Being a hands-on CXO for a lean startup

- June 18, 2015 3 MIN READ

The author of the Lean Startup, Eric Ries says, “the Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration.” Many startups are now following the principles of lean and hacking their way through to real, tangible growth. What are the intricacies of this process in reality and how does a hands-on CXO (Chief Experience Officer) for a lean startup do it differently? Some startup CXOs share their belief:

1. Hands-on CXOs lead from the front

In the beginning, the business head needs to create opportunities and test the waters to know how the demand and adoption is looking. It’s important to be leading from the front, to understand what the team may be going through when pitching the idea and the products to prospective consumers. Hitesh Ganjoo, CEO of Buzz4Health, a mobile startup from India, agrees on this aspect.

“As a CEO or as a part of the founding team, you’ve got to always indulge in first hand experience of how things work on the ground. You have to lead from the front and calibrate based on feedback from your customers,” said Ganjoo.

“This not only gives you a great sense of how different things fit together but encourages a healthy working environment which puts everyone in the company on the same footing. And that is when ideas flow from everyone and you hit a sweet spot.”

2. Hands-on CXOs create a culture of empathy 

Empathy comes from the early 20th century Greek “empatheia”. It is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. One look at the Google books Ngram viewer shows us how important empathy has grown in recent culture.


According to recent surveys, 46% employees leave a company within the first two years, because of cultural issues. So this is a real need for leaders. As a CEO of a content marketing and digital storytelling startup, brandanew.co, I do feel that you don’t need to be a designer, writer, coder, all-in-one. But you can’t feign ignorance. When someone in the team performs well, you need to understand the struggles that they went through and be able to value their help.

No matter how stressed you are, you need to be able to appreciate the difficulty in a given job. As a company grows and scales, this may get tougher, but that’s why you have to develop skill clouds and at least have a good sense of what’s going on.

3. Hands-on CXOs fail and learn

Fail and fail fast is a startup maxim. The response to it may vary as many cultures are not as rewarding when it comes to failure. For instance, losing face, or being seen as a failure may not be an issue in the US, but it could be so in South Asia. For a brand new startup, this may be an additional challenge. Hitesh, talks us through this aspect of being open to making mistakes as a lean startup.

“The early phase of an entrepreneurship is filled with uncertainty and how on each day its important to validate and invalidate your hypothesis. The lean startup teaches you that it is okay to fail. Traditional performance based incentives limit the appetite for risk taking and trying out new experiments for the employees,” said Hitesh.

“It’s okay to fail but it’s not ok to not learn from failures and pivot whenever needed. We pivoted twice very early in our business and continue to follow a lean methodology where we build, learn and measure most things we do.”

Personally, I feel it’s important to keep telling yourself that the failure is not in the balance sheet at the end of the month, but in not trying.

4. Hands-on CXOs bring passion

Startups would be hard to sustain if there weren’t any passion involved. While your whole team is in it, as the owner of the brand or the product, your passion is hard to match. Ken Herron, CMO of Unified Inbox, confirms this view.

“When I speak with my fellow CMOs, the first thing they all seem to want to do is to ‘dump’ their social media, to hand it off to an agency, an intern, someone, anyone, other than rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves. I think that’s the most critical mistake a startup CMO can make. Why? When you’re a startup, it’s essential for you to hear first-hand what your users (and prospective users) are thinking about your and your competitors’ products, and there simply is no better real-time space for that than social media,” said Herron.

“By being hands-on, you not only know what your target audience is thinking, but you are personally building relationships with customers, suppliers, and partners. Besides, do you really think anyone will ever be as passionate about your product as you are?”

Featured image: UX artwork. Credit: Chris Labrooy.