Roman Arzhintar: what does it mean to be a well-rounded CEO?

Steven Loeb · October 16, 2015 · Short URL:

The Founder and CEO of SideReel outlined the core balances of being a CEO at Splash LA

At Vator's annual Splash LA event on Thursday we were honored to have Roman Arzhintar, the Founder and CEO of SideReel, give a talk about what a topic he knows a lot about: what it means to be well rounded CEO.

Companies go through numerous phases and there are many things that a CEO has to do through the different stages of a startup, including learning what type of leader they want to be, learning how to raise money, somehow getting a product out, and formulating good relationships with co-founders and employees.

"With all of these company stages, what does it really mean to be a well-rounded CEO? To me it really comes down to one word, and that's balance. What's your ability to balance really difficult things?" he said.

He pointed to the core balances that he, and other CEOs, frequently come across. The first is focus vs agility.

"A startup is not like LEGO blocks. You can't do this and then do that, put it together and then, bam, you've made it. Everything's hard. Everything takes forever and nothing looks like what it was supposed to look like. No one ever does what you thought they would do." he said.

"You do want to have some agility; you really want to have a little product focus. You gotta remember to extrapolate. Just remember that is going to take a long time, you've gotta be able to change things, but you also gotta be able to focus."

Arzhintar told the story of when John Madden was coaching the Raiders. First he told his linebacker to watch the run. Then he told him to watch the pass. Finally, he told the linebacker to watch everything, so the linebacker went right back to where he started.

"Nobody wants to work for a schitzo. Try to have a bit of continuity in your thinking; don't change direction every 10 seconds. People just think you're a maniac."

Experimentation is fine, he said, but a CEO should also try to think, "What can we do to try to get this company to try this with the minimal possible investment? Because if it fails, it fails, but if it works, you can always build on that."

His next core balance is planning vs doing, or "How much of your time do you spend managing versus doing individual execution tasks?"

"This is such a tough, tough, tough thing. You're going to be looked at as an example by your co-founders and by your employees, either now or later. If you're constantly asking what they're doing, and telling them what they should be doing, and how they can do things better, you might want to ask yourself the same thing, because no one's asking you this on a daily basis: 'What the hell are you doing [as CEO]? And why isn't anyone up your tush asking if you can do it better?'" said Arzhintar.

Arzhintar asked himself those questions every day, including how could stop managing and why the company was having so many meetings.

"The one thing that is true today versus building a company years back is that you have these amazing productivity tools. You have Google Docs, you have GitHub, you have these amazing things that help you be more productive. They help you executive versus manage," he said.

"The downside is you have all these great productivity tools and people are sitting on Pivotal Tracker for hours on end and think that is their job. It's a balance and people do look to the CEO to set that balance."

The next balance is trust vs investigation, or "Knowing when to trust what your engineering team tells you versus questioning it. No engineer likes to be questioned about why they did something."

This one is especially true of non-technical CEOs, he said, and to help yourself you can do a few things, including getting board advisors or individual mentors. Also, a CEO can user other techniques such as what Arzhintar calls "chickening meetings" - where the CEO attends meetings as a silent spectator.

"You just listen and don't give comment afterward, because the whole point was to just hear. Bring your computer, or do whatever, but just keep your mouth shut.  Keeping your mouth shut is good practice for CEOs anyway."

Finally, the last core balance was loyalty vs responsibility,"which is not about how to be a well-rounded CEO as much as it’s something that CEOs flaunt with reckless abandon."

"You're supposed to be acting in the best interests of the company and also the shareholders. And there is always a tension between the employees of the company, who get common stock, and the shareholders who get preferred or who may convert to common or preferred" said Arzhintar.

"The net of it is there are employees, and there are  shareholders, and at the end of the day, depending on how many shares you got, some people are going to get more and some people are going to get less."

The worst thing that a CEO can do is be nepotistic. Not only does it send the wrong message but it’s "a little bit of a nuclear bomb in the office."

Nepotism can come in various forms, such as giving friends equity to be advisors, or keeping co-founders on longer than you should because they are your friends.The CEO has a boss too, and it is the Board [of Directors] "which can do pretty much only one thing, which is to can your ass. So be forthcoming with the Board."

"I don't know of a CEO who’s not guilty of having transgressed this one way or another, myself included. It's just one of those things that you have to deal with in my opinion."

So, to sum it up, what does it mean to Arzhintar to be a well-rounded CEO?

According to Arzhintar, "The CEO is supposed to orchestrate great decisions in a volatile environment.  It's someone who drives a impassioned team execution to meet market need."

Thanks to our main sponsors Wilson SonsiniKPMGJavelin Venture PartnersSky MediaWavemakerAll Good Living Collective,  Bread and Butter Wine, and our co-production partner, Bixel Exchange.

Editor's Note: Our annual Post Seed conference is around the corner on Dec. 1 at Ruby Skye in San Francisco. Speakers include John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins), Vinod Khosla (Khosla Ventures), Alfred Lin (Sequoia Capital), and more. Join us! REGISTER HERE.

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Roman Arzhintar

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I am an entrepreneur and investor. I enjoy building products and companies. I have been a founder of several companies, have purchased two, sold two, and always interested in what's out there.