6 Common Characteristics of the Startup CEO

by / ⠀Startup Advice / April 14, 2021
6 Traits Common to Startup CEOs

Many of us may be dreaming of and actively working toward the day when we will print up business cards with the title “CEO” appearing directly underneath our name. No cakewalk in any setting, the job of CEO is undoubtedly the toughest job when it comes to working for a startup company. Startup CEOs are a special breed of entrepreneurs.

Not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, of course. The business world is awash with successful companies that were founded by one person and wisely handed off to someone else with CEO savvy. If you think you might have what it takes to be a startup CEO, ask yourself if you share all six of these common traits before diving in.


Staying singularly focused on an ultimate goal is harder than it sounds. Doing so provides the key to success both in business and personal life. The CEOs at top promising startups all share an ability to maintain focus despite urgent and multiple distractions.

Successful CEOs relentlessly push toward the agreed-upon goal no matter what else might be going on around them. Staying focused on the big picture becomes difficult when smaller issues push their way to the front of the line and have a high level of urgency attached to them. Those with CEO toughness do not allow setbacks or unforeseen circumstances to dissuade them from marching steadily toward the prize.


A startup may be small, but the vision of any CEO must be broad. The CEO’s vision serves as an outline for the company that helps others understand their role and work objectives. Corporate vision is a complicated mix of productive planning, goal-setting, articulating short- and long-term objectives, and an ability to make dispassionate decisions.

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The startup CEO manages all of these tricky variables in one hand while maintaining the overall vision of the company. Wise CEOs rely on the proven techniques of other top-ranking executives as one way to increase their vision. They know that vision isn’t some sort of mysterious character quality reserved for a select few. Instead, vision is a skill that can be learned by going through case studies and reading biographies.

Motivational Personality

In a startup setting, there are typically several variables that can serve to discourage employees. Startup companies don’t typically launch in the black, employee benefits are few, the ability to increase payroll probably doesn’t exist, there is a significant possibility of encountering misfires along the way, and competitors typically hold the upper hand. Into this potentially gloomy setting, a CEO must inject an indefatigable supply of energy and enthusiasm.

Startup CEOs are adept at strategic rejoicing. They take time and effort to celebrate legitimate milestones with others without coming off as fake. By not denying the existence of roadblocks and setbacks, their celebrations carry an authenticity that is contagious.

Discerning Employer

The hiring process for a startup CEO is dissimilar to that of hiring managers in other settings. There is an art to startup hiring that doesn’t necessarily adhere to conventional wisdom. A startup CEO normally has fewer resources to work with, so every single hiring decision represents a strategic investment of limited capital. One bad hire might easily sink the whole ship.

Great startup CEOs scan for potential more than accomplishments. For example, they will pay less attention to a candidate’s academic degrees when hiring for a sales position. By necessity, they quickly become experts at placing the right person in the right role. The flip side to this attribute is a quick willingness to reassign staff to play to their strengths or fire them promptly if it just isn’t working out.

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Managing any startup, even under the best of circumstances, is quite challenging. Stress threatens to overwhelm every day. Startup companies are nearly always poised to suffer financial loss, fall into unforeseen potholes, manage multiple risks, and forge ahead in the midst of uncertainty. CEOs quickly become accustomed to all of these circumstances and more.

Startup CEOs are brave souls who are able to maintain a cool head during critical situations. Oftentimes they need to make the right decision while facing down hostile circumstances to salvage a company. It’s not a stretch to think of the capable startup CEO as the resolute, unshakeable captain of a ship surrounded by menacing storms.

Readiness and Willingness to Learn

A recent survey by Fast Company showed that the CEOs of successful companies read, on average, sixty books per year. The hunger to acquire additional knowledge is a common trait of successful CEOs because they believe in the power of knowledge. They also possess the self-awareness and humility necessary to embrace the truth that they don’t know everything.

Successful startup CEOs are willing to learn lessons painfully through setbacks and failure. They are also generally more enthusiastic to grow in wisdom by learning from the failures of others. In short, a successful CEO never allows themselves to believe that they have “arrived.” They are adamant to keep on learning even as they enjoy the fruit of their successes.

About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.


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