One of the hardest questions to answer as a startup CEO is “What do you actually do?” The reason this is such a tricky question is that the answer varies day to day. There are a variety of well-written articles by successful entrepreneurs and VCs about what a startup CEO actually does. On paper, a startup CEO’s job is to recruit top tier talent, communicate a clear vision to the company’s stakeholders, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. In reality, this ends up taking form as an entirely different beast; the day-to-day grind requires you to wear many different hats.

Methodology & Context:

To analyze how I break down my time as a CEO, I decided to quantify my daily activities during a typical week. Taking a few traditional Monday-Friday work weeks (for the sake of the study I did not include weekends despite the fact that for a startup CEO, work weeks tend to include Saturday & Sunday), and I meticulously tracked how my time was distributed on my calendar. While no week is the same at a fast paced startup, I did my best to include as close to ‘regular’ weeks as possible—meaning no product launches or significant air travel.

Before taking a look at the results from my self-analysis, it is important to note that what you do as a startup CEO varies a lot depending on the type of company you are running, and the state of the business. For me, Pixlee is a B2B company software company. Our typical buyers are primarily marketing departments of mid-size to large brands, so I spend a lot of my time talking to customers, than would a CEO of a B2C company. Pixlee is a growing team of about 15, therefore keeping people on the same page sometimes requires more meetings since you can’t just “CC” everyone on every email like we were able to when the entire team could fit into my car. Lastly, having closed a seed round and experienced consistent month over month revenue growth, we’ve moved past the “just stay alive” mentality. Now, more of my time is being focused towards growing the company.

Insights & Examples:

After analyzing all of my activities on my calendar for two weeks, I found that the majority of my tasks fell within one of six buckets: Recruiting & team building, generating heat, strategy & preparation, product, action item work, and other.

A breakdown of Pixlee CEO's average week
A breakdown of Pixlee CEO’s average week

1. Recruiting & Team Building (21%):

As our team begins to scale up, it is the primary responsibility of the CEO to build the best team possible, and to create an environment and culture where we can be successful. This was the only category that I spent time on every single day, and it averaged out to about fifteen hours a week. On the recruiting side this included building a pipeline of prospective candidates, interviewing candidates, and then successfully closing them. On the team building side, this included things like giving 1:1 feedback and hosting bonding events like team dinners and happy hours.

Specific example: One of the recurring activities during these two weeks was onboarding new employees. During these onboarding sessions, I tend to focus on culture and expectations because it sets a foundation for them to be successful. I strongly believe that early stage startup CEOs should be extremely involved in not just the recruiting process of new employees but also in their integration into the group and role.

2. Generating Heat (23%): This bucket is mostly associated with external facing strategic opportunities that could create significant momentum for your company. Within this bucket I included events such as important customer meetings, investor management (both updating existing investors and meeting new ones), and speaking opportunities at industry networking events. In the beginning, I did not spend much time on external facing opportunities, and most of this time was spent meeting with new investors. Now as our customer traction has picked up more of my time is spent meeting with potential strategic customers.

Specific Example: During one week I was fortunate to have had multiple meetings with CEOs and CMOs of publicly traded companies. These presentations require more preparation because you want to communicate your value prop as quickly and crisply as possible.

3. Strategy & Preparation (10%): “Strategy” can mean different things, but for me it’s time to think about our company’s vision and our major priorities to get there. This typically involves meetings with other team members around your product positioning, what features we will and won’t build, and discussion over important company decisions. As the CEO you need to be ‘a step ahead,’ and as something I wish I had more time for, I would love to be able to schedule more time to think, plan, and prioritize.

Specific example: One of the important strategy meetings we had was reviewing our end of the year goals for the company and realigning some of our marketing and product decisions to cohesively match the bigger picture goals.

4. Product (13%): While I no longer own the daily product management, I’m often involved with overall product strategy. My role in product conversations has shifted from how does the feature work to what’s the use case for the customer. Some of my time is spent with whiteboard sketches and discussions around how new features integrate with other parts of our product. However, due to time constraints my main method of investing in product at Pixlee is spending time speaking with our customers.

Specific example: One morning I had a two-hour breakfast with the executive team at one of our largest customers. The purpose of the conversation was to discuss how we can better integrate Pixlee’s technology with other aspects of their business. Success during these meetings is about asking the right questions and using these data points to impact product decisions.

5. Action Item Work (18%): Think of this as work that you do from your inbox and gets assigned in one of two ways: action items from meetings and email requests. These tasks typically include things like reaching out to specific customers, thanking recruits, investors, or advisors, asking for introductions, or reviewing documents.

Specific Example: One of the most important tasks on a daily basis is summarizing and sharing information with the team. Now that the team is getting bigger ad hoc meetings aren’t the most effective way to communicate. Following up with written action items and takeaways can be more time consuming, but it’s important to have everyone on the same page.

6. Other (15%): These are the miscellaneous things such as travel in between meetings, one off “coffee” events with friends or colleagues, and downtime activities such as lunch, dinner, and ping pong. It also accounts for time when you need to step in when things go wrong. Unfortunately, you can’t plan ahead for things going wrong, but trust me you will be the first to find out when they do.

Specific Example: Let’s just say I sleep with my cellphone ringer on.

Next Steps:

After quantifying my schedule for two weeks I found that a majority of my time was spent either recruiting or speaking with customers. What’s most interesting is how these responsibilities have changed since our inception and how they will change again as we grow.

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