The Importance of an Executive Coach for Start-up CEOs at Each Growth Stage

Leigh Bailey | March 22, 2023 | Blog | 5 minute read

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to coach several CEOs of firms in the early-stage, venture-funded, and late-stage phases of new business start-ups. Each phase presents unique challenges and requires unique competencies. And, spoiler alert, many new business start-up CEOs struggle with the third (late-stage) phase. More on that later.

To successfully navigate these challenges, start-up CEOs can benefit from a relationship with a skilled executive coach. What follows is a brief description of each phase, the challenges faced by the organization and CEO, and the competencies a CEO needs for success at each phase.

An early-stage startup begins with a scalable idea that attracts funding

The early stage begins with a potentially scalable idea for a product or service targeting a market with the potential to generate value. The organization at this stage may include just one or two individuals (including the Founder CEO). Often there is no formal structure or solid commitment to the concept or business, but the team is moving in that direction and building the foundations for a launch.

Leadership competencies required of the Founder/CEO are primarily those of a high performing individual contributor. Little formal “leadership” is required. Some of the most important competencies for success in the startup stage include:

· Strong influencing and negotiation skills

· A passion to make a difference

· Competitive and driven

· Performing to a high standard on challenging assignments

· Producing high-quality work

· Strong communication skills

· Hardworking with a strong work ethic

· Assertive and energetic

· Driven to improve and to deliver better results

· The right industry experience to be very effective

A venture-funded startup is expected to hit milestones

This phase begins when a Series A investor believes your company has a great product or service, and you have built a plan and attracted the necessary talent to scale. Your company is now making a complex transition from having the potential to scale to one that is expected to hit milestones promised to investors.

Success in this phase requires strong relationship management skills (to manage the demands of investors and board members). Management skills become increasingly important to success in this phase. In addition to strong individual contributor competencies, critical success competencies for the venture-funded stage include:

· Presenting ideas and concepts clearly while speaking

· Excellent communication skills

· Using customer feedback to drive improved performance

· Holding team members accountable for meeting expectations

· Using goals and performance indicators to drive improved performance

· Consistently delivering promised results

· Effectiveness in setting and managing priorities

· Creating a positive working environment that encourages people to work to their full potential

· Effective time management and organizational skills

For late-stage startups, it’s all about performance

A late-stage startup typically has dependable financing sources and is executing on the business plan. In this stage, it is all about performance. In the context of an enterprise, this usually means that all the basic sales, deployment and support teams are in place. Investors are typically traditional venture capitalists, private equity firms, growth firms, corporate venture capitalists, and family offices.

The primary focus for late-stage start-ups is on fundraising, recruiting, and retaining talent, building a strong leadership team, and identifying and executing an exit strategy. At this stage, CEOs need to change the way they think.

They must focus on entirely different questions including: How are we going to grow? How can I attract and retain necessary talent? How can I build a high performing executive team? How can I continue to attract funding? How do I shift to a strategic vs. operational mindset? How can I hold my team accountable? What are the options for an exit?

Late-stage is where start-up CEOs begin to struggle. The Individual Contributor competencies that served them well in earlier phases (e.g., being competitive and driven, the smartest one in the room, taking charge, and making all the decisions) now can become liabilities. At this stage, critical strategic leadership competencies are key for success. These include:

· Holding others accountable for outcomes

· Holding team members accountable to the organization’s values and expectations

· Recognizing and challenging poor performance

· Building an engaging and motivating culture

· Creating a positive working environment that encourages people to work to their full potential

· Being effective in coaching and developing others

· Setting high expectations for performance and performance improvement

· Promoting and communicating a long-term vision for the organization

· Treating people with respect

· Behaving to high ethical standards

· Managing emotions (theirs and others) maturely and intelligently in stressful situations

The Bailey Group has experience coaching CEOs at each stage of the start-up journey. If you are a start-up CEO looking for an experienced executive coach or a board member who believes that the CEO of your organization could use support, give TBG a call for a complimentary consultation. We will help you lead what’s next. @The Bailey Group