How to Get a CEO Job in 2018: Prove you are a Big Wave Surfer

Alex Zakupowsky, January 29, 2018

2017 saw a monstrous $84B in venture capital invested, the highest total since the dot-com era began and also the fourth consecutive year to reach over $30B raised for US-based VC funds. However, this venture capital is going to later stage companies as the total deal count declined for the third consecutive year and $19B was invested in rounds with a valuation of at least $1B.

Is becoming a successful CEO attributable to skill or luck?

The answer is massively BOTH. To the CEOs, as you evaluate opportunities in the market, think clearly about what situation you are entering.

Think of surfing as a metaphor:

1—Product/Market-Oriented CEOs

Some companies have built a really expensive Surf Board that might have the best technology out there but they are stranded in the middle of the ocean because they don’t know what wave to ride. They might not know how to surf. They need someone with vision who is going to help them pick a wave and get up on the board.

2—Sales-Oriented CEOs

The second group often has a company that has product/market fit and the Founder/Team has had some success riding their expensive Board to shore. Maybe they started paddling too early or fell off a few times, but the Board is responding well to “market/ocean conditions.” However, the Board of Directors just found out a big storm is coming in and the founder is better suited to design the next generation of surf board. You need someone who is going to be able to handle this huge wave of cash and momentum.

3—Turnaround CEOs

Turns out the expensive surf board in the middle of the ocean is a rusty door. We need someone who is going to watch the surf, rebuild the board from the ground up, and ride the board into the shore safely. It’s tough to recruit people to work on a rusty door but the best CEOs have people who will follow them into almost any situation.

Companies are looking for CEOs who can prove in interviews that they understand where the company is in the ocean and that they have been there before. If you haven’t been a CEO, this is tougher because you haven’t been the one everyone pointed to as “the surfer”. To combat this, you must be able to prove you are cross-functional with a special skill set for where the team is currently in the ocean. Prove you can handle the big wave coming and can also ride it into shore.

At Lonergan Partners, Alex recruits world class executives for companies in the networking, Saas, cloud and IoT sectors.