Titles and Roles in Startups

Every once in a while I see a discussion about what the right definition for some startup position is. What does a startup CMO do? What does a CTO do?

I think titles in startups are often overrated and mean a lot less than a lot of people think. Almost by definition a startup is a small team that’s executing on dozens of fronts in parallel. Dozens of fronts means dozens of required skillsets, which often means at least a few separate skillsets per founder. Because of this, I find it useful to think about founders as having multiple ‘roles’, not one ‘title’.

To further confuse things, roles often shift as you go along. Three months ago Eytan was supporting users, now I am. At some (short) point Eytan and I were both writing code, now only Eytan is.

Roles in startups shift for two reasons. The first is learning. With time, you get better at understanding what executing a role means, and with that your picture of who is best qualified to execute it shifts. For example, I used to think that being a good dealmaker takes charisma. Now I think charisma is great, but being able to correctly analyse all parties’ interests is more important.

The second reason roles shift is growth. For pretty much every domain of business, the challenges and required skillsets change as you grow. Supporting ten users a day is different from supporting a hundred, maybe the same person is a fit for both, maybe they’re not.

Startups have to be fast on just about every front. Somewhat counter intuitively, this applies to how you operate just as much as to what you build or how you market. On average, I think a startup will be better off if it doesn’t think much about titles and sees roles as fluid, something that’s iterated on, just like their product.