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Startup Team

Startup Team – How to Define Roles

Entrepreneurship
Mar 22 2019

Can you guess why startups fail most of the time? Lack of traction. Yes. Too much competition? Also true.

But according to a report by CBInsights, 23% of startups also fail to become viable because they believe they started with the wrong startup team.

Top reasons startups fail


We’ve previously covered how surrounding yourself with the wrong collaborators could negatively impact your funding. Today, we’ll go over the important step of defining team roles, giving concrete examples of startup structures with proven results.

The Classic Startup Team Roles

No startup is built on the exact same structure. This is because startups are, by definition, agile, lean, and adept at evolving based on the company need. However, some general role categories seem to recur everywhere. These include:

  • Engineers: out of all the positions at a startup, backend engineers are probably the ones who benefit the most clarity. It’s craftsmanship. Hackers, born coders and computer scientists are usually technically-orientated, focusing on learning the best programming languages, algorithms and frameworks for the project.
  • Product managers: often have engineering backgrounds, but also see the bigger picture. They enjoy analyzing traffic, understand how to prototype and research, and often know their way around various tasks.
  • Marketing and sales: the hustlers who will do everything in their power to promote and sell the product to the right audience.
  • Business Developers: often lumped together with sales, these positions often become available to more experienced salespeople. There is crossover in the skills, but making deals on a large scale implies strong people skills and an innate ability to network with the right people.
  • Legal teams: not always needed for brand new ventures, but primordial for growing startups.
  • Human Resources: hiring and firing, but also attracting top talent to fill positions at the company.

Startup Roles and Personalities

Startup roles are heavily dependent on what the company does. They also change great based on their size. This is why it is often useful to understand roles in the context of personalities, rather than job positions.

  • The Dreamer: often the chief executive officer (CEO). They are the people whose passion and vision can lead the project, either because they started it – or because they are absolutely the right person for it. They are often the startup founders.
  • The Visionary: business vision is just as important as company vision, and the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the chief product officer (CPO). Their role is to inspire team members based on the CEO’s dream, making goals a reality.
  • The Doer: a role often taken on by the chief technical officer (CTO). It’s their job to understand and meet technical challenges, by hiring the right startup team and making them all work harmoniously on set targets and goals. 

  • The Hustler: this is what chief sales officers (CSOs) are often called. Hustling is synonymous here with networking, selling, and generally driving the product forward through usage.
  • The Growth Hacker: a strategic thinker who is both analytical and creative. This person understands marketing and how to create traction by understanding what users want and how to give it to them.

 

Why Startup Roles Often Overlap

One of the biggest challenges for small startups is to define clear roles that can be taken on. This is because it’s more likely a small startup team. There will inevitably be overlaps. CEOs are often the ones doing the marketing, HR, legal and sales. CTOs manage projects, operations and developers.

This can cause numerous problems in the long term. Roles that aren’t clearly defined can create frustrations for every party involved. Communication failures, authority issues and work overloads are all common problems found in young startups.

In short, while wearing different hats is inevitable at first, it becomes important to promote delegation and the division of tasks as the startup evolves.

How to Define Startup Roles

For most startup teams, it starts with a whiteboard. They will gather to answer a number of questions that make role definition easier:

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What technical skills can I offer?
  3. How is my experience relevant?
  4. Will I be able to delegate or hire people to help my role?
  5. Am I the best person for the role in the company

This may take some back and forth. As always with teamwork, it’s important to be clear-headed.

This is where finding the personalities that work best together can have a tremendously positive knock-on effect. Strong, clashing egos could attempt to take on too much, while stepping on other people’s toes.

Similarly, those who lack assertiveness may see key responsibilities taken from them, when they are in fact best suited for the role.

Defining Startup Roles That Work For You

In conclusion, it’s useful to remember that no organization, big or small, is built on the same structure. Amazon, Google and Facebook all operate on drastically different org charts. Similarly, no startup launches with the exact same roles.

Regardless, no matter how small your venture is, it will still require structure. While it must be agile and adaptable, this means clearly defined roles that match the personalities of the employees. It’s not only a safe way to ensure smooth long-term operations, but clearly a business advantage.