This chapter is a free excerpt from Confessions from an Entrepreneur (Volume 1).

Vak Sambath: Serial Entrepreneur

The life of a CEO entrepreneur is extremely stressful. We’re not only faced with the challenges of finding the perfect co-founder and raising money from investors, but are also responsible for executing a successful company with that one disruptive idea. Perhaps it’s the rewarding fame or the riches at the end of the rainbow that motivates an entrepreneur to move forward despite the stressful life that comes with it, but without the right type of leadership skills, it all becomes just a pipe dream.

Being a great leader means you know how to manage egos, skills, talents, and conflicts while constantly being a cheerleader. Your responsibility is not to just guide everyone to a specific milestone, but to also earn the trust, respect, and loyalty of those individuals. By doing so, your team will make certain sacrifices for the sake of your vision and the success of the company. It’s not something that I encourage nor a goal to be achieved, but the moment you notice people volunteering to work longer hours, chip in their own money, or even take the blame for you becomes the testament to the true leader that you’ve become.

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Vak Sambath: Serial Entrepreneur

The life of a CEO entrepreneur is extremely stressful. We’re not only faced with the challenges of finding the perfect co-founder and raising money from investors, but are also responsible for executing a successful company with that one disruptive idea. Perhaps it’s the rewarding fame or the riches at the end of the rainbow that motivates an entrepreneur to move forward despite the stressful life that comes with it, but without the right type of leadership skills, it all becomes just a pipe dream.

Being a great leader means you know how to manage egos, skills, talents, and conflicts while constantly being a cheerleader. Your responsibility is not to just guide everyone to a specific milestone, but to also earn the trust, respect, and loyalty of those individuals. By doing so, your team will make certain sacrifices for the sake of your vision and the success of the company. It’s not something that I encourage nor a goal to be achieved, but the moment you notice people volunteering to work longer hours, chip in their own money, or even take the blame for you becomes the testament to the true leader that you’ve become.

The one piece of advice I can give to a budding CEO of a start-up company is to be a great people manager. That means that when you’re leading, you are accountable for every responsibility that you take on and delegate to. When you can do all of these things, the probability increases that you will succeed and achieve longevity in this fast and mostly short-lived entrepreneurial life.

Don’t be tempted to do it all

From angels to seasoned entrepreneurs, it’s been said time and again that a CEO is supposed to be everything. You are the janitor, psychiatrist, mentor, mediator, negotiator, project manager, developer, designer, accountant, secretary, babysitter, etc. (I added babysitter because you will constantly have to monitor your employees.) The list goes on and on. However, this does not mean that you need to DO everything. Being the leader gives you the ultimate responsibility of delegating the tasks to others that you cannot efficiently do yourself.

So just because you can perform a few tasks decently well (i.e. coding, business development, and design), it doesn’t mean you should do them all. In the words of Uncle Ben in Spiderman giving advice to Peter Parker, “With great powers comes great responsibility.” Being a CEO, that responsibility is knowing when to pass responsibility onto others because if you take on too many tasks, you will do more harm than good.

The Start-Up Team

In a typical web technology start-up, your key team members should include: one badass visionary, one developer, and one designer. That’s your lean, core team. There are people that will argue otherwise, that you should have a finance person or a marketing person. True, there are cases when that is needed. However, if you’re in the minimum viable product (MVP) stage, having too many people on board detracts from focusing on execution of the product.

Once you’ve formed this team, make sure you’ve clearly defined what the roles and responsibilities are and how tasks will be measured. It is important to discuss early on to track and document tasks done, goals achieved, and any other responsibilities taken on. This lessens the likelihood of petty scenarios such as finger pointing and bickering over who has done their job and who hasn’t.

Knowledge and Experience Are Like Batman and Robin

As CEO of a start-up, mastering the ability to manage your team and be a great leader requires knowledge and experience. Like Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo, knowledge and experience are both needed in order to succeed and kick ass! But the challenge to young entrepreneurs is not having enough experience. It has been said that experience is the greatest teacher but in hindsight, it can also be the slowest. As such, finding mentors who can share their experiences with you becomes essential. From time management, personality conflicts, project deliverables, to (in most cases) their personal lives, mentors can offer a treasure trove of experience to learn from.

Keep in mind that there are business mentors and life coaches. Not anyone can be your mentor. Since your goal is be a great CEO, you should find a mentor who has experience in your field of product or service space. I recommend someone who is part of the co-founding team, was the operations person or has recently sold a company all within the last 10 years. This is because technology moves so fast that you risk having a mentor with outdated industry experience. Mentors that have been retired from the game for quite a while would also have few existing relationships that would be key to get your idea off the ground.

In the event that you can’t find one, your alternative is to find great books on leadership. I recommend reading books from Peter Drucker and Stephen Covey regarding effective leadership. There are tons of other books out there. I would check out Amazon Books. Look at the user reviews and read the comments from other customers that bought the book and normally you’ll get golden nuggets of advice.

Being a leader is really tough when you have never led before. Before you can even talk about execution, product roadmaps, or any sort of business partnerships and growth, you need to take care of yourself first. That means you need to surround yourself with people that will bring value to your company. In addition to being talented and smart, the people you need are coachable, work well with others, and understand the company culture you’re trying to build. So as you’re sending your marching orders, your team should be following you every step of the way. If they don’t, then that big vision of the next billion-dollar company becomes just a pipe dream. When that happens you’re left to work for someone else.

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Vak Sambath is a serial entrepreneur and startup advisor. His accomplishments include co-founding TechZulu (a leading news and video production property specializing in social media and startup news reporting for the technology sector throughout the Southern California area market), his involvement as a key advisor for Southern California startup incubator FastStart Studios, and over 5 additional consumer internet ventures! Vak lives by the mantra "PITCH the PAIN to the PEOPLE to make them SMILE" and loves being the underdog because when they succeed, they are rewarded with the satisfaction that they have made a believer out of non-believers!
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