How a CEO Can Transfer Their Skills to Effectively Run a Start-Up

Start-ups are vibrant, healthy, upbeat environments where all team members of staff, no matter their position, want to perform at their full potential. Here Paul Turton, MD of Pact Coffee, talks about the journey from CEO of a large company to running a much smaller start-up, the benefits behind his or her expertise and the challenges that may be faced and how to overcome them.

It is becoming increasingly common for corporate CEOs and other leaders to make the transition into the start-up sphere because they want a fresh challenge, a change of direction and or even a desire to make a difference in a new world environment. As well as giving the you, as a CEO, a new lease of life, it can also be a breath of fresh air for small, high growth companies.

However, it’s a talent in itself to know and understand what the right skills are to transfer to a start-up and which strategies or even styles systems should be left behind.

Introducing structure

As a start-up grows from success to success, a new leadership team can take the company to the next phase. A CEO with larger company experience can provide the skill set and expertise to ensure that the company expands successfully and profitably without hiccups.

As a corporate CEO, with years of experience, you will understand the ins and outs of running a large-scale business that prides itself on clear strategy and more structured processes – something that young start-ups can often lack.

Be clear you understand what is great about the company and then add fuel to their flames, don’t extinguish them. Just because a process or plan worked in your last company doesn’t mean that it will work in this environment. Go in with an open mind, take advice from everyone in the team and implement processes and initiatives that are productive.

Don’t underestimate the variety in your role

Your position at a corporate firm will usually have clear expectations, duties and responsibilities; everyone is very clear on their role and what they must do. However, at a start-up, this can go completely out of the window. Don’t underestimate how wide and varied the role of a CEO can be and be prepared to embrace the culture of ‘getting stuck in.’

Unlike the corporate environment, you’ll play the role of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Funding Officer, Head of Sales and Chief Coffee Maker simultaneously. A start-up will have a fraction of the staff of a corporate giant but still have high ambitions for success. With these new and varied responsibilities, be prepared to identify quickly where you may need some help, coaching or mentoring – and then be prepared to seek this out!


As a corporate CEO, you of course have a passion for the company you work for but can still have the ability to take a step back and make a rational decision. Bringing this skill of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture is something that will be incredibly beneficial for a start-up.

Bring your skills of a ruthless corporate environment to make sure that financials are in order. Be clear where execution and control need to improve both short term and long term and you will see positive results instantly to the P&L.


In any commercial leadership position, it is critical you understand and communicate your roadmap for growth and being part of a start-up or scale up is no exception. To successfully grow, it’s imperative that you understand and differentiate the areas that you should invest in and the potentially appealing areas that you should actually walk away from.

Additionally, managing expectations of employees, investors and customers in the marketplace is a key essential for managing growth. A company can be growing rapidly and performing extremely well but if the bar is raised too high too soon, an unnecessary sense of failure can ensue. As CEO, keep expectation levels in check and communication levels high, so everyone remains on the same page.

Taking on a new role is always going to be a huge decision, especially moving from the comfort of a corporate firm to less predictable start-up. However, the experience and skills gained from your work history – bringing in structure, the ability to step back and rationalise, managing growth – will ensure that you bring great strategic success to the start-up. While you bring insight and knowledge to your new team, make sure to take advice from them too and take advantage of a team that is passionate, motivated and determined to succeed.

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