, people crying at you and people disagreeing with you. You will need the mental fortitude to handle these loads.

Learn and listen.

I believe lifelong learning should be a requirement for everyone. Top executives and CEOs read voraciously to find new ideas, thereby growing themselves and their businesses.

A complete stranger can be learned from. Even a panhandler can be learned from. Every conversation you have is an opportunity for learning. Do not assume you know everything because of your title. Listen to everyone you talk to, even the staff on the front lines. Especially these staff. They are the closest to your customers and have the greatest feedback to share with you.

Take special note of the people who stood in your shoes. They have the most relevant stories to tell you. Learn from everyone by listening to their stories. Show an active interest in every word, no matter the hierarchy.

Teach what you learn.

To master your learnings, teach others what you learn. If you can train up others to eventually take over your job, you can move onto more strategic and visionary endeavours. Spreading your knowledge should be your primary goal in order to free up time for yourself. Do not contain your knowledge for fear of others stealing your ideas. Encourage ideation.

I often hear others say they do not have time to teach others. They do not have time because no one else knows how to do what they do. CEOs take on a range of tasks without delegation. We all want to be the technicians in our businesses, but that only stifles growth by limiting the time you could have spent developing others to help you.

Teach what you learn, and encourage others to do the same.

Be and stay humble.

Humility is often overshadowed by ego and arrogance among the younger CEOs. Get beyond the job title and realize that no one is better or worse than anyone else. Your way might not be the best way, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Others can be right for once. Truly appreciate the input you are given.

In this era we are witnessing the vanity of fictitious success that shrouds humble souls. Instagram feeds are populated with dollar bills on beds and luxurious cars in garages. The true entrepreneurs are those who are in the trenches, busy growing their business. There is no time for fake stories. You never really see or hear about the successful CEOs until much later in their lives. If you have to be in hiding for the next ten years in order to grow your business, that is better than pretending to be someone else.

Make mistakes.

You have to be like a stand-up comedian, hashing out new jokes in front of an audience of strangers. Mistakes will be made in the process, and these comedians know it beforehand. Be willing to put your neck on the line to figure out your routine and process. Your vulnerability will expand your comfort zone and take you to new heights for personal growth.

Remember this: perfection is unattainable, but mastery is attainable. You need to make countless errors before you become a master of your domain.

Hire smarter people than you.

CEOs can often have an inferiority complex, where they need to be surrounded by people who know less than them to feel adequate.

You know you have an amazing team when you feel inadequate around them.

Do not be afraid to admit there are things beyond your realm of knowledge. That is why we have specialists who compensate for our shortcomings.

Surround yourself with rockstars to be rewarded with a growing company.

Live in moderation.

You know the saying: we work hard, we play hard.

Unfortunately, incidences of burnout have never been higher, and you are better off being functional instead of incapacitated.

Due to the stresses as CEO, addictions creep up. Dependencies on drugs and alcohol tempt your psyche.

Put a cap on your indulgences. Understand your purpose as CEO and always return to your grounded state.

Attempt frugality.

Aim to have and do less in every way. That might seem counter-intuitive to a busy CEO, but you need to have free time to strategize and plot course. Having an empty calendar is okay, even encouraged from time to time.

Be frugal physically and digitally. Get rid of the clutter standing in your way. Clean up your desktop folders so you can find and focus on the work that matters.

In terms of spending, befriend your accounting team by bootstrapping new projects. See if you can spend less for once. Cut down on expenses that do not directly impact the bottom line. You will be surprised at what you can accomplish with less.


You need time away from the business to come back fresh with ideas. Taking a vacation is not a crime. Your team will respect you more if you trust them to do the work while you are gone. You might think everything is go-go-go at the beginning as CEO, but that depends on how connected you think is necessary.

I recall a CEO who never responds to emails. He has so much faith in his team that he does not feel it necessary to add his thoughts. That frees up his time to focus on the big picture, while it helps the team execute on decisions quicker. You do not have to be the gatekeeper. Disconnect and see what happens.

Master the two most important things in business.

Marketing and innovation are the only two things that matter in business. You can find the answers to everything else quite easily, but not these two.

For marketing, tell the stories that matter, the stories people should hear.

For innovation, make the product so amazing that it becomes the story.

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