How To Become a Startup CEO According To 7 Startup CEOs

How can someone become a startup CEO, without founding the startup?

To help professionals become the CEO of a startup company, we asked entrepreneurs and startup CEOs this question for their best advice. From learning the business operations to joining a C-suite recruiting program, there are several tips that may help you become a startup CEO without being a founding employee.

Here are seven ways to become a startup CEO:

  • Get a Proven Track Record
  • Learn Business Operations
  • Become the COO First
  • Make a Significant Impact
  • Join a C-Suite Recruiting Program
  • Find a Partner
  • Work From The Ground Up

Get a Proven Track Record

Many entrepreneurs who found a startup go on to become its CEO. As the founder of Lightkey, I definitely fit that description. However, an analysis of startups by the Harvard Business Review found that after three years, 50% of founders were no longer in the CEO position. In those first three years, a tech startup is tasked with scaling the enterprise and not all startup founders have the leadership or managerial skills to achieve that growth. So, become a masterful leader with a proven record of business success and you’ll be closer to becoming a startup CEO.

Guy Katabi, Lightkey

Learn Business Operations

The early-stage startup is focused on rapid product innovation and needs a startup founder who has overall knowledge of the company and is dedicated to the organization's mission. As successful startups grow, however, more focus needs to be dedicated to business operations as well as the innovation that short product cycles require. Becoming a startup CEO without founding the company means you are bringing skills to the organization that will help it scale, such as experience streamlining business processes, leadership, and project organization.

Spiros Skolarikis, Comidor

Become the COO First

Startup founders ready to step down as CEO may look to an internal integrator, like a COO, to replace themselves. Anyone looking to be the CEO of a startup that they didn't find should seek to be the leader of operations first. By leading operations, an executive can understand the inner workings and identify opportunities. By understanding all areas of the business, a COO can feel confident in assuming the reins as a startup CEO.

Brett Farmiloe, Markitors


Make a Significant Impact

Someone can become a CEO of a startup, without founding the startup, by making a huge impact at the company. If you are the CRO and you step in and boost revenue by 10x you are setting yourself in a great position to be promoted to CEO. Although the chances of this happening are slim, if the founder decides to step down, you will be in the best position to be promoted to CEO.

Lauren Picasso, Cure Hydration


Join a C-Suite Recruiting Program

While it is difficult to do this it is not impossible to accomplish becoming the CEO with founding the startup. You can do this by building up your skills and getting experience working at high-level executive positions. Then when a startup is looking for a CEO you will be a viable candidate for the position.

Omid Semino, Diamond Mansion

Find a Partner

Becoming a CEO of a startup doesn’t mean you have to be a founder as well. Sometimes it works out that the person who founded a company isn’t suited to be the CEO. Perhaps they are more skilled in other areas, like marketing, sales or IT. Finding someone who is experienced running a startup can often be the best choice for founders like this, who want to utilize their own skills and experience in other capacities to help grow the business.

Eymel Daniel, ForChics

Work From The Ground Up

You can become the CEO of a start-up by working your way up the ranks of the new business until you reach the executive management level. To do this successfully, you need to be a quick learner, as well as understand and internalize the company's core values. You should also have strong communication and team management skills. All of these skills will impact how you do your work, and they are what will get you noticed by those who decide who will become CEO of the company.

Gregory Rozdeba, Dundas Life


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Mercy - CBNation

This is a post from a CBNation writer. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue 16 Media.

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