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The Great CEO Within by Matt Mochary

Cameron Nuckols, 
4 min read
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Rating: 10/10
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High-Level Thoughts

Starting a company is hard. Even the best founders struggle to build great companies. This book is a great place to learn how to improve as a CEO and leader. It is full of countless lessons and advice that I wish I had from day one of building a company. I recommend this book to anyone looking to better themselves as a CEO. The tactical advice, when followed, is sure to pay fruitful dividends.

Key Takeaways

  1. Companies don’t fail from growing too slow; they fail from growing too fast. Keep the founding team smaller than six until you’ve reached product-market fit.
  2. Require write-ups before meetings to ensure they are efficient.
  3. Don’t sell into the future. This will cause more headaches than progress.
  4. Sell results instead of product features.

Summary Notes

Find a Co-founder

Solo founders are more likely to burn out because of the high emotional burden that accompanies starting a company. That’s why YCombinator pushes for teams with at least two co-founders.

Grow Late Instead of Early

More companies die by scaling prematurely than they do growing later on. It’s better to grow later for 3 reasons:

  1. Morale (it’s harder to keep employees happy through a pivot)
  2. Organization (it’s easier to communicate when the company fits in a single room)
  3. Efficiency (you can write “prototype code” without worrying)

Optimize Yourself First

Your team’s efficiency is based on your example. If you leave early each day, you can expect your employees to do the same. If you’re inefficient, your team will follow suit. Try to be the first to show up and the last to leave.

Empathize With Others

Empathy is the key to success as a CEO. You must get curious about the situations of customers, investors, and team members. You should understand what it is like to be in their shoes. By doing that they will like you and trust you as a leader.

Onboard Successfully

Always provide new employees with a roadmap of goals that the employee is expected to hit within 90 days of joining.

Determine Company Values

Begin by asking the question: “The rest of you can make all the decisions about the company, as long as…”

Whatever the team answers are the values of the team. You should regularly do this exercise during the company’s first year every quarter.

Test Company Culture

Host events you enjoy and invite team members to join you. If team members are spending quality time together outside of work, you’re creating a good culture. If not, you need to increase efforts to build a better culture.

Track Processes

If you or a team member finds themselves repeating a task for the second time, write down the exact steps of the process and add it to a company wiki.

Run Efficient Meetings

All team members should write issues, updates, and feedback down before meetings. This allows others to review ideas, make comments, or even ask questions before a meeting is held.

Hold Worthwhile One-on-Ones

Here is a good template to follow in one-on-one meetings:

  1. Goals
    a. What successes did you have?
    b. What are you proud of? What setbacks did you encounter?
    c. What are you not proud of?
  2. Updates
    a. Review KPIs.
    b. What new information did you gather about the customer? The product?
  3. Issues
    a. What tools do you need to accomplish your Goals that you do not currently have?
  4. Feedback
    a. What did you like about the manager’s or the company’s actions since the previous meeting?
    b. What do you wish would change?

Deal with Poor Performing Employees

Follow these steps if you have an employee who is performing poorly (steps are written verbatim from book):

  1. Create a written PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) that states objective milestones and dates over a 7, 30, 60 and 90 day period.
  2. Meet weekly to check progress against the written milestones.
  3. At 30 days, if he hasn’t hit one of the milestones, then you let him go.
  4. At 60 days, the same.
  5. And at 90 days, the same.

If you have to let an employee go, give them a severance package that gives them enough time to find another job and begin getting paid. It should be one-month minimum, but realistically 2-3 months. You should be helping them find work during that time.

Receive Intros to Investors

If you know a particular investor you want to be introduced to, ask 3 to 5 people in your network to send them a recommendation email first. Oftentimes, this will be enough for the investor to be interested in whatever it is that you’re doing before they’ve even met you.

Become a Master Storyteller

The best CEOs are great storytellers that remain humble and relatable. Make sure to:

  1. Give credit to team members
  2. Talk about the hard work
  3. Share vulnerabilities
  4. Talk about the dream driving the actions
  5. Share gratitude

Master Sales

Focus on the why of your product. You want the customer to understand the results they will gain by using your product—not the features they will have available.

Results are all that matter when selling a product, not features.

You should only hire a sales team when you have product-market fit (almost all customers are renewing contracts), and you have figured out who you are selling to and how you are doing it.

Do not oversell! This will lead to three problems:

  1. You will burn your reputation with customers.
  2. Excess stress will be placed on the development team.
  3. The sales team will copy your way of selling, which is hard to reverse.

What Would I Change About the Book?

  1. Jumping to different authors at points made the book less fluid. It would be nice to have more background behind the writers upfront.
  2. I wish there were more examples of the author’s coaching experience.

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