Ben Horowitz On The Psychology Of Being CEO

Every once in a while I come across a blog post that so totally nails something and I am reminded why professionals blogging about their craft is such an important development in the world of media. Yesterday Ben Horowitz posted about the psychology of being CEO. He starts with this observation:

very few people talk about it, and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: The first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown

Ben goes on to observe that:

building a multi-faceted human organization to compete and win in a dynamic, highly competitive market turns out to be really hard. If CEOs were graded on a curve, the mean on the test would be 22 out of a 100. This kind of mean can be psychologically challenging for a straight A student. It is particularly challenging, because nobody tells you that the mean is 22

I have never been a CEO. I don't think I would be a very good CEO. I have observed hundreds of CEOs from up close in my career from a perspective that is fairly unique and revealing. I have great empathy for the people who find themselves in this job. It is hard, lonely, and as Ben points out – it can really mess with the mind.

Ben goes on to identify a number of tools he used to help him manage the psychological challenges of the job.

If you are a CEO, work closely with CEOs, are married or in a serious relationship with a CEO, sit on Boards where a CEO is accountable to you, or if you want to be a CEO, the post is a must read.

I'd like to thank Ben for writing it and breaking "the first rule of CEO psychological meltdown."

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Scott Barnett

    I agree – I tweeted his blog yesterday it was so good, and even replied on TechCrunch even though I much prefer DISQUS and wish they put it back vs. Facebook for comments! There should be more blogs like this, the fight club analogy was spot-on.

    1. fredwilson

      i wish TC would put disqus back too

      1. jonbho

        The amount and depth of article comments in TC has gone down so much that it has made clear what the good option is.

      2. awaldstein

        The world has been trying to build a single sign on, communications thread across the web’s communities since the first avatar based worlds. Me @ Electric Communities was trying.Disqus has the core of fulfilling that promise beyond what they even realize themselves at this time.TC so aggravates me and keeps me from commenting. That can’t be the desired reaction

  2. LIAD

    Was a wisdom-packed post.Couldn’t help myself from lolling and nodding (sadly) in agreement with this -“At a certain size, your company will do things that are so bad that you never imagined that you’d be associated with that kind of incompetence.”

    1. fredwilson

      and that they are your fault

      1. Rayhan Rafiq Omar

        Out of interest, what would you say to a CEO who found out that their company did something really bad?

        1. fredwilson

          i would say that it is their job to address it immediately and that i amwilling to help and support him/her in doing so

          1. JLM

            I operate in a highly regulated business environment and recently became aware of a meaningful violation which had occurred. The ultimate beneficiary of the violation was the company itself.I formally reported the violation to the regulatory body, disciplined the two persons involved (a reprimand, a week suspension without pay and a years probation) and now await the penalty from the regulators.It has a cathartic impact. You know you have done the right thing. It sends a powerful message to the company and it absolutely mind fucks the regulators.It establishes you own credentials for honesty and in my industry that is quite unique.It lets you sleep like a baby.

          2. fredwilson

            one of the best lessons i ever got was when i was on the board of a public company and we found about accounting violations in a board meeting. i had an enormous amount of my net worth (now and then) wrapped up in that stock. we didn’t even think a second about what we had to do. we terminated management, called in the lawyers, and alerted the regulators. i lost everything i had in that deal. came away with nothing. it was actually a very easy decision.

  3. JamesHRH

    Fred – my first employer joined YPO in the 1980’s for one reason – ‘no one to talk to about things that worry me.’ It is not a very male reaction – to seek discussion of things that could, should or may never happen, but still worry you. My first boss is an impressive business person in a multitude of ways, but being able to admit that he needed a valve to let off the pressure was a lesson I never forgot. Perhap a member of your blog community will want to run with the VPO concept: a forum of industry dispersed venture CEO’s who can gain counsel and advice from the limited number of people who share their chair.As an aside, I am always impressed by your humility regarding ‘not being CEO material’. In most of the worst start up horror stories (that I have personally seen) the beginning of the ugly end is an investor deciding not to let the CEO run the business.

    1. fredwilson

      there are many good former CEOs in the venture business and Ben is one ofthembut i think my mentality (i’m not a CEO and can’t do your job) can be veryhelpful in the mind of a VC

      1. paramendra

        One of the things I have admired about your being a VC is your tremendous ability to exercise restraint.

        1. JamesHRH

          Restraint is a terrific word – this is a fantastic comment, IMO.So many people in startups suffer from the hero mentality. They will solve the problems through a heroic effort. This, of course, leads to a requirement for constant heroic effort, because the problems are never solved in a sound, structural or capability based fashioned.A lot of these people are not egomaniacs, they just don’t have the perspective to see that they are creating a continuous loop.I am going to request a ‘Rare Kernel of Total Truth’ button on Disqus 😉

          1. paramendra

            “I am going to request a ‘Rare Kernel of Total Truth’ button on Disqus ;-)”Ha!

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Very good point. Paramendra.Sometimes the greatest power is having it and not being compelled to use it.

      2. PhilipSugar

        I think you’re right.But I also think now that you are successful you’re letting time smooth all memories.You wrote somewhere about the times before you sold Geo-cities. That is just as stressful as any CEO job.

        1. fredwilson

          That was stressful. Even more so on my wife

    2. JLM

      YPO and other organizations like that are useful for peer to peer communication. YPO has a wonderful program called “Forum” in which groups of YPOers form a smaller organisation within the larger organisation.When I was in YPO it was an invaluable tool to allow for the airing of one’s innermost fears and thoughts. The confidences which were shared were truly remarkable and it had both a cathartic benefit in addition to being a source of enormous information.Fear — whether fear of failure or fear of the consequences — is often the limiting element for many otherwise successful people and yet the ability to continue to perform in the face of fear has almost no real cost. It just requires a default to “action”.BTW, my YPO chapter had two future billionaires in it — Michael Dell and the guy who ran Pace Picante sauce. Both very interesting guys.

      1. JamesHRH

        I administered my employer’s Chapter (I was his first ever EA) – he was the Vice Chair & Chair the 2 years I had the role. Forum (which I think I should make clear for people who do not know YPO is very confidential and not something I had any direct exposure to as an organizer of events) was clearly the major benefit of YPO. You could tell by the level of care given to it.It seems that YPO has grown to be a bit more of a status / social organization. I can only assume that the central value point – Forum – holds it together and still provides the unique value that it did in the 1980’s, when the organization was smaller and less well known.I’ll go and check to see if the chapter that I was involved with produced more than 2 billionaires…….sounds like quite an experience.

  4. Mike Kijewski

    “What if I’m right? …In that case, I should be removed from my position immediately.What if I’m wrong? …In that case, I should be removed from my position immediately.”Favorite TC post ever.

  5. Greg Leman

    Being a CEO is both the best and worst job you can possibly imagine.

  6. Mark Essel

    Read his post in Google Reader before checking in here. It both scared the s&*t out of me and made me want to hustle more at the same time.Best take away, finding an experienced ally CEO who has enough scars to give you advice in the darkest of moments.

  7. awaldstein

    You said it…he just nailed it. Made my day yesterday when I read it. Tweeted quotes from it all day.

  8. JimHirshfield

    I think the psychology issues are prevalent throughout organizations – not restricted to the CEO. It affects all – the pressure to produce and the pressure to give the impression that everything is going extremely well. Start-ups can’t and shouldn’t fake it – they owe it to themselves and their investors to be open…even on the tough issues. Reminds me of telling my employees in late 2000 that we were running out of cash, and while still seeking VC, I would understand if – recommend actually – that they feel around for other employment. Damn, that hurts.

    1. JLM

      Not as bad as when Ken Lay was selling his stock and telling employees to buy Enron for their 401Ks?

  9. kidmercury

    eh, i don’t think it’s that hard. or rather, i think everything is hard. try the psychology of being in military combat. the psychology of being a broke ass fool. of being a recovering drug addict. of being an investor with millions or billions of dollars on the line that others have entrusted you with. of being a political leader. of being a parent. it’s all very tough. being a CEO easier than most of what i’ve just listed.basically, life sucks. and then you die.9/11 was an inside job,kid mercury

    1. fredwilson

      it is certainly harder than being a VC

      1. PhilipSugar

        You know, I’m not so sure about that. After selling my second company, I had a choice to go do it again or maybe go work for a VC.A partner asked if I had ever thought about “going over to the other side”So I thought about it.Great things: base pay, upside pay, seeing variety, not have to deal with employees, being associated with great companies (hopefully)Bad things: No control over destiny, dealing with failure, dealing with most other vc’s, , saying no and crushing dreams daily, having to raise money every seven years.The thing I thought would be hardest would be not being able to control something spinning out of control and dealing with the shit bomb that happens when companies blow up.

        1. Tereza

          Agree. I’d want to be digging into the companies and they’d tell me it’s too inefficient.And I’d have to say No 1000/day. What a buzz-kill.I’d much rather tell a few people a day – how can we make this work? Let’s get creative!

        2. fredwilson

          Not being able to control things isn’t so bad once you get used to itI never get used to dealing with bad VCs

    2. Robert Holtz

      If you were a CEO through the early 2000s, you have the battle wounds as proof that being a CEO can feel like all of those things you described happening ALL AT ONCE.You feel you’re in constant combat and wish you could take a break but there is heavy fire out there, you worry about the burn rate, about “being a broke ass fool” (especially if you’ve started aging payables), you feel like a recovery drug addict because you start realizing your old ways aren’t working and you need to change your habits and transcend your own ego if you’re to make it out alive, and here you are — having been entrusted with millions or billions of dollars on the line on your watch, and you need to maintain your ability to lead and even inspire while you secretly hunger for someone to lead and inspire you so you can take a break because you’re exhausted and you fantasize about taking a break but you know you can’t do it because the battle rages on and the stakes are too high. And you ARE a parent because all those brilliant people you discovered who are staying by your side become your children and their children become part of your family and you think about what it will do to their lives if you or WHEN you let them go. Anyone who has ever had to fire a bunch of people before hires differently thereafter. So, kid, with all due respect, it is just as hard and HARDER than all those things because it is every one of those things wrapped into one.And yet most entrepreneurs who go through these tests of fire almost always get back up again and even go and start new businesses again or manage to take their organizations and rise them out of the ashes. Why?Because when things are going your way, it is the ride of your life. It is also the greatest and most rewarding thing you can do… especially when your business starts to make a difference and really change the world in some subtle and sometimes profound way. You feel so blessed. Almost like a great gift has been bestowed upon you and you’re the luckiest person who ever lived.For me, the healthy way to look at it is as a surfer out on a surf board. You go out there because you want to ride the great waves. You want to stay on the board for as much time as you can because when you and the wave are one it is profound — glorious. But a good surfer respects the water and knows that they will fall just as often and sometimes MORE often than they can smoothly sail along. With time, you build up an expertise and it does get easier. Some aspects even get kind of automatic.All the while, you know that you’ll eventually reach the coastline and start out to sea again. A great leader… in fact, any great company can NEVER ride just one wave forever. Hopefully, you just reach the beach and head back out for another lap. Sometimes you land head-first in a coral reef. That’s par for the course. But you know what? Still worth it! 🙂

      1. kidmercury

        well, i am a CEO (sort of — a solopreneur, if that counts), and i don’tthink it’s anywhere near as difficult as those things. i realize ben wasreferring largely to CEOs with big payrolls and middle management and stuffbut i still think the comparison between that and the things i mentioned isnot even in the same league. a short explanation why:1. in war you have to kill or be killed. i’m not talking metaphorically –i’m talking literally. how many CEOs have PTSD? how many combat soldiers do?that illustrates the point.2. i have seen drug addicts lose all their teeth and go through terriblewithdrawal symptoms. the struggles of a CEO seem elementary by comparison.and of course being a drug addict in prison is a whole new level.3. being a CEO, if you quit or get fired, yeah that sucks, but you’llsurvive. pick yourself up and carry on. failing as a parent? lol. not anoption. you can’t get fired and quitting is one of the most shameful thingsyou can do. and if you fail you ruin someone’s life.actually in light of this discussion i now revise my stance and am even moreunsympathetic towards all CEOs. “oh boo hoo, i’m a CEO, i get to be theboss, life is so tough, it’s so lonely…..” wah wah wah. a bunch ofcrybabies, CEOs are. hopefully life never hits them with something that isactually tough, if CEOs ever face real problems they’ll probably cry enoughto make japan’s tsunami look like a drop in a bucket.

        1. JLM

          I agree with you in much of what you say. To be an effective CEO, you have to want to be the boss just when the shit hits the fan. You have to want to be that guy and it has to make you tingle to be that guy.Lots of folks think of Michael Jordan as the ultimate competitor wanting the ball in the final second when the entire game or championship is on the line and he sunk some hellacious winning baskets.What most people do NOT know is that he missed way more than he made and yet the legend lives on — MJ would kill you at the end.MJ WANTED THE FREAKIN’ ball when it counted. He lusted for that ball and that is the real lesson. He was a killer though the stats showed he missed more than he made. You just don’t remember the ones he missed.Being an effective CEO, you have to have the ego to say — give me the freakin’ ball and get out of the way.Nobody wants to follow somebody who says — “this may not work out!”

          1. Douglas Crets

            and I think further to your point, it’s not just that he WANTED that ball,it’s really that he was able to do something with that ball when he wantedit the most. There’s an interesting correlation to sports with business.Soemtimes the most interesting and best things happen only during chaos.How can you hire a bunch of people who perform at their peak during chaos?Most people, it seems, go into jobs because they just want stability, butsometimes the best organizations work on the edge of chaos.

          2. Tereza

            How about Joan of Arc.A peasant teenager from the sticks. France in the shitter. She had visions.Tracked down the king, said “I’ve had enough. Give me your armies.”He said yes. She got the job done.(OK, then they burned her at the stake. Minor detail.)You go, girl!

          3. JLM

            Very smooth until the burning at the stake part.

          4. kidmercury

            Well said JLM!

        2. Robert Holtz

          Of course a “solopreneur” does not count. When it is all with you and no one but yourself, you can start and stop at a moments notice and it is nothing but a hobby or a project or a passing fancy.The definition of CEO at subject here is the kind Fred cares about… the kind that has begged and borrowed to build something from nothing, taken on commitments, in some cases mortgaged their houses or quit their job. The kind of person who is pitching for literally millions of dollars or already taken in investment from professional sources with contracts and expectations. The kind of person who has asked other people to abandon their gainful employment elsewhere to help them build their dream and are beyond the point where they could set this aside or put their toys away and go home. In short, way beyond the point they could afford to be the cry baby you depict them to be.

          1. kidmercury

            i can stop at any time? let me know how i’m going to earn money to buy foodand pay rent. working 70-80 hours a week, dealing with advertisers, users,business partners, lawyers, accountants, interns, and contractors is notsomething that constitutes a hobby. i’ve taken all the risks the high andmighty CEOs have taken — in fact probably more than most. the onlydifference is that i don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself talking abouthow tough my life is, as i have enough self-awareness to realize it is thelife i’ve CHOSEN, which i consider myself BLESSED to be able to do, in lightof how many there are out there whose life situation precludes them frompursuing their dreams. maybe a little less self-pity and a little more focuson gratitude and problem solving would be healthy for many CEOs.

          2. Robert Holtz

            Ben is talking about a very real wave of emotions that comes over most everyone who takes on being a CEO. It is not self-pity or being a cry baby. I’m not sure why you’re taking his words or our comments about that as any kind of self-pity. I paralleled it to surfing. What self-pity is involved in that? No crying or whining… you get out into the water and you do it… time and time again… and you do it because when it is working it is a high like no other.And I appreciate the pressures you have on earning enough money to pay your rent and buy food but that covers the psychology of being a grown-up and needing to make a living. That isn’t unique to taking on the additional commitments and obligations that go with being the CEO of a startup organization. Take all of those pressures you cite as a “solopreneur” and multiply them by however million dollars you’ve raised and again by however many people whose lives will be directly affected by your individual success or failure. Then we’re talking about what Ben is addressing.The best CEOs I know are far from cry babies. They’re warriors not worriers. They genuinely and sometimes idealistically want to improve the world. They want to be of service to humanity and advance their field. They don’t want to let their team or their investors or their customers down. Where in all that formula is the self-pity and lack of gratitude you’re talking about?

          3. kidmercury

            well, my comment started out a bit as a joke, although it has led to a moresincere discussion. to clarify, i interpreted ben’s post as saying that thejob of a CEO is psychologically difficult. my initial comment was largelydisagreeing for the sake of humor and the enjoyment i derive in disagreeing,although on a relative basis, i don’t think the job of a CEO is thatdifficult. i quit my well-paying job with a steady paycheck to start my ownbusiness. i went into credit card debt (out now, thankfully!). if anythingthe life of a funded entrepreneur is in many ways easier.but i am not here to talk about how bad ass i am or how challenging myjourney has been, because in the grand scheme of things, my journey is anon-event. i have a tough time thinking it comes anywhere near what going towar is like, what being a parent is like (or a single parent, which soundslike the toughest job in the history of mankind), or anywhere near thepsychological challenge the billions of people who live in poverty endure.everybody has challenges in life, i don’t see how the CEO is special. iunderstand ben is empathizing, and i like that and think it is useful,though i also think noting the ordinariness of the CEO’s life is useful forputting things in perspective.

          4. Robert Holtz

            Fair enough, @kidmercury. Ben IS empathizing. Remember that Ben meets with CEOs (aspiring, accomplished, and everything in between) every single day. So does Fred. I don’t think anyone is saying that CEOs are more special than anyone else and that no one else in the world has troubles. But the vast majority of the audience that Ben and Fred share are CEOs, investors, and professionals that are trying to support in roles that relate to entrepreneurship. That and to talk about the evolution of how best to dazzle the customer and win markets. We come here to understand and to be understood. To that end, I think our exchange has run its course. Best regards to you.(And by the way, kudos to me for figuring out how to break beyond DISQUS’ 5-levels-of-reply barrier! WOOT^^)

      2. mike gilfillan

        Great post. ALL AT ONCE and the Ride of your Life is definitely the way I’d describe it as well.And paddling back out (ie: building a new product) is equally exciting as well. From my favorite movie:”I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain…”

        1. Robert Holtz

          Ah! What a GREAT movie reference. Now we bond on TWO things: “The Psychology of Being CEO” and “The Shawshank Redemption”.

      3. Donna Brewington White

        I walk on the beach a lot of mornings and watch the surfers. I’ve drawn tons of analogies for entrepreneurship from surfing. One of my favorites was the day I came across a group of surfers on this great break, but further along on my walk, I saw one guy alone on an even more amazing break. He was getting some fantastic rides — but it was apparent that it took some skill to fully maximize the wave and his skill made it look easier than it was. (I’m married to a surfer.) Still, I couldn’t believe that no one else had found this. By the time I looped back, a few other guys had made their way over.I think about that lone guy a lot. The one who had first discovered that break and was catching all these great set waves off in the distance while the others were still in a cluster fighting for the same wave.A founder, I thought at the time.

        1. David Semeria

          Great comment Donna.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Thanks, David.

        2. Robert Holtz

          Simply Brilliant.Your story captures the idea better than my analogy did. Even though we both used the construct of surfing, mine was conceptual and yours is empirical. And in it, you’ve captured another universal truth: That, in business, many may confront the same coastline on the same morning and many will struggle but some among the many know how to find the breaks and catch them. Those are the ones that lead, inspire, and advance the craft. I shall think of your lone surfer from now on because of your contribution.Thank you, Donna, for sharing it with us.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            You are welcome, Robert, and thank you!I am intrigued by the concept “venture catalyst.”Was enjoying your comments so much that I looked you up and was thrilled to be able to connect outside AVC/Disqus.

          2. Robert Holtz

            Thanks for the kind words and for the interest. I’ll tell you about it offline from AVC. I don’t want to spam Fred’s blog. But since you plugged my company name, I’m going to plug your blog’s title, “Hire Thoughts” — a very clever play on words. Highly enlightened. ^^

          3. Donna Brewington White

            …and yet another mutual fan club sparked on AVC.You are very considerate not to spam Fred’s blog. Many of us have definitely been guilty of taking advantage of his hospitality!I look forward to hearing more…offline.

        3. fredwilson

          That is what I want to do with tech investing. I do not want to be second tothe wave

          1. Donna Brewington White

            You are an entrepreneur and pioneer in your own right. No wonder you connect so well with them.

    3. andyidsinga

      right on km – sortof like the saying ‘be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle’.

  10. Aaron Klein

    The post really did nail it and was almost hard to read, it was so true.”On the other hand, talking to your board and outside advisors can be fruitless. The knowledge gap between you and them is so vast that you cannot actually bring them fully up to speed in a manner that’s useful in making the decision. You are all alone.”On this issue, I’ve tried to mitigate that by picking one person on my board to talk with every other day, sometimes daily, but at least once a week. That person knows the decisions I’m wrestling with better than anyone else.It’s true that there is still a knowledge gap, but boy, it’s awfully nice to have that person “90% read in” and able to deliver a lot of useful perspective.

    1. fredwilson

      that is great advice. i love to find myself in that chosen role but it hasto be the entrepreneur’s choice who that person is

      1. Aaron Klein

        It’s a major time commitment to be in that role. I’m guessing that for the entrepreneurs lucky enough to have you as a choice, it’s awesome on both sides.

        1. fredwilson

          My favorite part of my job. I love it

    2. JLM

      A really smart Board would have a guy on it who is the CEO Safety Valve guy who makes it a point to get to know the CEO so intimately that he can sense when something is not just right. This is why Boards should look for a guy — an independent guy — who has a bit of the wisdom of life.Wisdom of life is NOT something you can buy on aisle 5 @ Sams. This is a huge void for VCs at all levels.This is where the mentoring and coaching and gray hair comes in. Wisdom of life.I am always amazed how VCs and other investors will invest huge amounts of financial capital and then will fail to invest even a penny of personal or intellectual or human capital.The CEO — particularly the young or new CEO — needs a relief valve. A trusted mentor with whom he can let his hair down and who can ensure that the CEO is able to vent and to simply commiserate. But someone who also has an authentic frame of reference who can gently push back or nudge the circumstances in the right direction.We all need to be talked down off the ledge from time to time. When you have been a CEO for a long time and know yourself, you can do it for yourself. I do it all the time.CEOs can be their own best friends and their own worst enemies. The challenge is trying to divine which at any point in time.

      1. Aaron Klein

        Far more eloquently stated than I said it, sir! I’m a very fortunate CEO to have that “relief valve.”When I hang up from a call with him, it’s often apparent that I knew the answer before I called. But it sure was great to talk to someone who understood most, if not all, of the inputs into the decision.

        1. JLM

          There is a huge benefit of talking something through with anyone. We all must embrace the humility to know how our brains work. It is important to remember that we usually only have a small part of our brain in gear at any given time.I often write out a fairly long “decision memorandum” or “appreciation” to myself and will look at what my brain is saying as if I did not own that brain — long term lease kind of arrangement instead.It absolutely helps me to focus on the real issues. Most importantly, it helps me to prioritize the complex subdivisions of the problem within the problem and to focus on the important stuff and either parking lot the smaller stuff or throw it overboard.We all like a bit of validation and should not be unwilling to seek it. This is an exercise in humility as much as anything else.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        “I am always amazed how VCs and other investors will invest huge amounts of financial capital and then will fail to invest even a penny of personal or intellectual or human capital.”Floors me, too. Seems like such a waste of opportunity! And the need is so great!I’ve often said that one of the things that initially drew me to AVC was Fred’s example in this regard.Seems like private equity has this built into their model more, but the people that VCs are investing in typically have a greater need for support.

        1. fredwilson

          I was one of those VCs until I had the pleasure of starting flatiron withJerry Colonna. Jerry taught me that human capital, humanity, and empathy aremore important than finding the right deal and pricing it right

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Well, then, thank God for Jerry Colonna!

      3. fredwilson

        I like to be that guy on boards. But I realize that my role as the leadinvestor means that some entrepreneurs won’t be comfortable with me in thatrole. So then I try to get a strong independent to do it. Great comment JLM

        1. JLM

          It goes without saying that you would be perfect for this role.In addition to having a seasoned and salty view of the business cycle and knowing the importance of the insecurities of a new CEO, you have a natural communication ability — both as a provider and as a receptor — which would provide great comfort to both the CEO and your co-investors.Being a good listener is sometimes the most important element.

  11. Cindy Gallop

    I loved this post to death and tweeted it massively yesterday too. Two of the many things I loved about it:1. The last three lines:’Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say: “I didn’t quit.”I really, really needed to hear that right about now.2. The fact that the default pronouns in this post are all female.Cindy GallopFounder & CEO (ha!)

    1. fredwilson

      i loved that the default pronouns are femalei’ve been trying to use he/she when i write about entrepreneurs latelybut ben went all the way

      1. leigh


        1. fredwilson

          oohthat’s great

          1. Philip J. Cortes

            I think Wesleyan came up with a gender-neutral pronoun a few years back: “Zhe”

          2. ShanaC

            I was taught to switch genders every sentence or so, if only because the plural their is generally incorrect sounding when you have to use a specific person instead of his/her

        2. Dale Allyn

          s/he is what I prefer to use and read as well. Using only female pronouns seems contrived to me, but either using Fred’s method (he/she, etc.) or the method you mention, Leigh, is great. To me, s/he is perfect.

      2. paramendra

        I appreciated that as well.

      3. Tereza

        Yeah — that was smokin’ hot

    2. Tereza

      Cindy, don’t you dare quit.You’re fucking awesome and the world needs you.OK?

      1. Donna Brewington White


    3. JLM

      Most of the great successes in the world are built upon being about 80% right, being done on time and never, ever, ever quitting.Never quitting often makes success the default outcome.

  12. Philip J. Cortes

    Ben’s post spoke to me in a big way.The No. 1 asset I have for my mental health is being close with other CEO’s (namely Casey Wilson from By friends I don’t mean people who sit on the periphery, share my title, and communicate with me once a month – I mean people I’m very very close to, and speak to often enough that they know exactly where my company is, what our issues are,and have faced similar issues themselves.When I speak to Casey and others like Casey, I don’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to bring her up to speed on an issue, the players, and the dynamics involved. She knows enough about my organization that I can just explain the specific situation at hand, and she already knows the context. The advice we give one another isn’t perfect, and we don’t always follow one another’s advice, but it’s an amazing form of therapy to simply have someone to use as a sounding board.If you’re a startup CEO, I strongly recommend you befriend others in your same boat, and stay in touch with them more than once a week – it’ll be magic for your soul. You’re not alone!

  13. CliffElam

    When I’ve had that role I have found it totally exhausting.The best I ever did at that was when I was commuting to London and I had nothing to do for 10 days but work 18 hours/day, exercise, drink beer, eat curry, and sleep. With a pared back sleep schedule to put me on the plane home exhausted on day 10.I approach that role again with trepidation.-XC

  14. Tom Labus

    The CEO’s job is making the decisions passed on by other employees and team members.

    1. Tereza

      In fact this is the case in large companies as one climbs into senior management. Less and less time focused on the ‘fun’ work (which is pushed down), and you’re increasingly the owner of resolution management — the hairy problems they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) figure out below you.

      1. JamesHRH

        That’s true and it could also lead into a great discussion on CEO compensation.

      2. JLM

        The difference between good and great is the CEO who anticipates and intercedes before the problems grow horns and get to his desk.He does not allow insects to become lizards and lizards to become dinosaurs. He kills them when they are insects.He knows his folks so well that he does not allow the rub point to even appear.Years ago I was taught a trick — never call change a change call it an experiment and say — well, we shall see how this experiment turns out.Works every time.

        1. JamesHRH

          JLM – do you blog? I totally sign off on your perspective.I first came across the ‘kill problems early’ idea in You Will Be Satisfied, (… ) a book by legendary Lincoln Mercury dealer Bob Tasca. 20+ years ago, not a new concept!He has a policy where every level of his service organization has a monetary amount that they can spend, carte blanche, to make a customer satisfied.As he says, if we piss off the customer all the way up the management chain to my office, when they get there, they will be so unhappy and have invested so much time in their dissatisfaction that it will be really expensive to satisfy them.Instead, he let rookie 24 year old service reps satisfy people, right away, but they had to stay under $100 (I think that is what it was) when they did it.That way, he does not end up with dinosaur problems stomping around his office.Simple, well thought out policy; add discipline; add delegation. Win/Win/Win. Never forgot the lesson.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Some of us steal JLM’s comments and turn them into blog posts — with proper credit of course.If you follow him on disqus, you are essentially following his “blog.”

        2. RJ Johnston


        3. Tereza

          ooo good trick. I’ll try that!Yes the “what’s” shouldn’t be surprises. The timing, possible, and the ways things converge. But there should be precious little you’d have not thought of and fended off in some way.

        4. Donna Brewington White

          works with kids (and husbands) too

    2. Donna Brewington White

      In the early days of my career, when I was writing job descriptions and trying to make sense of the organization — the CEO’s job description was one of the shortest I had to write — someone explained to me that he was paid basically to make about two decisions a year.(Of course, this was an established multi-billion dollar company with much of the day-to-day set in motion and run by SVPs and VPs. However, when a major decision was made in that company, it was industry-defining.)

  15. David Miller

    Since Ben has disabled commenting on his blog (or has disabled me from commenting), I’m going to comment here …I relate to this point completely. I’m a CEO and the only one I can talk to is another CEO or a former CEO. It is lonely, it is gut-wrenching, it seems like the choices are worse and much worse, and it’s easy to feel bad about your performance. I have two other things to add.First, it’s kind of like what Jefferson said about Democracy: it’s the worst form of government except for all the others. As CEO, you feel that you may not be doing a good job, except anyone else would do far worse.Second, that’s why it helps to have a partner. If you have a partner that is essentially an equal except for in title, then at least you’re not completely alone.

  16. Emil

    I saw that post yesterday and felt it so personal to the point where it hurts. I am founder/CEO almost 20 years since I was 18, without one day working for another company.When I was 27 I had to deal with a company of 150 employees. I hope I find methods to deal with worst moments and to balance that with my personal life but some days I feel like I am still at the begining. This post shows me that I am not alone. There are thousands of CEO who feel the same way, even the most successful ones. Thanks to Ben and thank you Fred for sharing your thoughts. Its really great insight.

  17. Dan T

    one of the toughest parts is that you MUST continuosly resist the urge to tell people . . you have no f***ing idea of the s**t I am dealing with right now and I can’t tell you or anyone else that I JUST found out that . . .our lead investor won’t do the deal if we let X in, that term sheet we thought was a lock-in fell apart in the partners meeting and we only have one more prospective investor in the pipe, our biggest customer got so pissed about what happened that they are refusing to pay the $600K they owe us next week, Bob just reneged on his offer at the 11th hour and won’t be leading our sales team, our lead developer just quit, some guy who referred us into a deal thinks we owe him $25,000 and says he is going to sue us, our lead investor wants me to fire our lawyers, our former COO claims he owns all the IP we have built, I just said NO to our biggest prospective customer and I’m not sure they are going to sign, blah, blah, blah . .you have to process each item, figure out how to deal with it and then figure out how to adjust or stay the course based on each crisis while remembering: NEVER let’em see you sweat.We are all lucky that some people actually enjoy the stimulation of all this and can perform well in the role

    1. Tereza

      ROTFL. (or is it….ROTFC = crying??)I saw Eric Ries speak last night. Regarding pivots, he said he’s looking for more case studies because people don’t talk to them while they’re having them, they talk about them when their NEXT startup is succeeding.So I think our best bet is to meet for a beer in 2012. 🙂

    2. Matt A. Myers

      “We are all lucky that some people actually enjoy the stimulation of all this and can perform well in the role”I think this is learned over time.The experience gained by going through the times of it being unenjoyable really forced it into a game of positive stimulation (excitement), instead of a negative doom “end of the world” stimulation.If you’re running on “end of the world” stimulation then I imagine you get depressed or make less than great decisions; You’d have to watch for burnout in either case it can be mentally exhausting and requires proper caring for oneself – eat enough brain food, give yourself regular time to balance, etc..The people I’m closer to on AVC know some of what I’m currently going through – and I’m glad they do know because they’ve been support I’ve needed – and I will forever be grateful to them for that. There are other things they don’t know.And most people don’t have any ideas who I am or what has molded and continues to mold me and create the thoughts I am writing now.

      1. JLM

        Funny thing about life and karma — you are never really challenged more than you can ultimately handle. I believe this.When the world is crushing in on you — step back, go eat some comfort food, get a good night’s rest and then harness that new found energy to solve the problem. Nothing ever looks the same after a good nights sleep.

  18. Gregg Freishtat

    After CEO’ing four venture backed startups from inception to sale and living through all the ups and downs – I gotta say this is spot on. I have learned that “success” for an entrepreneur is mostly the “unyielding refusal to fail” — and the ability to enjoy the ride most of the time.Great post.Gregg FreishtatCEO, Vertical Acuity

  19. mike gilfillan

    Why won’t the Disqus comments print out?? I want to make personal notes on these wonderful comments and save them for my kids…

    1. fredwilson

      i can get them to print in some browsers

      1. mike gilfillan

        I’ve tried the latest versions of Firefox and IE 8 and just downloaded Chrome, but still no printing. Which one worked for you?I really like Disqus — hope TC brings them back!

        1. Alex Murphy

          Try ctrl a or command a (select all) then copy, then paste into a Word document.

        2. Robert Holtz

          Here is a solution I promise you will work: Go into your DISQUS Dashboard and print from there. Works every time.BTW, that’s also how you can get around the 5-levels-of-reply problem on AVC. Jump into your DISQUS Dashboard and do it from there.How do you get to your DISQUS Dashboard, you ask? Two easy ways to get there: 1) Go to and login as you would when posting here; or 2) Right after each of Fred’s articles, under the big “NEXT POST” button, you will see a pull-down graphic with the DISQUS logo on it. Click it and select “Dashboard.”Its a thing of beauty. Enjoy.

  20. David Smuts

    Ben’s article is a MUST read. One comment you make in your post piqued my curiosity Fred.”I have never been a CEO. I don’t think I would make a very good CEO”HOGWASH Fred, you’d make a fantastic CEO. Just imagine if Google had you instead of Eric Schmidt (good thing for Google that he’s gone now). And besides your insight into technology, artistry and process methodology, you will always have the Gotham Girl and your Community to keep you grounded (as well as the occasional downward dog) when things get too crazy 😉

    1. David Smuts

      Of course Fred…, the question would be:Why would you ever want to be a CEO!:)David

      1. fredwilson

        i don’t really want to be one

        1. JamesHRH

          And that’s the main reason you would be unhappy with your performance as a CEO.

  21. skysurfer172

    I’m nowhere near a CEO, but as a high-level manager, I’ve taken away some excellent points from this post. We all need to address our psyche as we strive to manage people and meet challenges successfully. I think management at all levels beat themselves up, if they are truly striving to be their best.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      With just a tiny bit of translation/interpretation, Ben’s post contains advice for a lot of us who aren’t CEOs — especially someone running a functional area.

  22. Douglas Crets

    A useful article. I read it with great interest.Would you prefer to be a COO? Some friends and I were talking and they recommended to me that I would make a great COO at an organization trying to grow and compete. I said that I had no idea how to do things like finance or resource management or anything like that. They said, no. A COO is really great at finding the strategic vision for the company, and communicating it to those who put it into play.Do you think this is true?

    1. fredwilson

      i think of the COO as someone who executes the vision that the CEO sets

  23. Donna Brewington White

    I was very moved by Ben’s post — immediately sent it to a friend who runs a private equity firm to share with every CEO in his portfolio!I’m also moved by the honest comments from CEOs here at AVC. This is an important comment stream!CEOs and especially Founder/CEOs are my heroes these days. In my role, I’ve seen everything that Ben describes and illustrates — I get to see the messes up close at times, but also have been tremendously inspired by those who are either getting it right or are on a steep trajectory of trying to get it right. As I evaluate my career from here on out, I am seriously asking the question of how I can best support the people who are starting and running companies.My fascination with venture capital initially began (but grew from there) with the potential I saw for VCs to empower and support startup founders beyond funding. Fred was the best example that I saw of this, which is why I landed at AVC. Seems like more VCs are taking his lead and that’s exciting.Fred, I know that you know yourself better than anyone, but I have a feeling you’d make a fantastic CEO.With a great support team, that is.Sign me up.

    1. fredwilson

      i like to think of myself as a consigliere, not the godfatherthe gotham gal, on the other hand, is an amazing CEO

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Consigliere! Funny, but I think you have more power than that.My offer stands for GG too.

  24. honam

    I agree this was a great post. Forwarded it to many CEOs last night. The only part that didn’t sit well with me is the last part of the post – the advice about not quitting. Great CEOs know “the torture” of the job but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Quitting is not an option (for them).If someone actually needs advice to not quit…well, then maybe they shouldn’t be in that leadership position. They should probably resign or help find their replacement because, in my experience, the ones who belong don’t need that advice.I’ve been much more surprised by how some people keep going when it all looks so bad and when the only rational decision seems to be to quit, they just never give up. Some of them really do seem crazy to most of us. But they keep going. Quitting never entered their minds, even when everyone else (including me) thought that it was time to move on.

  25. Dan

    First time visiting Ben Horowitz’s blog and LOVE that he accompanies each blog post with a song. I know you do a lot with music on your .fm but the song WITH the post adds an entire new tone and feel – just a great overall experience.

    1. fredwilson

      not just a song. almost always hip hop. ben says hip hop is the only musical genre that is “business centric”

      1. Dan

        “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems?” 🙂

        1. fredwilson

          The rappers are all about the money and out in the open about it

      2. RichardF

        He obviously hasn’t listened to ABBA

  26. JLM

    I have been a CEO for almost all of my business career. My children like to remind me I was born in the last century — deep into the last century. I am also a terrible employee, so it has worked out very well for all. In several different industries the product or service is different but the CEO duties are remarkably consistent.Being a CEO is something you get better at — much better at — as you gain experience and simply work through the long, long list of typical CEO problems. I chuckle reading this blog and remember each and every one noted. I have lived through them all and then some. I have drowned a few businesses in the bath tub and lived to tell the story.Several observations —Don’t take yourself too seriously and all this hair shirt nonsense about how difficult it is to be a CEO is perhaps more an admission of inadequate delegation skills than anything else. Being a CEO is easy if you are doing things effectively.Delegate everything you can articulate to someone you have hired who is better than you at that kind of stuff.Get a CFO who loves being a CFO and who does not have a Marshall’s baton in his knapsack. Pay him like crazy and work him like a serf. Make him sign in blood on each and every document he ever delivers to you and save them all.Be a thinker. Think about what could go wrong long, long before it does. Take a couple of hours and catalog your greatest fears and guess what — when you have “pre-thought” them they are not so fearful.You just kick into the plan and mindset you had already modeled.I recently had a good lesson on this. I had a senior manager who was experiencing health issues. She was back at work and seemingly operating better than ever. Not the time when you would think about her health becoming an issue again. But the health issue just stuck in the back of my mind.Nonetheless, I hired a bright young ex-military guy (West Pointer, T A & M MBA) to be her understudy. Great guy and he learned the business very fast.She has a heart attack, goes in for triple bypass surgery and will be out for 6 months.New young WPer in the job for 9 months steps up, takes over and down time is about 12 minutes. All because I had spent about 10 minutes playing through the issues that might go bump in the night and acted upon them.I called this young guy, told him he was in charge, asked him if he had any questions and got out of his way. He rose to the challenge and is doing magnificently.Being a CEO is all about meeting the real challenges and not shying away from them. Solve them and move on and learn from everything you do.This is why you get the big bucks.

    1. Tom Labus

      Hopefully both you and the company survives the learning curve.

      1. JamesHRH

        Dude – what learning curve? WPer is crushing it and JLM has this cased.I totally agree with this opinion. There is a great Charlie Chaplin quote: when asked if he was ever concerned about being injured during the complex stunts that were a highlight of his silent movies, his answer was: ‘No’. The interviewer persisted. Chaplin’s answer: ‘Its easy, when you know what you are doing.’

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Today’s actors have more in common with JLM than Charlie Chaplin in that regard: they delegate the stunts to stuntmen.

          1. Tereza

            To be JLMs stuntman means better than JLM at a given task. That is a high bar!

          2. Dave Pinsen

            I don’t think it was false modesty on his part when he wrote,Delegate everything you can articulate to someone you have hired who is better than you at that kind of stuff.BTW, congrats again for getting profiled in Forbes.

          3. Tereza

            Hey Dave, thanks so much.I agree — I don’t think it’s false modesty at all. A CEO should delegate everything, to be ready to handle the unexpected. And always hire people better than you. A-players hire A-players. B-players hire C-players.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Good comment. It reminds me of an episode of the show Undercover Boss, where the CEO of Hooters applied undercover for a job as a busboy in one of his chain’s restaurants — and, if memory serves, got fired at the end of the day. Being CEO of Hooters wasn’t as hard, apparently, as working in the kitchen of one of his restaurants.

      1. Douglas Crets

        I’m going to think about this, because, I don’t know if the conclusion youcome to is the real conclusion here.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Think about it. And see if you can find the video of that episode online and watch it. I’d be interested to see if you come up with an alternative explanation for why the man apparently performed competently as CEO but not as busboy.

      2. Tereza

        It’s an utterly different skillset.My dad ran a plant and then later ran a bunch of facilities. So always had ‘working men’ working for him. Machine workers down to janitors.He’d walk be around the floor and the janitors would wave and say hi. He’d talk to each person. What’s working? What’s not? How are your kids?One that stuck with me was walking away from a conversation with a janitor. And he said, don’t ever think you’re better than him. He comes in every single day at the crack of dawn and is sweeping everybody else’s garbage. He does it day in day out to feed his family. That’s dignity. But there’s also no path up. Does he have the skills to run a Hooters? Who knows.For the person at the higher level, the prospect of no path up is a total demotivator. So even getting their ass to work is a challenge.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Some people are still motivated, even if they’ve had white collar/management jobs in the past. My mother had a college degree, worked in white collar jobs, then years later got a Fireman (i.e., boiler operator) license when she worked as a superintendent of buildings & grounds in the town we where we lived. Before that, when she wasn’t working, and my father got laid off during the early ’80s recession, she worked as a waitress at a friend’s Irish family restaurant (my father also worked there, as a maître d’).

          1. Tereza

            There is unbounded dignity in doing what life demands, and stepping up to the plate. It’s so normal and yet exceptional at the same time. It’s the rich texture of real people. I’d love to see a movie about your parents.

          2. Dave Pinsen

            Not sure that would be movie material, but it’s nice of you to say.Signing off from for the weekend. Have a good one, T.

          3. andyidsinga

            some the points about motivation remind me of posts ive read about ‘hunter vs farmer’ concepts. seth godin has one here :….

  27. Gregory Magarshak

    Do you mean CEOs that are brought in to help the founders manage the company properly, or the founder / CEO – or both?

    1. fredwilson


  28. Alex Murphy

    This is Humility Week in AVC land.

    1. fredwilson

      Actually it was vacation week. I basically took the week off

  29. aarondelcohen

    I’ve been a CEO 4 times. I think Ben crushed this piece. Incredibly, I’m hum the epigraph “My minds playing tricks on me” by the Geto Boys all the time.

  30. ShanaC

    WHat I find totally interesting is that he mentions the need for friends, and for getting what is bothering you down on paper.I think the down on paper thing tends to really help – the worse decisions are much more managable if you can see that they have steps.I’ve had to go through some really bad personal issues (In weird way, I am glad I did, I know what complicated consequences look like and how some decisions are not about you and are about you at the same time). I’ve found that writing down even the most minute to dos helped a ton with dealing with the stress.Also, as you grow, something else I noticed is that you may want to question the official line – but do it SWAT styles. Have it not be about you but about the decision.As with all things, be soft on the people, hard on the problem. And soft on the people includes you.

    1. JLM

      When managing anything the first thing you have to do is manage yourself.

  31. Martijn

    Fred: I notice you circling around this topic of leadership and mostly, doing the gut feel thing about it. Can I buy you a coffee/lunch/dinner somewhere between 9-13 May when I am in New York? I think we have the human process technology platform that will prevent the poo-poo’s and deliver the results. It will also deliver “the alpha” most VCs are looking for. I know you do better, but I think a 25% average success rate on VC deals is worth an hour’s conversation….Looking forward.Best,Martijn

  32. Joe Marchese

    Advice I give CEOs: don’t be too tough on yourself (most stuff you can’t control)… or too kind (if you don’t take ownership for the actions and outcomes, you can’t lead the organization into creating the future). Thx for sharing Ben’s post.

  33. Tereza

    Speaking of CEO’s……April 28 is national “Bring Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day”.For kids, it’s a big deal, as a way to connect with the life that mom or dad has when they’re away from home.Corporations have done it for years, but it’s not really on startups’ radar. Indeed lots of startup folks don’t have kids. But I’m betting that some do.I’ve missed the last several because I didn’t have a ‘traditional’ office environment. If I miss it again my daughter will kick my ass. :-)My partner (a dad of 3) and I were thinking we’d do something. Wondering if anyone wants to make it somewhat co-operative in NYC? I don’t have time to plan much, so I was thinking lean + easy such as:morning — spend time visiting parent’s office and colleagues, wherever they work (note: this may be a designated Starbucks)lunch — with the colleagues near the office.aft — find a conference room and have a small handful of participating companies come together. We do a ‘kid demo”. This could mean we show our kids what our websites do….OR, we have our own kids demo our websites to each other! LOL. Maybe the kids can team up to do something fun for us, like an imagination session of what the world will be like in year 2030.Any alternative ideas? Maybe we could cajole one of the coworking spaces or a VC to loan us a conference room.Anyone interested? If you are, respond with your email.

    1. fredwilson

      You should reach out to general assembly. When my kids were young I used totake them to work with me on this day. They enjoyed it

  34. terrencemurray

    Hi,This is about music. I regularly listen to your radio stream. I think that’s how I stumbled into this band, whose name I can’t remember, (the purpose of this comment).Here’s what I remember: They’re a Canadian, from the Canadian prairies, possibly Manitoba or saskatchewan and a couple of years ago they played a gig in New York, which you mentioned and wrote about in a later post.Does this sounds familiar? I had a few of their tunes in a previous Itune list and was hoping to do so again. Thanks and have a good weekend, Terrence

    1. fredwilson

      Rural Alberta Advantage

      1. terrencemurray

        Even got the province wrong, so thank you, just bought a few songs from their new album and the one before… “Departing”.

  35. William Mougayar

    Psychology is the next edge. Dave McClure also advocates using psychology, but for marketing purposes. He advocates reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini…

  36. Joe Lazarus

    I’m curious, why don’t you think you would be a good CEO?

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t love being in the office. I hate it when people are lined up at mydoor. I often choose to do something myself instead of delegating it. Andplenty more where that came from

      1. JLM

        I am going to have to call bullshit on Fred.Fred Wilson, like almost every other person on this blog, would be good at anything he ever put his mind to doing. That is the way of the world — the best folks would be good at whatever they put their minds to doing.He is smart, well educated, reflective, insightful and willing to take a reasonable risk.The ability to delegate is an acquired taste as most folks in business who are deploying experience and expertise would rather do it themselves. It is a blessing and a curse.Gourmet wine for 4 or lemonade for 10,000? The difference is delegation.

        1. Donna Brewington White


        2. fredwilson

          i’m afraid i’m in the wine for four camp JLM

          1. Laurent Boncenne

            hey, successful businesses came out of the wine for four ! =)

  37. Bpark73

    Fred. The best line in this blog is when you say “I have never been a CEO”. You are a breath of fresh air and a diamond in the rough for a VC. We will all be watching you and listening.

    1. fredwilson

      This blog is my resume among other things

  38. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

    Having been a founding CEO of a tech start-up at a young age, I find the article chillingly accurate. That’s why people who find themselves in positions of CEO-ness are few and far between…the psychological challenges are immense and none of us emerge unscarred without both positive and negative experiences.

  39. Bill Ferretti

    I agree Ben’s openness in discussing the rigors of being a first-time CEO makes some good points, esp. his advice about controlling nervousness (Have someone to talk to, etc.). I’ve been an entrepreneur, company founder, a GP in a VC firm, and work as an executive coach (mostly to first-time company founders and CEO’s), and there are a few of Ben’s points I disagree with some of Ben’s otherwise excellent points:1. Ben has what it takes; he’s a standup guy who takes responsibility for problems and doesn’t reach out and blame others, the weather, or the trauma of childhood. But I sense Ben is more than a little to tough on himself. I suspect he may take difficult decisions that at times prove to be wrong ones and spend too much time looking back and beating up on himself. It’s important to remember one bad decision rarely brings even the most fragile enterprises to their knees. A CEO needs to remind herself she’s not a judge deciding on the death penalty for someone who has committed a capital crime. And a CEO isn’t a neurosurgeon who decides to clamp this blood vessel instead of that when a patient’s brain is hemorrhaging, and the patient dies. 2. This startup dance can be fun–if we choose to assume that attitude. We can learn to laugh as easily and as readily when we mess up as when we hit home runs.3. I like Ben’s photo of boxers along side his paragraph about never quitting. True in boxing. I’ve boxed and been a startup CEO, and trust me being a CEO isn’t boxing. Yes it’s a blood sport, but it’s one person in the ring, and he shouldn’t be fighting anyone. Our first priority has to be doing what’s best for the startup, and that can mean quitting when we cease to be suitable CEO’s.

    1. fredwilson

      I suspect you are a fantastic coach Bill

      1. Bill Ferretti

        Thanks, Fred,I appreciate your kind words. Ben’s quitting comment concerned me. Parents have to put their baby’s (the start-up) well being first.With the exception of Rocky Marciano (and possibly one could include Floyd Meriweather), no champion has ever retired undefeated. Yes, at high levels of talent, the losing boxer loses because he quits. But the dirty little truth is many champions quit for a simple reason: it’s not about one boxing match; it’s about a boxing career. Do they throw in the towel? Rarely. Do they say, “No mas?” Even more rare. Do they allow their trainers to ask the referee to stop the fight because they can’t stop their boxers’ bleeding? Sometimes. More often the quitters know their careers might end sooner because they are getting beaten and injured to the point of never recovering, so they begin fighting defensively and only aggressively go after the easy points the judges score.In other words, they quit trying to win a match in order to have a career record they can be proud of. The toughest boxers have no career aspirations and will take any amount of hurt and humiliation even though they have no chance of winning. That means the only way to beat them is to beat them more than they’re beating you, and that takes an unusual tolerance for injuries, pain, humiliation, and every ounce of one’s talent. I continue to read your blogs and enjoy Ben’s. All the best,Bill

        1. fredwilson

          this comment touches on the topic of my sunday morning post Bill…i think you can tell that i am struggling with some of these issues youraise

  40. TanyaMonteiro

    so many valid titles for this article “the pshycology of being a human being” or “what’s the most difficult Life skill?” Managing your own psychology is the most important life skill surely. I’ve come away with so much from this article and site, thank you!

  41. Indian T.v Serials

    I second your points on physical movement. It just so happened that our two person start-up is currently working out of three different co-working and home office spaces. We have to go back and forth frequently. This unintentional “change of scenery” pattern has actually helped us to be less stressed and be more productive.

  42. Indian T.v Serials

    Some people are still motivated, even if they’ve had white collar/management jobs in the past. My mother had a college degree, worked in white collar jobs, then years later got a Fireman (i.e., boiler operator) license when she worked as a superintendent of buildings & grounds in the town we where we lived. Before that, when she wasn’t working, and my father got laid off during the early ’80s recession, she worked as a waitress at a friend’s Irish family restaurant (my father also worked there, as a maître d’).

  43. kidmercury

    i was in mid level management back in the day, do i get some cred for that…..hiring and firing people….plus i sometimes work with independent contractors…..oh it was so tough, poor me, so lonely, i didn’t have any friends, it was like high school all over again…..everybody feel sorry for me, my life is so tough, wah wah wah

  44. kidmercury

    Well I was/am a CEO, perhaps it doesn’t meet your definition but it meetsmine. I am also commenting in jest, although your failure to realize thatironically validates my previously jestful comment. Also, I assume you havenot been to war or engaged in all the previous comparisons I have made, sopresumably we are both unqualified to comment on the relative differences,if one assumes experience is a necessary qualification to forming a validopinion (not a view I maintain, though)

  45. JLM

    You are absolutely correct. But in many ways it is the exception.A sports analogy I like which pertains to business is the evolution of a quarterback to a coach to an owner.The QB can do it. He can do it better if he has a good coach and the coach can do his job better is he has a wise owner.A coach can coach better if he has been a QB and knows how difficult it is to do something while under fire and how training can abandon you for a second but you can revert to form again when you regain your poise. A good coach coaxes — not demands — performance.But a coach has to know exactly when to take a guy out of the game and has to have the balls to do it.A wise owner knows whether he has a good coach and then whether that coach can actually coax that incredible performance out of the QB and he has to be able to replace one or both of them.Businesses, like sports teams, develop in an iterative manner and will peak at different times. Once they peak, it is important to keep them on that level of performance. That is a tough thing to do.

  46. Donna Brewington White

    I get this. I’m an executive recruiter. Very humbling to assess someone’s ability to perform a job I’ve never done and probably never could. Also, humbling to be able to look at a company and see huge issues that the management team has missed simply because I am on the outside looking in, have observed a lot of companies and have some sense of organizational dynamics — and because I’ve got to figure out the right fit for that organization. Makes me wonder, who am I to see this? What right do I have to judge? But at the same, “seeing” is what determines whether or not I will be effective.

  47. JLM

    There is a bit of daylight between being a great entrepreneur and being a great CEO.Entrepreneurs have often completed the bulk of their work when they have delivered a great product and others bring that little jewel to market. They are product oriented.CEOs are focused on building a great company and hopefully one that is focused on producing a great product or rendering a great service.Small but important distinction.

  48. Tereza

    I think we are made to create things.And I think there are rare employment circumstances where we are truly encouraged and given enough rope to create things.

  49. Tereza

    Yes. One of the great things about AVC and various meetups is to pulse-check with Founder friends. It really, really helps.

  50. Tereza

    I think that’s so true, JLM.In the great CEO camp, I think there is greater emphasis on the customer and a customer-driven view of the world than in the pure entrepreneur camp. That’s certainly been a difference I’ve been wrestling with.

  51. JLM

    I think the care and feeding of Boards both from the perspective of a CEO and from the Board’s perspective is one of the most interesting and least developed elements of corporate governance.It is easy to be on the Board of GE but it is difficult to be an effective Board member on a $10MM revenue company.

  52. JLM

    I agree more with you more than you agree with yourself.All mankind has ever done is to make order from chaos.One only has to look at Mother Nature (Japan), the Middle East and our current hopelessly lost administration to see what an ovedabundance of chaos we currently possess and how challenging it is to create order.Making order from chaos.

  53. JamesHRH

    Tereza – JLM is bang on. Great start up CEO designs / builds a business to serve customers. Great entrepreneurs designs / builds a product to solve a problem.The biggest difference is that a great startup CEO has less risk attached to his venture. At some point, the great entrepreneur has to turn into a great CEO or bring one in. I believe Fred calls this the ‘awkward adolescent’ stage.

  54. Tereza

    Hmmm you took it to a new level but I do think that’s right. Be it creating something that didn’t exist before, or fixing something that’s incredibly broken. In general, change. The essence of mankind is to create change.I for one am nothing special when it comes to steady, uneventful situations. Frankly they freak me out. (And then I do things to change them — it’s muscle memory for me — and it pisses people off).So I’ll take a hairy problem any day. Pathology or human? Who knows. I need to feel like I matter and I’m getting something done that’s worthwhile.And BTW — compare the CEO situation to, say, a situation where you poured your soul into something for a larger company. They told you to, supported you in doing it, and then for some reasons out of your control but not very good reasons (ie the actual CEO has a low risk tolerance and decides to punt). I’d rather be a CEO and ‘own’ the chaos and have the power to transform it, then be on board a train while it’s on course to crash and have no control over the situation. It’s very stressful to not have levers to pull. Give me the controls and let me pull the levers.

  55. Tereza

    That’s really interesting and I hadn’t thought of it that way. And I’m wondering why this viewpoint is fresh to me. Seems I should have known it all along.As someone who’s never not worked with customers or clients, I am congenitally incapable of conceiving of a product unless it’s in the context of someone’s need. My passion is for customer’s need ahead of product. Once I’ve defined the need, I want to dominate it, and I use product to meet it.A source of this dissonance may be that more often than not my startup ventures or projects have been a product that existed in another iteration and had the potential to meet a defined need…so I ran the customer devt side, to figure out what it needs to be in the eyes of this customer. And a bunch of other cases where I developed large-scalable services for an existing customer base, where my job was to then ‘productize’ it — turn it from a one-off pleasant mistake or a custom job into something replicable, scalable, extensible.For a business that’s truly tech-driven, I’m not the kind of person they’d likely have on their team early, they wouldn’t see me as valuable. Later, if they failed to find product/market fit a bunch of times, they might bring me in to figure it out how to turn it into a business. I’m good at making a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

  56. fredwilson

    Ugly adolescentBut awkward is fine too

  57. Donna Brewington White

    JLM, I think you once mentioned that you don’t think someone has to have been a CEO to be a good CEO coach. Do I remember or did I understand you correctly?

  58. fredwilson

    I’m nervous about that last point right now JLM

  59. JLM

    I don’t think it is a disqualification for a CEO coach not to have been a CEO. But you do have to have been around a lot of good CEOs to make up the difference.I think a lot of coaching is getting a great performance where a good performance already exists.The perfect example of this is to see how fragile the performance of Tiger Woods has become.The unchallenged best golfer in the world knocked off his high level of performance by purely mental challenges. Not to say they were not monumental but he is in better physical shape than he has ever been and may never regain his mojo.I judge not his personal life but his professional life has been knocked all akilter.

  60. Donna Brewington White

    Thanks, JLM.That’s sad about Tiger.Lessons learned.