How C-Suite Titles Can Damage Your Early Stage Startup

Avatar Written by Majid Habib · 2 min read>

There are a few dozen of them – C-Suite titles or corporate titles are the norm in Silicon Valley and nearly all startup founders follow suit. You meet up with an early stage startup team and you’ll most likely be introduced to the CEO, CTO and CFO. Three young executives leading a team comprised of; well just the three of them. Sounds ironic, right? But it’s not uncommon and it probably makes sense to them. As a startup founder you want people to take you seriously and what better way to introduce yourself then handing out a business card that reads your title like a military dictator or a statesman running for congress. Nevertheless, whether you thought it was exciting or an ego-satisfying move to have a fancy corporate title, you’re most likely damaging your startup in many ways.

Startups are not Micro-Corporations

The dynamics and mechanics of a startup are fairly opposite to those of a corporation. Within corporations there are structures, standards, policies, manuals and whole lot of other jargons for business plans, along with properly detailed job descriptions. Startups, on the other hand, are largely devoid of these. A startup is fluid in its nature. It has to be flexible and adaptable to changes. And so do the founders. Giving yourself a corporate title too early on; psychologically gives you a false sense of identity about yourself and your startup. You end up restricting yourself to one specific domain. Understand that a startup cannot be run, managed or operated as a corporation. With every passing day, you will be faced with a new challenge. Therefore, your roles will keep changing. You will be handling sales, accounts, legal, communications and a bunch of other tasks along with your specific duties. Just being the CEO or CTO won’t cut it early on; as you will continuously have to get your hands dirty on several chores. Be prepared for this and snap out of the corporate delusion.

The “C” stands for Chaos

By assigning all existent team members with a C-suite title, you create a ‘HR ticking bomb’, awaiting to explode. With a corporate title comes entitlement and a sense of authority. But when this authority is limited to a small group of people, then it creates boundaries and hierarchies. People start getting confused, agitated and jealous. And this is exactly the opposite of what a startup culture should be like. Ideally, you want every team member to feel a sense of freedom, so that they can be expressive in terms of creativity and innovation. You want your startup to grow along with the personal growth of yourself and your team. By enforcing a title on your role and those of your team; you restrict yourself and everyone else involved to certain tasks. The creativity stops and the chaos ensues. The title has created a virtual barrier; by which the CFO only handles the financial issues of the startup and can’t be bothered with anything else. Meanwhile product development is being delayed because the CTO has no other helping hand. In the end, the CFO won’t have a job, as the startup couldn’t launch anything. Yes, your startup does need accounting, but not necessarily a CFO. While selecting co-founders we always look for people with complementing skills, so that the team is balanced. Similarly the titles need to be complementary, so that people are not restricted to one role.

So what Job Titles should ‘we’ keep?

First of all, just try to be a team and let go of individual corporate titles. Developing a product, acquiring customers and making sales are the most important tasks and they all can’t be done alone. So, you all have to work collectively. Yes, you do need a person to be face of the company (someone who will brag to potential investors and customers about how you all are making the next big thing), but he/she doesn’t necessarily have to call themselves CEO. Similarly, the person handling product development right now may not have the caliber to lead a team of developers as CTO in the future, but may perform individually better in quality assurance or R&D. So why limit yourself or your co-founder with an outlandish job title? And if you do have the burning urge to have one on your business card, then within startups the best executive titles would probably be “founding partner” or “managing partner”. But one title all of you can always proudly keep is “Co-Founder”. No one can take that away from you.