The Norwest Ventury Partners CEO Journey Study 2018
12 takeaways from leaders who are turning their visions into reality.

Many Strive for Work-Life Balance

71 %

get 6+ hours of sleep

60 %

exercise multiple times per week

48 %

read for pleasure

While on average, CEOs/founders admit they haven’t had a completely work-free weekend in 6 weeks, most (71%) get 6 hours of sleep or more per night, exercise multiple times per week (60%), find time to read frequently for pleasure (48%) and still read to improve their business (56%). And despite long hours at the office and the reality of having to bring work home, only 21% report missing important occasions “all the time.”

It’s in the Bag. They’re aware of how sacrifices have affected their personal life, but CEOs/founders are not daunted by the prospect of working to make things better. In fact, they consider raising capital for their company (59%) more challenging than achieving a work-life balance (41%).

Tradeoffs for Success

29 %

feel strongly that their personal life has suffered

Biggest sacrifices:
60 %


47 %


41 %


Personal Matters. Despite the stereotype of CEOs/founders bearing the burden of being “lonely at the top,” the reality is that less than one-third (29%) feel strongly that their personal life has suffered. They do concede, however, that they have made sacrifices to their happiness (60%), health (47%) and their relationships (41%).

It’s Not (That) Lonely at the Top

93 %

socialize with other CEOs/founders a few times a month or more

27 %

socialize with other CEOs/founders multiple times a week

74 %

enlist family members to help with the business a few times per month

Meeting of the Minds. Aside from health, wellness and business coaches, CEOs/founders also spend time learning from their peers. The vast majority (93%) socialize with other CEOs/founders a few times a month or more, and 27% do so multiple times a week.

Helping Hands. While CEOs/founders are finding ways to achieve the work-life balance they’ve worked so hard for, there is an aspect of business they haven’t yet mastered: financial support. Nearly 3 in 4 (74%) CEOs/founders had to turn to friends or family for financial support when launching their company. Additionally, 74% enlist family members to help with the business a few times per month or more.

Struggling with Fear of Failure

90 %

admit fear of failure keeps them up at night more than any other concern

Other concerns:
49 %

revenue growth

49 %

raising capital

46 %

work-life balance

Fear Factor. When businesses live and die by their ability to secure funding and maintain growth and financial success, relying on a personal network can help—but it certainly isn’t sustainable. This is not lost on CEOs/founders, as 90% admit the fear of failure keeps them up at night more than any other concern.

Risk Management. Indeed, financial concerns are the thorn in CEOs’/founders’ sides that keeps them from fully enjoying the fruits of their labor. In fact, when it comes to their most significant challenges, revenue growth (49%) and raising capital (49%) top the list over concerns of work-life balance (46%).

CEOs Wish They Had More Hard Skills

53 %


51 %


37 %


Skills Challenge. Building a company from scratch is a testament to the CEOs/founders’ business acumen, but they know there are skills that could help them face obstacles to success. CEOs/founders most wish they had more expertise in the hard skills of operations (53%), finance (51%) and sales (37%) prior to starting their business.

CEOs Wish They Had More Soft Skills, Too

37 %

public speaking

37 %

planning and organizing

37 %

conflict resolution

34 %

stress management

34 %

change management

Polishing Up. Expertise in hard skills is not the only important factor when starting up a company. CEOs/founders realize they could have used some greater expertise in certain soft skills as well—primarily in public speaking (37%), planning and organizing (37%) and conflict resolution (37%).

Some Leadership Roles are Harder to Fill

38 %

sales leader

37 %

technology leader

25 %

operations leader

Tough Orders to Fill. CEOs/founders find it most difficult to fill leadership positions for sales/customer success (38%), tech/engineering leaders (37%) and operations (25%). Considering that many CEOs/founders recognize a shortfall in their own hard skills, it comes as no surprise that they find it tough to hire staff for executive-level positions requiring those same skills. The importance of these hires helps explain why 53% of CEOs/founders will invest their time to conduct three or more in-person interviews before offering employment.

Individual Investor Expertise Matters Most

47 %

individual investment partner expertise

44 %

alignment with company’s vision

42 %

ability to fund the company over the long run

Finding the Right Match. A major disconnect with an outside investor could mean the difference between a company’s success or failure. Individual partner expertise (47%) was cited as the most important factor when seeking a lead investor, followed by alignment with their company’s vision (44%) and the ability to fund their company over the long run (42%).

Treasured Trait: Once the decision has been made, a premium is placed on bringing business development skills to the table (33%) as the most important help their investor could offer.

Founders Act Quickly to Raise Funding

79 %

sought outside investment within a year of starting their company

Widening the circle. The search for allies to succeed in business does not stop at the workforce. CEOs/founders eventually find they need to attract outside capital. Fortunately, most CEOs/founders recognize fairly quickly that they will require expertise and resource beyond just family and employees. Within a year of starting their company, 79% sought outside investment.

Executives Identify with Warren Buffett

36 %

say their business personality is best described by the intuitive investor Warren Buffett

29 %

Richard Branson

20 %

Elon Musk

Spirit Animal = Warren Buffett. 36% of respondents say their business personality is best described by the intuitive investor, Warren Buffett, followed by the serious risk-taker Richard Branson (29%) and the idea generator Elon Musk (20%).

Pushing the Limits with Extreme Sports

48 %

do extreme sports

46 %

sports cars

35 %

high-speed watercraft

25 %


Driving Force. All that time networking and polishing their skills leaves many needing an outlet for pent-up energy. That could be what has driven nearly half (48%) of CEOs/founders to test their limits over the last 12 months through extreme sports such as skydiving, mountain biking or zip-lining. Three out of five (60%) have a need for speed. Of that group, 46% enjoy driving high-performance sports cars, 35% ride high-speed watercraft such as jet skis and 25% ride motorcycles.

We’re With You All The Way

Norwest Venture Partners launched this initiative to take a deeper look at how CEOs and founders operate and function, how they approach hiring and company culture, and how their leadership styles reflect their own personalities. The insights gained help us offer the best resources and programs to support them on their company-building journeys.

We thank the more than 200 industry-diverse CEOs and founders of privately held, venture- and growth equity-backed companies who responded to our survey.