I had a board meeting yesterday with a company that is now about 4 months out from completing an accelerator program, and over the course of the meeting it became clear to me that there is a pretty distinct transition for a team exiting an accelerator program and becoming a funded seed stage startup.
Here are a few of my observations:
- While obvious, it is worth pointing out that the goal line has moved. It is no longer demo day. It is building a successful business. You should think hard about what your next set of high level milestones are — most likely (though not necessarily) the milestones necessary for a successful Series A.
- During the accelerator program you likely are advised to focus on just one thing for a period of time, and then shift to another objective for the next period of time. You no longer have that luxury. You probably need to round out your team. You need to start worrying about scalability. You should be evolving your analytics to be measuring all the right metrics. You need to be experimenting not just with the product but with all available growth channels. You might be dealing with partnerships, and you (hopefully) are or soon will be dealing with customers. All are priorities from here on in.
- You need to evolve as CEO. While you should still have a “day job” that is deep in the weeds getting stuff done, you increasingly have a new job which requires you to pull your head out of the weeds and think on an altogether different plane. You are chief strategic officer — you need to be watching what is working and what is not, and defining and redefining the company’s vision and strategy. This requires an ability to shift back and forth between low-level tactical minutiae and bigger picture, longer term strategy. You need to start seeing short and medium term OKRs as dots along a line that goes further out to a plan and a vision for a thriving valuable business. If you haven’t done this before, it will be hard. Spend time with CEOs who have successfully made this transition.
- You are head of investor relations — which primarily means identifying all the areas where you need help and getting your board (if you have one) and investors to provide help where they can. It also means thinking about your next financing. You are chief people officer, in charge of recruiting and also dealing with the inevitable HR challenges.
- And, lest you forget, you also are the chief EXECUTIVE officer. This means you are the boss. You need to make hard decisions and rally the company behind those decisions. Whereas you and your co-founder(s) might have made all the decisions jointly, as your organization and business evolves it needs a single leader at the helm. You need to figure out how to redefine your working relationships with your co-founder(s).
If this is daunting, the good news is you don’t need to complete this transition overnight. But you need to do it pretty quickly. Particularly if you are a first time CEO, the best thing you can do is find a CEO mentor who can be a coach, advisor, confidante, listening ear. Being CEO can get pretty lonely, and it will help to have some company along the way.