We’re in the midst of a startup explosion, with many of those companies being led by first-time CEOs. Some of them have the experience and chops to lead a company without formal coaching (especially if they have an active Board), but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some informal coaching/mentoring.
Why the distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’? Because a CEO doesn’t want to look weak, especially to the Board. And the worst thing, in everyone’s eyes, would be if the BOD foisted a formal coach on the CEO. So our recommendation to first-time CEOs is that they find an informal mentor, someone they can take out for a beer and bounce around ideas. Nothing formal but something regular. And private.
Some VCs will say that they provide the coaching, which is great. But you never want to expose your ignorance or business naivete to someone who can fire you. So we recommend either approaching someone from your Customer Advisory Board (if you have one) or a peer who’s been through the wars and has the scars and bruises to show (and learn from). Ply the friendly ones with beers, the more distant ones with equity. But get good advice—early and often.