Christos Kritikos is a US-based startup strategist, EIR, coach and dreamer, and the founder of Emerging Humanity, that helps entrepreneurs tackle startup challenges, gain market traction, and become fundable. He has participated in several companies, consulted dozens of clients, and mentored over 80 founders in 20+ countries, helping with the growing pains of startups.
His education includes an M.S. in Computer Science (UCLA, Fulbright Scholar) and certifications in Design Thinking, Product Management, Brand Management, and Product Marketing. Christos coaches & mentors both independently and through innovative initiatives such as the US SBDC, SeedStars, LabEight, Cornell Tech, FasterCapital, and others. He has a passion for the convergence of technology and humanity and advocates mindful and socially-responsible entrepreneurship that aligns with our personal integrity and our collective needs.
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Table of Contents
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Christos Kritikos: I grew up in a risk-averse get-a-degree-and-a-job sort of family, so I didn’t have entrepreneurial role models. At the same time, following the employer path never felt right to me. So you could say that I was confused and I didn’t have a master plan! I quit my first “regular job” after 2 years, got into technology consulting, and “went with the flow” so to speak.
I loved working with entrepreneurs and unleashing the creativity of developing new products and services. I noticed most founders struggling with the same challenges and thought I could do something about them. So Emerging Humanity was born out of passion for technology and entrepreneurship!
The biggest lesson I learned along the way is to make honest and authentic choices. It’s important to be at peace with yourself, and I strongly believe you can only do that if you feel good about the strategic choices you make. Otherwise you depend on external factors for redemption.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Christos Kritikos: Emerging Humanity’s goal is to help founders build successful companies so that they become beacons of activity and prosperity in their respective communities. We offer courses, resources, and coaching, that help startups prepare for fundraising and growth.
What makes Emerging Humanity unique is that we advocate a holistic approach to entrepreneurship. This includes both the relationship between the company and its environment (social responsibility, sustainability, etc) and the intra-company behavior of executives, managers, and team members. We want to support and build companies that have a clear mission and engage in appropriate impact-driven activities. We also want executives to have a strong inner compass and practice individual accountability. Lastly, we want to foster the company culture and team dynamic that align with and support the above. This is quite a lot to unpack!
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Christos Kritikos: The first thing, of course, is to be honest with yourself. Find out exactly what you want to do and why. Being a CEO sounds great, but it means that all company choices ultimately reflect on you both as a professional and as a person. What kind of company would you want to associate yourself with?
Then you get to think about the practicalities. Do you have what it takes to become a CEO? Are there skills you get to improve? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Answers to these questions will help you find the right opportunity so you can shine!
For reference, to run a successful business, you will need the following:
- Vision. You need something that will light the fire and keep it burning. Your purpose will give you strength and determination and get others (customers, investors, employees, etc) to engage with your company.
- Product (or Service). You have to deliver substantial value to your customers. And there better be plenty of customers! In other words, you want a compelling audience-problem-solution combination.
- Team (and Culture). You want to align vision and values. You also need to complement skills, strengths, personality, and temperament. This applies to all levels, from the executive team to the interns.
- Funding. Money makes the world go around and you get to spend some to make some (more). But also beware, too much capital can lead to fiscal laziness. You get to pair the funding with responsibility. Make sure you’re spending your funds wisely, and move forward in stages.
- Leadership. It starts with the individual – everyone gets to think and act as a leader for themselves and the people around them – this expands through the company. Create an environment of trust, accountability and empowerment; it’s the best shot you can get at manifesting whatever potential you have in your hands.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Christos Kritikos: We all hope there is a recipe for this or that getting a degree would do the trick. But I think a lot of it is trial and error; learning in the field and from other people’s mistakes and successes. The key is to not get discouraged when you face obstacles. Instead, work through them and collect experience every step of the way. Lean on your team and leverage your network and take advantage of the benefits of a startup business coach.
My two role models have been Bono and Sir Richard Branson. They are an unusual choice in the tech startup world but I personally find them amazing. They excel at their craft, they are passionate, authentic, unconventional, and uncompromising. What they believe in reverberates throughout all their actions. They are a great source of inspiration!
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Christos Kritikos: CEOs bear a lot of burdens, as they are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a company. However, the CEO should never be the one hovering over people’s shoulders and taking away the responsibilities of team members.
I think a top CEO priority is implementing the vision throughout the company. Lead by example, support your employees and delegate responsibility. That’s why it’s important to build a strong culture and a strong, diverse team that feels empowered in their positions.
To be the best leader you can be for your company and employees, you get to keep growing as well:
- Hone your communication and listening skills. You want to be approachable so people come to you with issues and to seek advice and guidance.
- Practice empathy and gratitude. As a CEO, you have great power and great responsibility. You have been entrusted with the destiny of your employees and the company. Make sure to appreciate and understand your position.
- Seek feedback on your leadership. Check-in with workers to try to gauge how supported they feel in their role. Take in the information and examine it carefully, you may need to adjust your approach in certain situations.
- Provide constructive feedback. Constructive criticism and problem-solving are key. You don’t want to put people down but motivate them to do better and tackle any possible issues along the way.
- Encourage creativity and celebrate success. Keep lines of communication open, your frontline workers may have invaluable input. Acknowledge their ideas, apply them when possible, and let them know how it helped the organization. Take a moment to celebrate individual and collective victories with the team.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Christos Kritikos: At the business level, Covid was a big challenge as most of our pre-covid activities froze. A lot of our 2021 initiatives have been new – almost starting from scratch. We had to go back to the drawing board, come up with new ideas, validate, experiment, etc. Honestly, we still do! At the same time, this has been an opportunity for a “reset”, reestablishing things on a different and more solid foundation!
At the human level, Covid has been traumatic to most people and to various degrees. Supporting others (ie be it customers or team members) has been more important than ever. This means exercising more listening, openness, understanding, empathy, flexibility, authenticity, respect… You may say that these are qualities that a true leader exercises all the time. Correct. In that sense, Covid demanded more leadership out of all of us!
Finally, communication has been a catalyst behind all these. We are all in this together and need to work as one to find the best solutions for the company and for our customers.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Christos Kritikos: A common mistake that is even greater nowadays, is being set in your ways and refusing to adapt. Many businesses have failed because they could not or did not adjust to a new situation. The world has changed, it is now important to combine profit with social impact, the market has new sensitivities. What is your company doing to align with this new reality?
The way we approach this is by staying true to our vision, but flexible enough to adapt to new demands and challenging times. There are many ways to pursue your vision so don’t get attached to the “how” but remain loyal to the “why” and adjust the former as needed. Keep contingency plans and alternatives in mind all the time, whether it is for your product or service, delivery methods, pricing, customer acquisition, and marketing, etc.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Christos Kritikos: Taking most of our business online and partnering with other organizations in the same field is what has helped us stay afloat. Having strong networks and partnerships, and being willing to re-focus some of our efforts and initiatives is key.
Building a company triggers a lot of fears, insecurities, weaknesses, blind spots, and self-limiting beliefs. You have to face your “dark side” and get through it. That’s where your inner strength comes into play. Take care of your physical and mental health, exercise, eat right, rest, meditate, build a support network, and be ready to receive advice and feedback. For me, these are all important parts of my daily and weekly practice.
I also believe leadership is the most important quality in life and in business. You get to think and act as a leader every minute of every day. Leadership is a personal stance, it will draw people in, and it will reflect on your company.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Christos Kritikos: We see a lot of startup founders that are “jumping the gun” and are pursuing a next step that they are not ready for. It can be that they want to develop a product that is still insufficiently defined. Or that they want to pitch to investors and their business case is still weak or improperly structured. We see these as signs of poor information; founders don’t fully understand the process and the requirements for what they want to achieve.
To address this, we are expanding our informational offerings (articles, blog pages, etc) and introducing more flexibility to our programs. We have also created online self-paced courses, so even small startups at the beginning of their journey can get the right information and the support they need, without breaking the bank.
Naturally, this has to be communicated properly to our audience so we are currently reworking our market positioning and our funnels to make sure that entrepreneurs get access to the content or service that is most relevant to them. We have also put together a Startup Success Guide where founders can find the most applicable information depending on their stage in the startup journey.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Christos Kritikos: Wow, that’s definitely a new one!
There is a lot of knowledge that I got over the years and was never utilized. A lot of school classes were unrelated to my career, but also professional knowledge that seemed useful at the time and ended up unused.
However, I would not view any skill as useless. We never know which part of our experience will bring us advantages in different situations. Even bad choices can teach us what not to do in the future. We all have different paths in life, and I can’t honestly say any of the experiences, skills, or knowledge gathered along the way were useless.
Unless maybe, high school chemistry?! 😀
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Christos Kritikos: I like being open and helping people so I tend to approach life with a “why not” attitude. This became more prominent with the pandemic and the resulting instability. So one of the toughest decisions this past year has been to say “no” more!
I did this with opportunities that didn’t fully align with our mission or our strategic direction. These opportunities were great but not appropriate for us. In other cases, where we want to support something but we don’t align with the approach, I say “(no but) how about XYZ instead”? Reality continuously demonstrates that we know how to create the desired result for startup founders. So we steer people towards what we believe will help them the most. We may close the door and open a window. I don’t want to offer suboptimal service just to secure a sale.
Enriching our offerings with more DIY resources and self-paced eCourses has definitely helped. We want everyone to enhance their knowledge and get something positive out of their interaction with Emerging Humanity. This will help them become better entrepreneurs, it will help their companies be more successful, it will help the communities around them to prosper.
This initiative is far from over. We are in the constant cycle of improvement, adding new content, adjusting and tweaking our offerings based on feedback and how the market is moving and feeling!
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Christos Kritikos for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Christos Kritikos or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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