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9 CEOs predict what will be their biggest business challenges in 2019

We asked CEOs across industries–be it cannabis or AI–about what their greatest hurdles will be as leaders next year.

9 CEOs predict what will be their biggest business challenges in 2019
[Photo: Mike Kononov/Unsplash]

As some CEOs look ahead to the new year–and look back on 2018–they take stock of where their business is going and what hurdles they might face in the coming year. For some, the regulatory landscape of their industry can play a big role in how they scale and appeal to customers; for others, raising funding can prove tricky and take them away from their day-to-day workload and leadership goals.

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We asked a number of CEOs across industries what they perceive as their biggest business challenge in 2019.

Scaling without sacrificing culture

“Day in and day out, I’m constantly putting out fires which makes it a challenge to stay focused on the big picture, especially when it comes to building and maintaining our company’s culture. One of our most important tenets is doing right by our students, parents and instructors–in every way possible. As a fast-growing company, we know that the level of service and engagement we provide could easily be compromised. I’m making it a priority to ensure that we hold ourselves accountable every step of the way.”

—Vivian Shen, CEO of coding startup Juni Learning

Navigating regulatory hurdles

“The cannabis industry has so many challenges that our team and industry are navigating every day, from banking to a lack of external services to aggressive regulation. The reality is, this is the business we are in, so we are equipped to handle those types of challenges. What we need to be laser focused on is ensuring that Flow Kana is scaling as fast as possible to meet the consumer demand–and we are growing in the right type of way, prioritizing quality, people, and community.”

—Michael Steinmetz, CEO of cannabis startup Flow Kana

Staying lean but selling big

“We sell to small and medium-sized businesses, so we can’t afford to have a huge sales force. That means that our offer needs to sell itself. We have to communicate really clearly and iterate constantly to ensure we’re making it easy for busy business owners to understand the value of our service.”

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—Alicia Thomas, CEO of fitness tech startup Dibs

Evolving your company mission

“Code2040 is really evolving. We are going from being a pipeline organization to one that addresses the structural barriers to inclusion. It’s going to be my job that our community understands the importance and urgency of the shift.”

Karla Monterroso, CEO of the diversity nonprofit Code2040

Making people care about your cause

“As the CEO of a poverty-fighting organization, my biggest challenge will be maintaining the momentum we’ve gained in the war against poverty and injustice around the world, despite significant headwinds. Extreme poverty has declined by nearly half in 20 years. That’s such good news. But the number of people around the world who are not getting enough to eat is up for the third year in a row after many years of progress. We must fight against climate change, complacency, and the growing threat to America’s humanitarian leadership.”

—Michelle Nunn, CEO of humanitarian aid organization Care

Prioritizing self-care

“Finding work-life balance is always a struggle as a CEO. Running any company requires constant prioritization, but at an early-stage startup, the pace is especially rapid, and things change constantly. There’s a desire to always put the business first, but I know that without proper self-care and clear boundaries between work and life, there’s real burnout risk and it will be difficult to perform my best as a CEO. In 2019, my goal is to work harder at setting boundaries and making sure I remain my best, healthiest self.”

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—Nicole Gibbons, CEO of direct-to-consumer paint startup Clare

Setting boundaries around communication tools

“Defining effective guardrails around communication across tools like Slack and email is especially critical as we grow, so we don’t impact productivity–and ensure healthy and direct communication is happening via appropriate channels.”

—Falon Fatemi, CEO of AI startup Node

Letting go and delegating

“[I’m] switching my mindset from working ‘in the business’ to working ‘on the business’. SnapTravel is currently at about 80 employees and we will be doubling over the next year. In the best interests of a company of this size, I need to spend more time working on strategic initiatives–which are often outside of the office–versus working in the day-to-day weeds in the business. I love being a hands-on business operator, which makes this shift quite challenging.”

—Hussein Fazal, CEO of travel startup SnapTravel

Staying present while raising capital

“I’ll be raising capital next year, which is always challenging because it takes me out of the office and forces me to let go of other projects and responsibilities. One of my leadership responsibilities is to identify challenges before they disrupt productivity, which is a lot harder to do remotely. On the bright side, this is a great time for other members of my team to step up and strengthen their own leadership skills.”

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—Nicole Centeno, CEO of food startup Splendid Spoon 

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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