07 Apr 2014

Tricky business – deciding who does what in your team

By Paul Miller


Startups aren’t like big companies where you get a clear job description, quarterly targets and a manager on the day you join. They’re a messy affair with no set organisational diagram or template to follow.

In very early stage tech startups (like the ones we support at BGV) there are usually two roles that are easier to define – CEO and CTO. But still it can be tricky. CTO is the person who leadson technology and in the very early days often builds it. CEO is often the person who goes out and raises money and then talks to investors, usually they’re the the person journalists want to talk to as well. It also probably involves doing all the administrative gubbinsthat nobody else wants to do – from dealing with bookkeeping through to the less glamorous organisations any company has to be nice to.

Then there are a whole bunch of roles that are more difficult – especially if you have less people than possible roles. One way of doing it is to divide the ‘C’ roles between you – even if you’re only a team of two or three. Here are nine to get you started:

CCO – community, helping the company communicate with users
CEO – overall strategy, dealing with investors and other partners
CFO – looking after the finances
CIO – information flow and management inside the organisation
CMO –marketing and spreading the word

COO – operations and the way the company is organised

CPO – product, usually including the way it is designed
CSO – security, making sure you’re safe and sound

CTO – technology strategy and delivery

It can be a really useful way to know who is responsible for what. It also helps you personally sort out what not to do. It can be tempting to try and do everything together when you’re a small team but it’s not very efficient. Try to always have a one page document that summarises your team and their responsibilities (bullet points is fine) and check in on it once every few months.

To some extent job titles are also an external thing – they help the outside world know how to relate to you. If you all want to have weird and wonderful job titles that’s fine, but you will have to explain what they mean every time you meet someone new (I was once given the job title ‘policy scientist’ which confused the hell out of most people).

All startup roles are really, really difficult and in the early days it’s much more important that you communicate clearly, support one another and appreciate the hard work you each put in than having perfect job descriptions. Also make sure you have an honest conversation about what each of you wants to do and what you hate doing so that you can help each other find the right roles over time.