Of Roles & Titles In Startups [First Deserve, Then Desire]

“Make me CTO”, told a startup employee to the founder/CEO.

“CTO? You joined as Engineering lead, just a few days back..what happened?” [Founder/CEO]

“See..I am the senior most technology guy in the company! And I take care of all technology stuff, so…”

“Hmmm…” [Founder/CEO]

“And frankly, I was engineering lead in my last organization as well (a big brand MNC company)…Now that this is a startup, I should be taking over a bigger role” [Startup Employee]

How many times have you been through this situation? As a founder or as an employee in a startup? That is, the need to get a ‘sexy’ title, just because you work for a startup and the importantly, nobody else is (currently) occupying that ‘title’?

Indians, in general are very particular about roles & titles (you will never find a 15+ work experience guy working as a software engineer – we actually loathe that title and people want to “move up” – i.e. team lead/project lead/managers etc.), owing to the power distance DNA embedded in us.

Note to Startup Employees

Before you ask for that title:

-Understand that you really need to deserve the title. Read the next point.

- Size of company doesn’t mean much. Title translates to capability.
If you are CTO of a small company, would you join Google as an entry-level engineer or somebody senior (after all, you were the CTO of a small startup!). Can you really handle same level of complexity (in Google/Apple) and justify the “ CTO title”? Ask yourself. It’s not about the size of operation, but it’s the capability of the person that ‘title’ should stand for.

The same applies to startup founders too, but the good (and bad) news is that you don’t have a choice. You started the fire – so keep it going (either by being the Chief Executive Officer or hiring one).

- Think of 100X bigger company and ask yourself….

what’s really the role of a CXO (or whatever title you are running after) in this 100X sized company? What does he/she goes through everyday? It’s not about the fat pay packet, but it’s about responsibilities – so think twice before you ask for a role.

- Difference between role & title

How many of us understand the difference between role and title? Of course, startups are about risks and as an early employee, you need to reap the benefit of being there and building the company from scratch? Well, that’s where the difference between responsibilities & titles lie. You could be a software engineer performing the role of an architect – so you first show that natural leadership and grow, instead of taking the reverse route.

Startups provide a blank canvas and as an employee, you should first try to make that impact and then reap the ‘title’ benefit.

Notes To Startups:

For short-term benefits (i.e. instant gratification to attract talent), please do not distribute titles. You can be creative and say “Mischief Technology Officer”, but if you giveaway titles to undeserving candidates, you are just digging your brand’s graveyard (how cool will it be to meet your CTO who doesn’t have the vision to be called a CTO?).

What’s your opinion?