It’s exceptionally common to meet the founders of a start-up and all of them have a C-level title, assumedly designating their area of expertise. In this post, we aim to explore if this the best way to divide tasks and assign responsibility, and build the future for your company.

In an established organisation there are established divisions, teams, systems, and processes that all require oversight and governance, and presumably they have gone through maturation and evolution to end up where they are. In a start-up, you’ll be working on so many different areas and be necessarily reactive to the demands of the growing company or its client base, that the purity-of-function in established businesses, simply isn’t there – can’t be there. How would you as a client feel if you spoke with someone identifying as the CFO that then tried presenting product to you because “…the other guys were busy”? Straight away a singular area of focus is demonstrably unwise. As a start-up, you need to be adaptable if you’re going to survive.

If you draw out what you need to achieve as a company in the first 6/12/18 months (or whatever your timeline) and then assign responsibilities, you don’t need a title. It’s going to be clear who’s doing what when there are only a few of you. Typically, these fall into the following areas; Product, Operations, and Commercial, and while there are obviously divisions of labour within any team, with specialists obviously tackling complex issues in their own domain, each member of a start-up must be a swiss-army knife rather than a specific, single-use tool, and all capable of doing any part of what’s required, even if sub-optimally. You might be the greatest CFO ever in the future, but you equally must be able to answer a client support call early on.

The elephant in the room is that where – individually – do you go from here? If you’re the CxO you either stay put, or get demoted. Is the CTO of a 5-person company remotely capable of running a burgeoning technology company of 200 or 2000? Unlikely. So why set your company up for potential civil war when you can start things on a footing where you have headroom to grow? What use is a title like this early on anyway?

The start-ups that work best are where they remain fluid in nature, letting people do what needs doing instead of assigning ego-satisfying titles like ‘CEO’ as every day new challenges will require new approaches and problem-solving skills, and these self-limiting titles can ‘turn-on’ the blinkers so you stay in your worryingly well-defined lane. So, what’s the solution?

We’ve seen the most capably run start-ups thrive in any circumstance really, but the overall trend is to move away from the C-suite and towards more descriptive titles early, that don’t pigeonhole people and strip possible dimensions and capabilities away from their responsibilities. A rose by any other name; sure. But if you’re shooting for optimal operations, then the minutia does matter – especially when so simple to implement from day one. While a founder might be designated ‘Head of Operations’ they can easily pivot to more commercially oriented roles as ‘Sales Director’ or into a more formal COO position should they merit it as the company grows. If you are interfacing with external agencies where a touch of pomp & circumstance might be necessary to secure that next round of funding, then we recommend ‘Co-Founder’ or ‘Founding Partner’. You’ll have the gravitas of the title should you need to talk with these external agents, and you don’t paint yourself into a corner from an internal perspective.

Titles like ‘Ninja of X’ or ‘Y Rockstar’ might sound cool (well they might of 5-10 years ago) they’re now a bit on the nose, and it’s hard to be taken seriously by an investor or potential partner at a global company. Keep it simple. Keep it humble. Focus on the success of your company rather than lofty, unnecessary titles and business cards, and your chances for success improve.




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