July 14, 2020

Startup CEO, Second Edition

I haven’t taken a poll to figure out the overlap between people who read this blog and people that bought the first edition of Startup CEO, but I’m guessing there’s a high degree of it. If you are familiar with the book, I don’t want to bore you with a recap of what I wrote, but I thought I would devote the next several blogs to new ideas in the second edition. First, the new cover art from the publisher is kind of cool:

The first question you might have is, “Why a second edition? Didn’t you say everything you needed to say the first time?” The answer to that is, yes, I did say everything I had to say at the time, and the first edition is pretty comprehensive as a field guide. But that was about a dozen years into what turned out to be a 20-year journey, and after we sold Return Path in 2019, I had time to reflect on all that happened. I learned a lot of new lessons between the first and second editions, we had a lot of first-time experiences, we scaled the company significantly, and we sold it. None of those things are, in and of themselves, worthy of a second edition, but collectively they help tell the story of startup to exit and tell it from a perspective of creating a sustainable business over nearly two decades. 

But there are other reasons, too, besides new lessons learned. Eight years is a lifetime in terms of changes to micro-trends, language, business in general, and the world around us. I wanted to update the book to make it contemporary so that it can speak to a new generation of CEOs. The second edition is more than a new cover and obvious updates on the number of employees or revenues. I added topics that reflect heightened responsibilities of CEOs around moral and ethical leadership in an increasingly transparent and socially conscious world. How do you navigate a politically charged and divisive society? For example, the State of Indiana passed a law intended to not force people to do things that contravened their religious beliefs but it had the side effect of legal descrimination against LGBT citizens. It was contentious, with rallying cries in business and society for one side or the other, and those same sentiments were found within our employee population. 

How should CEOs handle a situation that conflicts with their core values? There are no easy answers, but avoiding them doesn’t make the problem go away. 

Whether it’s the #metoo movement, high-profile failures of leadership like airline employees dragging customers off of planes, or something as simple as unconscious bias in the workplace, the best CEOs now need to approach their jobs differently. I didn’t write about that in the first edition, but the second edition has an entire chapter devoted to “Authentic Leadership” and provides guidelines and advice to help CEOs. The book went to press early in the COVID-19 pandemic and prior to all the protests around racial injustice surrounding the George Floyd killing, so nothing in it specifically addresses any of those issues.  In some ways, though, that may be better at the moment since the book is more about frameworks and principles than about specific responses to current events.

I also added a new section with several chapters on the ins and outs of selling a business. Startup exits are the important culmination of the startup experience and something that the first edition only briefly touched on. Obviously, I was still CEO of a growing company and although we had an opportunity or two to sell within those first years, we never pulled the trigger. The first edition talks about that process at a surface level, but the second edition has far more content and detail since we had completed a sale transaction. 

The first edition of the book has sold close to 40,000 copies as of the writing of the second edition, which blew me away when I tallied it all up. I’ve received many notes of thanks from readers all over the world for the book, and I’m glad that the content has proved useful to so many people, noting from some of the more critical reviews on Amazon that it certainly doesn’t scratch everyone’s itch. I hope the changes in the new edition add even more value to the lives of entrepreneurs and startup management teams. That’s really who the book is written for.

Here are some places to go to pre-order the book:

I have a limited number of free copies of the book that I can send out, and oddly, they are only print copies since the book publishing ecosystem hasn’t figured out an efficient way for authors to distribute free Kindle copies of books yet.  As a bonus incentive for reading all the way to the end of this post, I will be happy to send a free copy to the first 5 people who comment on this post on the blog and ask for one.