Are you asking yourself what startup team roles there are? The answer is: It depends! For example, it depends on the stage of the startup and on …
After being faced with ‘The Scary Startup Life Truth No One Tells you about’, you decided that you want to take this challenge? Great!
Now, it’s getting closer to thinking about what startup team role you’d like to fill. So, you’re probably asking yourself what are these roles, right?
The answer is: It depends!
For example, it depends on the stage of the startup. Because the nature of a startup changes very quickly, it makes sense to think about the point you’d like to get in.
Steve Blank gives an overview of startup team roles and what implications the startup stage has for employees. So let’s dive right in and answer five questions:
- What roles are there in early stage startups?
- Do you want to be a startup founder?
- Do you want to be an early stage employee?
- Do you want to be an employee at a later stage startup?
- How can I find out which startup is right for me?
#1: What roles are there in early stage startups?
As Charles Birnbaum (Bessemer Venture Partners) notes, there will be an endless flood of thing’s that can be done.
Hence, in early stage startup, self-reliance can go so far, that you will have to define a role for you!
@Startup founders: This is bad. Never ever let your team members choose their roles and responsibilities. You should clearly define them according to a person’s interests and strength’s.
Broadly speaking, there are three roles that can give you orientation at this point.
- “Hustler/Business Guy”: Someone able to get customers, raise investments, acquire partners…
- “Hacker/Coder/Engineer”: Someone who is building the actual product.
- “Designer”: Someone who makes not only the product look beautiful, but can also explore customers’ needs and develop a product accordingly.
This compilation is not a list for you to simply “pick a role”, but you should ask yourself:
- In which area can you add the most value?
- Can you do it without guidance?
- Are you so excited about a topic (cold calling, SEO, SEM, blogging, social media) that you will become an expert?
If not, you should consider joining at a later stage startup where roles are better defined, such as customer service, business development, marketing, etc.
#2: Do you want to be a startup founder?
Unless you try, you won’t know for sure whether you can deal with startup stress and angst. Paul Graham says that startups are counter-intuitive.
Startup’s contradict your intuition. If founders’ instincts already gave them the right answers, they wouldn’t need mentors (a.k.a. YC). You only need other people to give you advice that surprises you. That’s why there are a lot of ski instructors and not many running instructors.
Again, it’s not about thinking, but doing. From doing comes experience. All reading in the world won’t prepare you until you try!
For Steve, a startup founder is resilient, agile, creative, passionate, tenacious and articulate. You will develop these soft skills over time. You will even master them if you focus on them.
Steve underlines that every startup (co)-founder must be comfortable with
- Chaos – startups are disorganized
- Uncertainty – startups never go to plan
—PS: If you haven’t read the articles ‘The Scary Startup Life Truth No One Tells you about’ and ‘How to prepare for it’, you might find them helpful in deciding whether to start or join a startup.
#3: Do you want to be an early stage employee?
As an early employee — according to Steve, it’s one of the 25 first hires — you will not face the tremendous responsibility a founder does.
However, you will still be out of place if you can’t work independently!
The founders are way too busy to give you exact instructions, so you’ll have to figure it out yourself — often the founders don’t know either. You are all facing educated guesses that quickly need to be turned into facts.
Be sure that you’re able to handle this uncertainty and chaos.
A typical task might be to get more traffic to your website. As a junior, you are faced with a multitude of different options (inbound versus outbound) and (earned versus paid). You will not only need to acquire knowledge about growth hacking rapidly and act on it in no time.
BUT, you must also get comfortable with the tools behind each action (Google Adwords, Facebook ads, MailChimp for email campaigns, Gsheets for an early CRM system).
Most tasks within sales, marketing, product, service and other domains will be new to you and your team member’s — even more so if you are part of a startup that is started by first-time founders.
Feel comfortable with not knowing
Feel comfortable with not knowing every tool and action and just start acting. Learn and improve one single step at the time.
Have I said that your tasks will be endless?
On top of it, you are expected to deliver great results because they are needed to move the startup further.
It is also expected that you define your next action.
And remember: Don’t ask for permission. Only ask for forgiveness.
Regarding working hours, you’ll most likely share the fate of the funding team: 24/7. Of course, it will not be like that, but feel like it.
#4: Do you want to be an employee at a later stage startup?
According to Steve, this means one of the first 25-125 people in the startup. Depending on your startup hub, there might not be many later stage startups.
In Berlin, we only have a handful, and it’s difficult to become part of one of them if you are not an expert in a specific domain.
Examples of Domain Experts are:
- SEO marketing expert
- Social media advocate
- Growth hacker
- Community builder
- Hustler (sales & business development)
- iOS or Android developer
- Software architect
#5: How can I find out which startup is right for me?
Finding the right startup isn’t easy. Hence, take time.
Be sure that startup experiences are more ‘extreme’ than other jobs. They can be great, but also devastating.
- Do you like the company’s culture and the team members? (Most important one!)
- Do the team want to solve a certain problem (and do you want it, too)?
- Do the founders have a credible story about what inspired them to create the company?
- Do the founders work hard or is it a ‘lifestyle’ thing for them that allows them to do ‘networking’ and get PR? (latter one’s bad).
- Can you identify with the product and the customers?
- Do the team have passion and vision?
- Do the team member’s make a smart and competent impression?
- Can you make a contribution to the success of the company?
- What can you learn there?
- Can you expand your network at this startup?
- Has the company found “Product/Market-Fit”?
Revocable vs. irrevocable decisions
In the end, it comes down to your skills, expertise, and passion.
Don’t work for a startup when you don’t like their culture, their work ethics or vision.
Always be part of a startup that suits you — your values, passion, and motivation.
Then it’s much easier to contribute significantly to a startup’s progress, and it’s vision. You will become friends with your team members.
You will personally grow beyond your wildest dreams …
If this doesn’t excite you, please stay at a large corporation where no one identifies with it’s vision, like’s their co-workers or their work. What a boring work life!
It’s your decision — as always. No one can help you.
Our life is all about making decisions. Hopefully, the right one because your success depends on making the right ones.
In our life, we must constantly make two different kinds of decisions: one’s that you can go back on (revocable decisions), and ones that are permanent (irrevocable decisions). Being often faced by the paradox of choice, it’s not easy to make the right decisions or even worth it! — most of us delay decisions because of fear and decision fatigue.
Please understand that a career decision, whether to start or join a startup, is a revocable one. It’s not permanent.
Don’t hold on to our parent’s beliefs that we must set a direction in life for the next 40 years in our 20ies. That’s an Industrial Age mindset.
Don’t stress out. Just do and try. If you are willing to learn and improve daily, it’s the best investment you can do for yourself.
Everything else will follow.
- Steve Blank: Am I a Founder? The Adventure of a Lifetime.
- Quora discussion: What are the most important factors you should consider when joining a startup?
- David Cummings: Evaluating an Early Stage Startup to Join
- Journal by Jobspotting: Startups: How to Tell the Rockstars from the Boybands