CEOs of early-stage companies rarely have enough bandwidth to handle what is expected of them. And they tend, correctly, to hire CxOs or VPs to handle technology, finance, marketing and sales, and to not hire a COO.
This wise CEO is focused on two primary goals: defining and driving the vision of the company outside and inside the firm, and raising capital. Many of the other tasks take a second place, often to the detriment of the company’s momentum, meeting of benchmarks (to get that next round of capital) and growth in revenue (to avoid that next round of capital).
Many early stage CEOs are either new to technology (having built successful businesses in other industries), or are first time entrepreneurs, or are those charismatic visionaries with little tolerance for implementation. Each can be an excellent CEO, but the bandwidth issues of each are different – each does what he or she does best, and tends to leave the rest.
Some of my most fulfilling and effective work as a “shadow CEO” has allowed my clients to delegate much of that bandwidth work to me, so I can:
- Offer continuous strategic advice to the CEO. (Of course, I do this with my clients who do not need a shadow CEO.)
- Become the “always on” communication link to the CEO for the team and the investors, clarifying policy decisions.
- Drive the strategy and its policies down through the operations, avoiding the trouble that comes from the lack of communication so common in early stage companies.
- Clarify with the CEO all issues ~ from each CxO in each department, from vendors, partners, attorneys, investors and strategic allies, then present the options and consequences of each option, considering the effect of decisions on the larger strategy, and concluding with the best policy decision. Then back to #3 again.
- Handle the Board in all aspects, so the Board receives the respect, communication and coordination it requires. And train the team to interact with the Board.
- Direct and review all legal matters, so the legal decisions and documents support the vision, policy and business goals of the company, and not just the appropriate protectiveness of the legal counsel.
- Review the financial issues with the CFO, so that assumptions on costs, time to market, time to revenue and profit, and budget allocations are aligned with both market and competitive realities. Bring the capital strategies into sync with these same issues and realities.
- Review the technology development priorities with the CTO to align these with the benchmarks for each capital raise and commitment to an alliance partner.
- Support all new top management hires through access to my rolodex to find a candidate, vetting through my (shadow) network who will know the candidate, and interviewing from a different perspective.
- Last (which seems least but isn’t least) write, edit, position, and vet every public document of the company. Often, particularly with lean teams, I am the only professional writer, and the one who has the time and skill in language and design to create and manage all documents (and their multiple revisions) to present the most powerful and cohesive positioning of the company, so the CEO can close the deal for capital, alliances and revenue.
One real advantage to the CEO of this shadow service is that the company’s equity is not shared 50/50 or 60/40, as it would be with a founding business partner. The services are retained with cash and a modest participation in equity. And when the company is grown and the staffing completed, my work as a consultant can fall back to strategy to the CEO only.
This work is deeply rewarding to me. I am happy to have the CEO take the credit and visibility – after all, it was his or her idea in the first place. It is so thrilling to build a company that reaches its full potential – in market share, in offering a new product or service to the larger world, and in wealth creation for the entrepreneur and investors.