The bookworm chronicle by the CTO & the CMO // Weekly Reading #2 // Noémie Benoit on Startup CEO by Matt Blumberg

Matt Blumberg is the CEO of Return Path, a global email company founded in 1999 that has grown to over 400 employees and around $100 million in revenue. The experiences gained over the years as the CEO of Return Path became the driving force for his blog OnlyOnce and years later for Startup CEO. Startup CEO is an instructional manual for being a CEO, covering a number of issues Blumberg faced over the dozen years he’s been a CEO, such as: storytelling, team building & hiring, execution, boards of directors, and managing yourself.


1. What is the most striking concept or the one thing to remember after reading Matt Blumberg’s book?

I chose this book after having read Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, another great book of the StartUp Revolution series.

CEO is a very important role, even when it’s shared between two persons like at Around Media. I knew the role of the CEO was tough but I discovered even more facets of it. You are being constantly consulted yet you also need to get your own deliverables done every day. The CEO’s role is a 360 degrees role: you cannot be superficial about things, you have to know a lot for leading the company taking into account all its parts especially when the company is still small. It’s a complex responsibility and it’s a lonely job even though you are in the middle of everything. Nobody is thanking you or people take it for granted what you do because you are the CEO.

I think the book of Matt Blumberg changed my attitude in the sense of that, before I read it, I thought everyone has its responsibilities and you get things done. After reading it I feel more empathy and consideration for the CEO’s role and all its invisible parts. I try to be more present for our CEOs, more a sparring partner or someone caring for them, beyond just my role as executive.

2. And what did you learn that was new to you?

Definitely the part of “Managing a board of directors”. It contains great advice for managing a board of directors and getting the best out of it in a proactive, responsible and professional way. Stories being told in the startup scene often give the impression, that investors are the ones obliging you to do things you don’t want to do. But when reading this part, it becomes very clear that it’s all about excellent management of the board. Don’t give up the authority and the responsibility of leading the company even with investors.

3. Blumberg also talks about the importance of managing your personal operating system: your agenda (your job description and current priorities), your calendar (the schedule of meetings and appointments throughout the year), and your time (making sure you spend appropriate amounts of time on each type of task). What did you implement at Around Media and in your personal workflow?

Actually, I copied this paragraph on to my desktop to check every week:

  • Strategy. Are we doing enough here to build sustainable competitive advantage?
  • Plan. Do we have the right plan in place to scale revenues and profits?
  • Market. Am I spending enough time with clients, resellers and partners?
  • People. Do we have the right people? Are we investing enough in development?
  • Culture. Is this an awesome place to work? Are we staying nimble enough?
  • Execution. Are we executing on our plan? If not, why not?
  • Financing. Is there enough cash in the bank? For how long?
  • Board. Do we have the right directors? Am I using them enough?
  • Me. Am I doing enough to learn and grow as a leader?
  • Current. What’s the most important, right now?

Turn it into tasks and projects.

Yes, I took this piece of advice into my calendar as a bi-weekly check. Are we on track? Are we still focused on the right things? In startups, you need to refocus CONSTANTLY. It’s normal – you get lot of input the whole time, it does create noise and you loose the focus without having even noticed it. A constant reprioritisation habit is the first skill to survive and perform in startups. Before the self-management part of course 😉

4. If you like to summarize this book by one idea, what would it be?

The part of the book where the complex process of building companies, from start-up to “grown up”, is being described:

“Our board member Greg Sands once compared the phenomenon of companies growing out of the startup stage to cell development in small organisms. Amoeba or paramecia consist of one cell, and that cell has to do everything: eat, move, sense its surroundings, and respond accordingly. When the cell divides, the new cells still need to do everything – they’re just attached to other cells. But as organisms grow more complex, individual cells need to specialise. And when things get really complex, you need a liver, a spleen, a stomach, and a pancreas.” Matt Blumberg, Startup CEO

It has inspired me very much by giving me perspective on the mechanisms for hiring people. The hiring process is delicate and crucial at startup stage. You need to find people, who are able and like to build from scratch. While hiring, you need to understand how a person performs best and to which moment of the company’s development her role is corresponding.

Matt Blumberg in conversation with former CNN correspondent Rusty Dornin


I see you next week for the next weekly read chronicle! And if you have any book suggestions, let me know! I’m sure Noémie and Daan will add it to their list!

Karolin, for the Around Media and team

Every Friday our CMO Noémie Benoit and our CTO Daan Depaepe take turns here presenting their weekly reading and telling us what fascinated them about the book and what they took out of it for the company and their personal career.