CEO Summit – Lessons from the field

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At Agave Lab we have always strongly favored raw intelligence, energy, and adaptability over experience when deciding which founders to back.  

Being able to admit what you don’t know is one of the keys to success when you’re running a startup.   As first-time entrepreneur, you’re often building the plane while flying it.

That’s why we encourage our founders and CEOs to learn from each other and help one another out. One way we facilitate this peer learning is through our CEO Summits, where we bring together our portfolio startup founders to talk about their experiences.

As John Hamm of Octopus Ventures recently said “One thing separates the great [entrepreneur] from the good: their self-awareness and willingness to be open and honest about the challenges they face in building teams and companies. Being vulnerable about their fears, their worries and what drives them is a vital requirement of a CEO who wants to get better, faster.”

On May 13, we held our CEO Summit.  In a group forum, they discussed their successes, challenges, and visions for the future of their companies. Here are 8 lessons that we learned from the conversation.

The List

  • Define co-founder roles and responsibilities.One challenge during our first year was figuring out who should do what between my co-founder and I. Obviously, you can’t have two CEOs. Over time, we started to identify where we each had natural strengths. Now, we have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.”  
  • Co-founder commitment. “Early on, my co-founder and I made a decision that we are doing this to the end, whether that meant success or failure. We are fully committed to our company and to each other. We had many tough conversations about how being entrepreneurs would transform our character, our professional and personal lives. Ultimately, we know that change has been for the better.” 
  • Build transparent relationships with your team. “We admit that we don’t always know what we’re doing. That’s why it’s important to have open relationships with our teams. There should be opportunities for feedback on our performance. We need metrics for ourselves to make sure we are being good leaders.” 
  • Don’t assume your startup team understands your mission.In our company’s first year, I assumed my team totally understood the mission, vision, and goals. Well, I quickly realized that they didn’t. They didn’t see how their work directly impacted our mission. So I included the team in our goal-setting for the new year to get us all on the same page. It helped improve everyone’s commitment to the company.”  
  • Use metrics to guide decision-making. In the startup world, there are times to “trust your gut.” But most of the time, the numbers do the talking. This year, our portfolio companies tightened up their metrics tracking to make better-informed decisions. As one founder said, “We needed a way to detect when we needed to change; to see what was and wasn’t working.  And we realized that we needed to respond more quickly to what the numbers were saying.”
  • Balance ambition with realistic goals. “Before going to market, we developed conservative sales projections to keep  expectations realistic. But after our first few months on the market, we were consistently exceeding our sales goals. We realized that we needed to be more ambitious and have since re-strategized and sales and marketing efforts.”
  • Master your story.When we started fundraising, it was really hard. Some investors didn’t pay attention at all to the pitch. So I practiced my pitch tons of times,  tweaking the story every time. I started to observe what resonated with investors, what made their eyes light up.” 
  • Read a lot.As an entrepreneur, I’m always reading new books on business and philosophy. You have to constantly learn and change your way of thinking in order to stay ahead of the curve.”