Skip to main content

Startup Titles

Fred posted about titles yesterday: CFO vs VP of Finance. Titles are really not my favorite subject when talking about startups, because it distracts from the most important thing:  traction with customers.

I refrained from commenting because I think it's one of the less relevant pieces to early-stage startups he's done recently; it's a topic for later-stage startups, of which there are a lot fewer than early stage. Read the comments, though--some good stuff there.

So. CFO of what? If you're seed stage, a CFO is adding little strategic value; there simply isn't the cash-management, customer traction, investor relations to warrant anything more than advisory-level input.

If you're an early stage startup with less than, say, 10 people--VP of Marketing of what? If you have no direct reports, that's a pretty good indicator that a title isn't warranted.

Titles in startups do matter to the people who hold or held them; they're likely more meaningful after than during most startups, which rarely scale beyond the awkward 12 to 18-person stage.

What's important is the delineation and alignment of roles, acceptance of responsibility, execution, and reward based on execution.

That reward, in my view anyway, should be the increased value of the company, in which every employee should be an owner.

If you're a 3-person startup without funding, you really don't warrant titles like CFO, VP of anything, etc. When you give yourselves titles like these, you're signaling to potential investors that you intend to retain those roles as the company grows.

But the likelihood that each of you is right for that same role on an ongoing basis is relatively low. It's definitely possible, and you can, should, and will learn on the job, but you should be open to bringing in outside talent to help scale the company once you're funded and growing.

This is one of those incredibly tough subjects. You have the founder-leader, and if you have co-founders you still have the founder-leader, typically: the one person who carries the full responsibility for the company, organizes the resources, makes the big decisions (even with input), and is held accountable for those.

Don't worry about titles. Use the co-founder title loosely--make the first 3 to 5 people co-founders if they are taking risk--but C-level titles like CFO tightly.

Signal that you know the difference in stages by not handing out the C-level titles--the VP of marketing, the VP of Engineering.

The two titles I can see having some import early on is CEO and CTO. These are the visionaries and leaders, and responsible for building and scaling the company. Those roles are easily communicated internally and externally through titles.

And if you're a startup founder/CEO, I absolutely believe you should try to make a go of it and not give up that spot unless there's clearly a need for it:

  • you suck at recruiting and hiring true believers/great team members,
  • fail to organize the resources effectively
  • can't raise investment
  • can't grow revenue
  • make massive strategic mistakes, etc. 

If you feel you need titles, have fun with it. Signal appreciation, signal importance, but don't signal inflexibility.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beta Signup

I've been working for quite a while on a new search concept, though the further in I get, the closer the rest of the world gets to what we're doing. So today I'm inviting you to sign up for the rather modest beta, which will be ready soon if we can nail down a few difficult  details. Jawaya is a way of navigating the web and getting better results. And that's as much as I can say right now, because we're not a funded startup, and things are moving really fast in this space--it's going to be very competitive. I predict there will be about 10 funded startups in the next 6 months doing something similar. One of them will be mine, and we aim to make it the best. We're raising a round of capital to fund the team, and are shooting for early sustainability. This is my fifth company; my fourth in the tech space, and my third software company. I think it will be the biggest and can possibly have a positive impact on the world by reducing the amount of time it takes

Where Innovation Happens

As I get closer to a go/no-go decision on a project, I've been thinking about the difference about my vision for the project and the supportive innovations to enable the core innovations The vision combines (in unequal parts) product, core innovation as I imagine it, the application of that core innovation, design, marketing,  developer ecosystem, and business development. The core innovation enables everything else, but it's the application of the innovation that makes it meaningful, useful, and in this case, fun. This week we're testing initial approaches to the implementation for our specific application, and that's where we'll develop the enabling innovations, which is basically where the rubber meets the road. The difference is that the enabling innovation happens at the source of real problems only encountered in the making of something, and in a project like this just getting the essence of it right isn't enough; it also has to be safe, the compone

Disqus Digests

This morning my phone dinged with a fresh notification--a new email! What oh what could it be?  I rush over to check while thinking "I need to unsubscribe to a lot of stuff so I get fewer non-urgent dinging notifications." Well shoot, that's disappointing. It's Disqus Digests, one of the biggest wastes of dopamine anticipation ever.  It simply sucks.  Disqus itself is great as a commenting system. I've been there since the beginning and have mostly enjoyed its evolution.  And then they did this interruptive, irrelevant email. Well why does it suck, you say.  Every one of these "Digests" sends a few comments from a blog conversation in which I've already participated. That means it's very, very likely that I've seen the comments before.  So I open the mail, see something I've already read, and curse Daniel and Company for enticing me into wasting my time, and cursing myself for falling for it.  So I unsub