The 4 crucial roles in a startup

Building your company right – the first time

If you are starting a new company one of the first issues you must face is who will do what? And, what is my role going to be?

Most startup and entrepreneurial pundits list three key roles in the development of a great new company:

Developer – Tech guru (in a media or service company this is the person responsible for creating amazing content or the product).

Designer – UX/AI guru; this is the person who makes you look great and makes the client interaction feel great. They handle all visual, auditory, and emotional interfacing with the clients and other stakeholders; they are responsible for product development and management.

Distributer – Marketing guru; this is the brain behind getting your product or service to the public

What’s often missing from this list is the essential fourth column of support:

Director – the start-up CEO or People guru(description below)

The roles can be loosely mapped to my Management 3.o model of personalities in the workplace (paper available by request). In this model a balanced organizational body requires a:

Doer  (usually a developer, but could also be a designer and/or distributor).

Doers are task agents and finishers who are detailed and disciplined

Social/Seller (the deal maker – sales person).

This is often the distributer (but that doesn’t mean that the developer, designer or even director couldn’t fill this role). The social seller connects people and objects together and is: convivial, open, sharing, communicative, and moves things forward.

Brilliant Bureaucrat (biz dev, and people wrangling; definitely the role for the director).

The brilliant bureaucrat is a rational thinker, analyzes, understands politics and warfare, organizes, plans, and protects.

Visionary (can be any of the previous roles ie. developer/designer/director or be the chairperson, shepherd, holder of the vision, etc… ).

A visionary is the shaper, originator and creative genius; they are intensely curious, risk takers, and highly intelligent.

Remember  the four parts of a balanced organizational body roles can be filled in a number of ways, (the mapping doesn’t have to be one to one if you have people who can fill more than one role).

The importance of a director

As stated above the missing link to a balanced organizational body is often the director. Assuming your developer/designer team is somehow covering Doer and Visionary and your marketing person is covering Social/Seller, then who is your Brilliant Bureaucrat?

Sticking with the alliterations listed above you would be missing a director of operations; a start-up CEO – Your People Guru. It is important to remember that the start-up CEO or ‘early stage CEO’ is different from the second stage or ‘growth stage CEO’. (See my article on The 68 Responsibilities of a CEO.)

In a small company the early stage CEO is:

  • the operations officer ie. designing and developing business operations or the business method – that which produces value for clients and investors
  • responsible for business development ie. developing new opportunities attracting new clients, penetrating new markets
  • senior project manager ie. bridging the gap between projects [ideas] and business operations, and
  • Human resource manager  ie. overseeing recruitment and managing personalities as the company ramps up

He/she is all of the above rolled into one personality designed from the ground up to support all the other members of the team and to help manage the expansion of both staff and clients. But in a startup this role needs to be much more that a good people wrangler, you need a smart business developer.

In the words of serial entrepreneur and VC Mark Suster, “who else is going to get out there and close your big biz dev deals with you? Who’s going to help you with improving your marketing / positioning to become a clear platform category leader like Twilio? A few key people really can make a huge difference…. The reason you’re not getting to the next level is that you’re not prioritizing the precise thing that could take you to the next level. I would say recruiting at least one superstar would be your priorities 1, 2 & 3.”

According to James W. Breyer, superstar VC, and multiple board member (including Facebook),  “Skills, passion, intense curiosity and extremely high IQ are more important,” when asked about the importance of age in an article about start-up CEO’s. (WSJ 010712)

So when you look around at your team, do you have a superstar in each of the 4 columns of support (developer, designer, distributor, director)? Do you have each part of a balanced and functional organizational body (visionary, social seller, doer, brilliant bureaucrat)?

Remember this doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual fills each crucial role. If you are lucky enough to have someone on your team (maybe you?) that can fill two roles that’s awesome. If you have somebody on a team that can fill three roles, that’s Steve Jobs. If you have somebody that can fill all four roles you wouldn’t be reading this blog you’d be inventing the next Internet.

Unfortunately this role of a Brilliant Bureaucrat is often overlooked. What you should be looking for is someone who gets business but also understands the dynamic of all the other roles. you want someone who has a strong MBA mind but is not insulated by an MBA mind set. They need to be able to see the big picture of the vision holders and they need the discipline of a Doer.

How to find the right director of operations

But to attract a Brilliant Bureaucrat you have to speak their language. Don’t come at them with all the sizzle of your dreams; bring them numbers, hard facts, and something that looks like a business plan. Remember that to build a holistic and balanced team you will need members with different personalities. Learn the language and communication styles of those personalities that differ from you.

Another valuable tool you can use in building healthy relationships with future partners is using natural language agreements. This is a model I have designed that uses guided or facilitated sessions that create very thorough dialogs around many of the difficult questions facing partners. These sessions are transcribed and then transposed by a legal representative into a contract or letter of agreement.

Even if you have a great idea you are going to be limited or propelled by your team. It should be your priority to get the right people on the bus. Ask yourself again and again, “do I feel amazing about my team?” If the answer isn’t yes, you need to slow down and regroup. If you are unsure about a possible member use the natural language session as a away to uncover potential conflicts or unspoken concerns. Questioning your team and each person’s fit early on is uncomfortable. This is why it rarely gets done. Unfortunately, putting off a potential disconnect or a personality problem in the near term just leads to painful and expensive adjustments later on. Better to face the difficult questions now.

What is my role going to be?

Be sure you have asked this of yourself after taking a close look at both your personality and the personality of the others on your team.

Assess your team and make sure you have somebody supporting you in all the roles your business requires. And don’t be afraid to cut losses early, if you need to pass on a potentially problematic partner, do it. Don’t hang on to somebody because they are all you’ve got and you don’t know if you will find somebody. The ability to keep looking is a risk and risks are what leaders have to take in order to succeed.

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2 thoughts on “The 4 crucial roles in a startup

  1. Pingback: Co-Founder Dating: what you should know | The Atman Group

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