Wisdom//

I Became a CEO at 20 and Raised $77 Million over the Last 10 Years. Here Are the Most Powerful Lessons I’ve Learned.

Here are the important lessons I've learned from joining the C-Suite at 20.

jayk7/Getty Images
jayk7/Getty Images

By Suhail Doshi, Contributor

  • Suhail Doshi is the founder and former CEO of Mixpanel— a data analytics company that raised $77 million in 10 years.
  • Being a CEO isn’t easy. Suhail, who became CEO at 20 years old, reveals the most powerful lessons he learned from running the company.
  • Your job as a CEO is to help others through meetings, and empower them to make decisions. You should spend 90% of your time listening, and 10% talking.
  • Don’t avoid confrontation — but remember you’re addressing problems, not people — and make sure you apologize when youinevitably make a mistake.
  • Get yourself a mentor, a therapist, and a group of founder or CEO friends to best help you through all of the challenges that you will face.

At 20 years old, I became a CEO. I dropped out of college, and prior to this, I had only interned at another company. I couldn’t imagine the journey that would start with writing code all day to scaling to 300 people. I got lucky — I screwed up a lot, but had a lot of help.

Here’s what I learned along the way:

Giving up control is hard. At the beginning, I felt like everything was important. But you can’t be good at everything. Over time, I learned the importance of consciously and constantly giving things up. Without learning this, you won’t scale and the company will suffer.

Your VCs won’t want to offend you by suggesting this, so I will: Get a CEO coach and do a 360 review of yourself every few years.

It was life changing for me — I learned you can’t fix everything about yourself. When I attempted to improve multiple things at once, it was overwhelming. Instead, focus on two to three things each year. Most new CEOs will have to work harder at becoming more collaborative with their team as the company grows. Tell your company that you’re working on this, and it’ll help build more trust.

Over time, you will start to feel like all you’re doing is spending time in meetings and not getting any real work done. You are though. Remember that your job now is helping others through the meetings. Don’t resist it — embrace it. Now’s the time to design them to be fun and productive.

Live by the mantra: “You should be building a team that can fulfill the mission without you.” Empowering others on your team will help you feel less stress in the long-run. When you forget, ask yourself why you started this thing in the first place. Was it really about the money, the power, or ego?

Don’t avoid confrontation with tough, critical decisions — deal with it head-on. Avoiding confrontation leads to resentment, eventually sours relationships in a irrevocable way, and slows the company down — which creates instability. When dealing with confrontation, though, attack problems — not people.

You will royally screw up with people in your company. Sometimes you won’t be fair, or you will say the wrong thing. Those affected may even dislike you for a long time. The words “I am sorry, I screwed up” are some of the most powerful you can ever say to someone. Just keep in mind, those words won’t always fix the problem.

Your job will become 90% listening, 10% talking. I was bad at not interrupting others and had to work twice as hard at it. After nine and a half years as CEO, the best solution I’ve found is to write things down during a meeting. It made me focus on what others were saying, and showed I was listening.

Control your mood meeting-to-meeting. Sometimes you will have a bad or devastating meeting, but try to remember that the next set of people don’t have that context and may be excited or stressed to meet with you.

Your intuition about customers and the market will get worse as the organization grows and you become further estranged from the consumers. Keep empowering your team to make decisions — but hold them accountable. Spend time learning from them.

Discovering the truth becomes harder as you grow. It also becomes the most important thing you can do as you guide the company. Make acquiring the truth, and using it to make decisions, part of the culture. I did this by constantly asking people what the actual facts were.

Power = responsibility. Being a CEO can be lonely — you can’t be as vulnerable and authentic as you’d like. To help yourself through this, find other founders who can be real with you. Have dinners with them and share problems openly. I’ve been given hugs during tough times, and it made a difference.

Find a great mentor. Pick someone you want to impress; someone who will lift you up when you’re down, and take you down a notch when you’re overconfident. Ideally, this person has been a CEO/founder before, so they can empathize with you. Remember though: A mentor offers guidance, not a script.

We’re all human and have our insecurities, so consider a therapist to help you with your personal psychology. If you associate a stigma with therapy, know that I did too, but I was wrong. I wish I had done it earlier in life. It will be invaluable.

Finally, keep working hard to improve. You can’t fix mistakes of the past but you can be better in the future. Don’t give up: When you make hard decisions, you get to know which values and principles you truly stand for.

That alone makes the journey worth it.

Suhail Doshi is the founder and former CEO of Mixpanel, an analytics platform for mobile & web. You can follow Suhail on Twitter.

Originally published on Business Insider.

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