Predator DNA, the most important startup CEO trait

3 min readNov 27, 2019

Last week I was honoured to attend Brandfestival — one of the best marketing summit in the CEE region, focusing on trends, future expectations and disruption. Representing AbilityMatrix consulting, I participated in a startup-related roundtable conversation — together with leaders from Barion, ViddL, Cherrisk, and Yaw VR (from the startup side) and Hiventures as the most active regional VC investor. (Check the date for next year!)

The topic was how you can raise the chances of survival for startups.

My answer: Predator DNA. Since I got many positive feedbacks, but couldn’t really go into details on stage, let me explain that phenomenon here and now.

Predators are ruthless hunters looking for the prey and hunting them down. They make very rational choices and use everything at their disposal with just one single goal in mind: to get that kill.

Depending on how you see it, Predators can be evil or rational. If they kill for joy (as it’s in the books), it’s evil. But if they kill for survival, it is considered rational.

And for startups in the growing phase, it’s mostly about survival. All the seemingly evil, inhuman decisions a startup CEO must make generally come down to only a few options:

  • Does this make our runway longer?
  • Do we get closer to our goal? (next round of funding, KPIs, break-even, etc.)
  • Does this kill the startup?

Personnel decisions, sales, and operational decisions are all about the above. You can run a lifestyle company with limited risk if you hire someone that’s not a great fit. BUT when your funding lasts for 12 months, you simply can’t risk a CTO that’s not a cultural fit or shows serious issues.

If your head of sales (or actually any salesperson at all) doesn’t hit the target, it might be over for everybody. In a huge, multinational enterprise, missing the target might get you fired and the show goes on. However, if you are working at a startup, missing targets seriously means the story is over for everybody or a down-round where everybody loses money.

Therefore such laser-sharp focus is required to keep the ship afloat. Early-stage startups are not passenger ships, everybody has to work and add their small, but essential contribution to the package.

For a startup, resources, especially time is extremely limited, and the expectations are usually sky-high. Therefore such a ruthless behaviour is the only rational choice and not the evil reborn. Of course, there is a fine line between ruthless and evil, and quite often, we see CEOs stepping over this invisible line.

As this is an extremely challenging period for any startup, my only advice for startup CEOs is to be transparent with that attitude (or strategy) towards the team. Why is this happening, how it will happen, and what is the goal with such a “modus operandi.” Why is this important for everybody and why slacking won’t be tolerated at all.

What do you think? Have you had to make such hard choices? Do you disagree? Let us know in the comments.

Can we help you? AbilityMatrix mentors are regularly available for free StartUp Office Hours. Our mentoring sessions provide you the opportunity to introduce and discuss your project in about an hour. Would you need an honest, independent and sometimes harsh viewpoint — just book a session!

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