Why the CEO Should be the First Employee in Every Department

Table of contents

My name is Tim Valishev, and I’ve been a startup CEO for 8 years during which I’ve built two profitable companies: Octoline, an IP telephony service for business focused on the Russian market, and JivoChat – a live chat for websites that helps 140k sites around the world to talk to their customers.

I want to share an approach to growing the company that worked out quite well for me and I hope you’ll be able to use it in your business. Whenever the company grows and there’s a need for a new department, I step down to become the first member of the new team and do the work myself for a couple of months. Once I get a feeling of what the process looks like from the inside I start hiring and delegating.

At different periods in my companies I wrote code, created interface designs in Photoshop, did the bookkeeping and accounting, supported customers in chat and by phone, managed ads on Adwords and searched for new recruits. So I’ve tried in every role for my company for some time.

Of course as a CEO I had a lot of things to worry about at every moment and now we’ve hired guys that are much better than I am at every field. But despite the fact that I’m a shitty designer and my code caused some major fuck-ups along the road, I still believe that this approach was one of the reasons why we’ve been able to build a successful company with thousands of customers without outside investments. Let me try to explain why.

Hire better

Hiring people in a self-funded startup is never easy. You can’t compete on salary, you can’t prove you’re stable, you don’t have a name. And still you need to hire the right people, but hiring an experienced guy that was good at doing the same job for some behemoth corporation is not an option. Sometimes you can afford only to hire beginners and often they will work remotely.

So you need to look for potential in people. You need to understand when a guy that never did something before will be capable to excel at this thing. If you did the job for some time, you know exactly what qualities and traits to look for. A the same time there’s a fallacy of hiring over qualified people that you need to avoid.

Tips to hire better

Manage better

A CEO’s work is to make the right decisions. I like to compare business with a big clockwork mechanism where every part is interconnected, from marketing to accounting, and a startup CEO is the designer of that mechanism. Business success depends on how well the mechanism functions as a whole without friction between different gears.

Diving into different areas helps CEOs to design better processes due to a deeper understanding of how every gear works. Also it helps to talk the same language with the specialists, mostly to evaluate the quality of the job done. It feels good to be able to discuss code design with programmers, colour palette and fonts with designers and tax returns with accountants to make sure that we do the best we can. Just resist the temptation to micromanage the process :slightly_smiling_face:

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Spend money more wisely

Like Kevin O'Leary once said on the Shark Tank, in business money are your soldiers and every day you send them to war. So you shouldn’t waste the lives of your soldiers. There are pitiful examples of companies thus having to lay off employees or even going bankrupt.

A CEO that grows his company organically and starts every department with himself never over-hires. He knows exactly how many people are needed to do the job and what qualifications they need to have. Working hands-on in different areas gives invaluable insights into the details of business processes that helps CEO to make better decisions and save money.

In my opinion it’s vital at the early stages of a company that every dollar should be spent with maximum effectiveness in a situation of tough resource constraints.

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