Lessons Learned as a Startup CEO: A Day in the Life
Updated: Apr 13
When I started my first company, I was in college and had no idea what to expect. What did a day as the CEO of a startup entail? It turns out that there are many lessons you can learn from this experience, even if your company is starting! In this post, I will go over some of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout my time running a startup:
Wake up at 5 am.
As a startup CEO, I like waking up before any team, customers, or investors are up. This gives me a couple of hours to work on my own before the day starts.
I also like working early morning because there is no one around, and I can focus exclusively without any distractions or interruptions from others — just myself! This time helps set up an energized, restful sleep later at night when everyone else goes home.
Drink coffee and eat breakfast.
When I first started, I would always skip coffee and breakfast before starting my day. But I find that having a routine sets my day into a great rhythm.
I’ll have a cup of coffee and breakfast, and then I will get to work, which happens to be my kitchen table. Work from home life! This is when my day starts getting busy with emails from the night before or meetings scheduled ahead for me in advance! My first meeting usually begins at about eight o’clock am- this time slot allows it to be early enough where people are still awake but not too late so they’re asleep yet (they might miss an important call). After these morning hours come by quickly — you can see how fast your days fly if there’s no routine set up beforehand, which leads us into our next point: prioritization!
Check email for the day, make phone calls, send Slack messages — Prioritize your day.
This is your chance to evaluate everything that you’ve been working on for the past few days. You have a task list from last week, yesterday, and today. You also need to answer questions about hiring plans or feedback — you’re already behind in some areas because of all these tasks piling up like emails and slack messages coming through late at night. Doing anything but what’s necessary can be challenging when there are so many things going wrong! Do one thing this morning before noon: either delegate other items on your agenda (if possible) or let go of them all together until later in the day if they don’t involve something urgent?
Work on a project that needs to be completed by tomorrow morning with a team member in another time zone (emailing back and forth).
Collaborating on essential projects with your team will be a critical part of your day. You’ll need to make sure you’re communicating with them in a productive, efficient, and effective way.
The best thing we’ve found for this type of work is video chats on Google Hangouts or Zoom. It’s important not only because it can be more personal than an email but also the screen share feature makes collaborating much more fun. Sometimes, these conversations will happen over time zones, which means your team may work late into night hours. Empathize with them.
Meet with a potential customer about their upcoming product launch.
Doing customer calls will give you a chance to understand their day-to-day. It will provide you with a lot of customer intelligence that will be important to edge over the competition.
The customer is about to launch a new product. The first thing you should do when meeting with them in person or on the phone is asking questions! What are their goals? How will they measure this project’s success, and how often would it be measured (monthly/quarter)? Who else needs input from your company before moving forward — and what’s next after these meetings?
Best sales and customer success managers ask questions and don’t sell.
Take a lunch break to exercise or do something else productive outside of work for an hour before going back to work.
One of my favorite things is to walk and listen to an audiobook. When I first started, I was glued to the computer for 18 hours a day! But now that’s all changed — it gives me time for lunch too! Eating healthy during both parts of your day can’t be beaten; as many vegetables and protein in my lunches, so when the afternoon hits, there are no unhealthy temptations like pizza around at work.
Finish working around 6 pm, take care of any last-minute tasks before leaving the office (or in a virtual world closing your laptop screen).
One bad habit I had was to delegate work before signing off. Sometimes we think of delegation as a sign that our team is more capable than us. But, when you delegate work before signing off for the day, your team members won’t know how to prioritize, and they will likely stay online trying to finish it because it came from you. This is not good at all! Promote healthy balance by completing your work and planning what needs to be done tomorrow so that you can have peace of mind in knowing everything’s been taken care of while simultaneously boosting creativity according to Adam Grant, who says procrastinating tasks leads people into original thinking opportunities
A few other things could be handling escalations, having 1:1s, aligning your team in goal setting, or town hall meetings. A COVID-free world can also include having coffee with mentors and advisors to get feedback.