Screw Leadership Skills. This Is What Makes a Successful CEO

Countless listicles, marketing blogs, and self-help pyramid schemes have been built around the question of what makes a successful CEO. Might the answer have been in front of us the whole time?

On September 13, 2009, an event transpired that reverberated around the world. As Taylor Swift was in the midst of giving her acceptance speech for her MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video, Kanye West waltzed onto the stage, grabbed the microphone, and as an embarrassed TSwift looked on, proclaimed, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time…one of the best videos of all time!”


He shrugged, handed the microphone back to Taylor, and MTV cut to a commercial break. In this short moment, Kanye West exhibited the key factor that makes or breaks a CEO.

But actually.

The CEOs who nurture quixotic visions into billions usually get there the same way. Steve Jobs wasn’t a genius coder or a master engineer. He had a vision for how things should look, and he wouldn’t let anyone get in his way. His perfectionism and micromanagement interfered in his personal and professional life, and he nixed more products than ever came to light. But he trusted his gut on what would and wouldn’t work, peers and customers be damned.

Apple iPad

Zero consumer input went into this.

When asked about the market research that went into Apple’s trailblazing products, Jobs famously replied, “none. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” Apple customers didn’t get what Apple customers asked for. Apple customers got what Steve Jobs asked for. And it worked – I still use my iPod Nano and it’s 2018. No one got in the way of his vision, and that’s how he built a company that was valued at $300 billion in 2011, the year Jobs died.

Realizing the unlikely

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and supervillain archetype, launched his personal car into space. This program, and all of SpaceX’s other successes, would not have come to fruition if Musk had not literally been spat on in Russia.

Want insights on SpaceX or any other start-up? Order a Zirra Report here.  

When the software millionaire first attempted to realize his sci-fi dreams of colonizing Mars, he was in the market for a rocket. His friends tried to talk him out of it, but it was no use. In 2001, he traveled with a small entourage to Moscow, where he intended to buy a ballistic missile. There, he was laughed out of meeting after meeting (and spat on), until he was eventually offered what he wanted – for $8 million. Sick of not being taken seriously, he decided that if he wanted this undertaking done right, he needed to do it himself. And he did. SpaceX is now worth $24 billion, and though it may be overvalued, it’s enough to buy a whole lot of Russian ballistic missiles at full price.    

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster

When all the parking spots near the mall are full, amiright? Source: SpaceX

With a net worth of $108.9 billion, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the richest man to ever live. What started as the first online bookstore has evolved into an empire. To get there, Bezos had to take enormous risks and double down on his vision as larger, hungrier competitors encroached on his niche.

He’s also been accused of underpaying workers, enabling slavery-like conditions in his factories, and running a modern monopoly. But when asked about how he feels about fielding criticism from the Washington Post, which Bezos owns, he insisted that he would never interfere. In fact, he would be embarrassed to do so. Criticism is healthy, he believes, and when it’s valid, it’s a helpful tool for change. When it’s not, it just rolls off.

So, what makes a successful CEO?  

Back to Kanye at the 2009 VMAs. Not only was he correct in his assessment – the “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video is an unparalleled masterpiece – but he had the guts to call it as he saw it, when he saw it, for better or for worse. It worked to his benefit. Kanye increased his recognizability, got people talking about him, and then disappeared for a few months. When he resurfaced, it was to promote one of his best-received albums. He marketed himself brilliantly, and he did so by not giving a single s#*%.

There are a host of things that these CEOs have in common, from the obvious (big dreams, internal motivation) to the less so (shrewd personal marketing, a touch of sociopathy). Being a successful CEO does not necessarily mean being a good leader, or a good boss. It means that they were able to turn their plans into heaps of money. And in order to do that, they had to make sure they were set in that mission, despite what others might think. Someone building a business from the ground up has to know how to say “you know what? Screw this. I’m doing it my way.”

Emmet, Analyze Slack for Me

Although not widely reported, only a day before Amazon’s epic announcement about the acquisition of Whole Foods Market, it was also suggested that Amazon was to make a bid for Slack for about $9 billion. On that day, Bloomberg assumed that if completed, Slack would be Amazon’s biggest acquisition since the $970 million Twitch Interactive deal three years ago.

However, Jeff Bezos had other plans. After spending almost $14 billion from its cash deposit, Amazon is left with only $8 of cash and equivalents – one billion short from the original Slack offer.

It is quite logical to assume that either Amazon didn’t want to pay $9 billion for Slack, or that some other company, such as Microsoft, Google or IBM, made a better bid. 

According to Bloomberg, there is at least one company that is in serious talks with Slack, but these could end abruptly at any time, as Stewart Butterfield, CEO, and Founder of Slack, at this stage, is rumored to be against selling the company.

However one must examine: is Slack really worth $9 billion? Disregarding any acquisition, Slack is already on the verge of raising another $500 million in financing, at a $5 billion valuation, according to Recode.  

In order to better value the company and understand its status, we asked Emmet, our new A.I. company analysis bot to help us gather important data and insights on the company, a task Emmet can now perform within seconds and in plain, simple English.

Let’s begin with the web and mobile traffic:

Let’s zoom in into the graph:

According to Emmet, Slack’s web traffic has grown in the last year, passing for the first time 4M daily visitors. Mobile traffic is also generally growing, now at about 620K daily visitors.

Analyze any startup with Emmet: 

Now let’s compare Slack’s traffic to competitors and let us ask Emmet to map the competition for us:

Now, let’s ask Emmet to compare the traffic of Slack with Atlassian’s HipChat:

Or, compare Slack’s traffic with that of Microsoft’s Yammer:

Let’s ask Emmet to pull out the risk and success points he sees in Slack. They are marked by a rainbow of colors from risky points (red) to the pure success factors (green).  On the risky side, Emmet tells us that Slack lacks any patents and trademarks, has very few partnerships, and has few open positions.

The last point can be easily verified: According to LinkedIn, the number of total job opening has dropped in recent year, except for business development roles, suggesting that Slack is looking for new partnerships.

Moreover, when it comes to the competition amongst the corporates, there is some worry there too. Amazon has launched a similar product under the brand Chime, and Facebook already launched Workplace, however, neither has appeared to be seen as a real threat to Slack. However Microsoft, who has better access to Slack’s relevant market, is rumored to be launching a similar product and at present, it is unclear how much of a threat this will be to Slack.

In addition, Slack suffers from mixed reviews. Some companies even went as far to develop a substitute after trying Slack for some time. They claim that Slack is too shallow to allow productive discussions and also encourages employees to constantly be alert, which creates interruptions to the workflow. Other critics claim that Slack creates a constant distraction and in fact, can hamper productivity.

Emmet also flagged in yellow (neutral) the fact that Slack hasn’t raised any funds recently – an unnatural situation for a Silicon Valley unicorn. However, at this point, it is important to note that Slack’s last financial round was only a year ago, in April 2016, in which the unicorn raised $200 million from Thrive Capital, Accel, Comcast, Index, GGV and Social Capital. Back then, Slack was valued at $3.8 billion.

In the opportunity points section, Emmet brought mentioned the growing traffic, a low level of competition and the fact that it has raised more funds than any other startup in the field. Slack has so far raised $540 million, and according to Recode, will end 2017 with an addition of about $500 million more.

Emmet also paid attention to the fact that the company is often mentioned in the news, which we think is a good sign. This stems from Slacks efforts to raise new funds and the bidding process by giants such as Amazon and others.



So, is Slack worth $9 billion in case the company is acquired, or only $5 billion at a later financial round? Let’s ask Emmet, based on Zirra’s proprietary A.I. company analysis technology:

According to Zirra’s valuation technology, Slack’s is currently estimated at about $3.5 billion. This is not the company’s valuation at the books, but an estimated valuation based on 85 public data sources, that according to Emmet, is what the company should have been valued if it was a public company.

However, in case someone would like to buy Slack, we think that it should not be valued at more than $6 billion (Benchmarked Exit Valuation). Therefore, Amazon’s $9 billion offer includes a premium of $3 billion that might have been caused by Stewart Butterfield’s unwillingness to sell.

Analyze any startup with Emmet: