2 May 2022

How to Hire and Lead – Advice from a CEO

A good CEO needs to be, first and foremost, a good leader and not a boss. The difference is that one helps their team become better, while the other pushes them to “do better, work more”.

But to be this kind of CEO, you need to surround yourself with good people.

This is what the guest of “The Tropical MBA Podcast 640: Who’s In Your Van?” former CEO of AppSumo, Ayman Al-Abdullah talks about. Ayman took AppSumo from 3 million to over 100 million in lifetime revenue and is now helping other founders do the same.

“There is No Greater Learning Than Joining an Early-Stage Company” – 9:00

For a lot of folks, the dream is to work at a large company, and stepping from something like Coca-Cola to a startup run by some guy with a Twitter account may seem like their career is going in the wrong direction.

Ayman, who himself worked at Microsoft and switched that for a smaller company like AppSumo, doesn’t believe so:

“Anyone that has a high potential and high ambition, I think they’re gonna learn vastly more from an early-stage company than they ever will from a large company.

The things you learn at a large company are how to put together a Powerpoint deck and how to sit quietly at a meeting and how to bring up ideas that are really good ideas but no one’s ever gonna execute on.

‘Cause, it’s just too big of a machine. There is no greater learning than joining an early-stage company and being able to have a direct impact on the bottom line.”

Teams That Do Well Tend to Have Really Good Managers and Leaders – 10:05

Of course, saying that working at a large company is ultimately useless is wrong. For a lot of people, it is this experience that has given them a certain edge when stepping into the entrepreneurial world and the shoes of a CEO of a startup or smaller company.

Ayman said:

“The one thing that you get is, a lot of these larger companies, they’re essentially just a conglomeration of a thousand smaller companies.

And what I mean by that, is like, on your floor, there’ll be 15 different managers, that are running 15 different teams. And it’s super clear to you that teams that are doing really well have a direct correlation to those that have really good managers and really good leaders.”

Why are the Best Teams All About Recruiting? – 16:07

One of the biggest mistakes a lot of founders make is not realizing where they themselves should focus and where it’s better to hire someone. For instance, you might be good at closing deals with new customers or getting investors, but you can’t write marketing copy or a programming code. 

Knowing where you should be spending your time as the CEO and where you are wasting it is essential.

According to Ayman:

“I would argue that, as you continue to scale, your job is essentially kinda like a college football coach. You’re only recruiting them. The best teams are all about recruiting. And so, if you want to break through into 8 or 9 figures, you kinda have to view yourself as a college football coach.”

The Importance of Avatars in Your Business? – 20:07

Lots of new startups and companies struggle and fail for one key reason – they don’t have an ideal customer. This is where having an avatar can help immensely.


“I tell people all the time, if you don’t have an ideal client, if you don’t have that ideal person, then you’re creating a product for everybody. And that’s kinda like writing a love letter and addressing it ‘to whom it may concern’. It’s not gonna captivate the hearts and minds of anyone. And so, the more you can get super specific with who are you writing this love letter to, who are you building the product for, the better your product innovation will look.” 

Why ‘Servant Leadership’ is so Important? – 44:25

Successful leaders need three things according to Ayman:

  • Coaching
  • Recruiting
  • And ‘servant leadership’

He explains:

“So you coached them up, now they’re off on their own. Now it’s really about ‘how do I serve my leaders’. And the reason being is that the leader is there to serve the individual. You work for them. They don’t work for you. You’re there to give them a great life, they’re not there to give you a great life. And I think that the more you can truly embody that, which is, like, what does my team need from me?

Like, what’s their 5- year plan? They wanna launch a business, how can I help them accomplish that? Versus, like, ‘you do what I say because I’m the boss’, or because I pay you. What’s gonna happen is they’re gonna leave you for the person that’s gonna pay them more. Versus, if someone truly believes you got their back, and are truly in their corner, that they are lined around the purpose of the business, those are the people that are willing to knock down walls in order to help accomplish our mission.”


A business may start as a simple idea in your head, but it needs people to execute it. Without a good team, there is no good leader and this is what a CEO must be.

This is why one of their priorities should be to find and hire and coach the best people for their team and not be their boss, but who will help them accomplish their goals.