8 Must-Have Roles for a Startup (besides co-founders)

When you are at a startup stage, you may be confused about what roles are important to have in-house. Surely, it varies from company to company. Here we describe the basic team for a tech startup, what they are responsible for and what roles might be outsourced.

Hiring for start-ups: the specifics

1. Identify what skills you or your founding team already have or can learn in the near future. Then estimate your time and what roles can be covered without hiring.  

2. Defining your focus, near goals, and values lets you narrow down the skills and qualities you’re looking for in employees to find better matches. And finally, it can help hire only for must-have positions for your current stage and expand later when there are more resources. 

3. Positions might intersect and everyone should be ready for it. Key qualities to look for in employees are flexibility, passion, and trustworthiness. It is essential to hire people who can flexibly take on diverse responsibilities until you can expand further.

In a startup, there’s no room for “someone else can do that”. To successfully launch a product and make an idea into reality, you have to get everyone fully involved.

4. It’s smart to hire from the top, only the best professionals can help you build a winning company. In the beginning, they will be able to cover most of the tasks, and then build a perfect team. 

5. Do not rush! Consider every hiring decision carefully. Because of the tight budget and because the best talents are expensive. 

6. Look for people you trust, because in a small team everyone has a huge impact on a startup. Leverage word of mouth and personal recommendations to find the first team members. So, connect with old friends and colleges, people from your alma mater.

7. Make sure your future employees embody your organization’s vision, mission, and culture. For a startup, it is as important as the right skill set because the people will influence the future culture of your company. 

8. Prioritize diversity. When you have a choice it is better to choose a candidate with broad experience but less specialized. Also, ensure you have different genders, as well as different nationalities and ages in your team. 

9. Pay attention to soft skills. Initial employees should be leaders, should be able to solve unusual problems. 

Key roles for the start

We will remind you again that sometimes the roles mentioned above can blend in one person. 

CEO / hustler / generalist

The leader who manages the company’s vision, direction, and culture. They are constantly looking for opportunities for the company in the market, their clients, and their place in the industry. 

Typically it is one of the co-founders or they share the responsibilities. Their talents lie in dreaming big and being passionate about what the company could achieve. But that doesn’t mean a CEO holds more power or is paid more. 

Skills to have:

  1. equally good with people and concepts;
  2. imaginative and risk-taking; 
  3. know how to stand up for themselves, but admit when they are wrong;
  4. can provide team members with constructive criticism;
  5. good analytical skills;
  6. emotionally resilient and stable;
  7. reasonably good at sales, business models;

Main responsibilities

  • Choosing strategy and direction
  • Creating, living, and breathing the company’s culture, values, and behavior
  • Leading the startup executive team
  • Implementing long and short term plans
  • Allocating capital to the company’s priorities
  • Making crucial managerial and operational decisions
  • Continually optimizing a team, thinking whether the right people are in the right places 
  • Focusing on the needs of investors, employees, customers.

COO / operations manager

The role may lie on a CEO or the other co-founder’s shoulders. A person, who is responsible for daily administrative operations to keep your business running. The operations manager at a startup makes sure that everyone is doing what they are expected to be doing and keeps the company together.

When a startup turns into a more stable company, finds its product-market fit, the operations manager changes their focus from holding a startup together to keeping it on track. An operations manager makes all company’s processes smoother, keeps an eye on the productivity of each in-house department, coordinates the communication between teams, so it functions more efficiently when a startup scales.

Main responsibilities:

  • manage company’s structure and processes
  • plan and review logistics, HR, and overall service
  • contingency management
  • controls every process is performing on time and in the prescribed order
  • helps with raising capital, product management, market analysis

The expert of the industry / domain veteran 

So, it is a person who is familiar with the problem area. For instance, if you are building a platform for HRs, there should be an experienced HR in your team. You need a team member who deeply understands your target audience, in what context they live, and the problems they are solving. Without the person, your marketing and selling efforts might fail, because of targeting the wrong people. 

Sometimes the person may be one of the co-founders. But it is not often the case. Founders are usually people with big ideas and the courage to start a business. 

CPO / Product manager / Product director

Again, the role sometimes is blended with the CEO or one of the co-founders. The person deals with all staff related to products or products of the company. CPO controls the product strategy and development. Usually, they work closely with the engineering and marketing teams to build and market the product. 

Product managers start from the ideation of features with co-founders, research the market need, set the requirements for each feature, work closely with the tech team to ensure the best possible user experience, make sure the product is market-ready, build a roadmap and prioritize what needs to be done to achieve the initiatives and strategic goals behind the product itself.

The product manager acts as a bridge between the product and customers, working with aspects like:

  • Product positioning — What problems does it solve? What to use it for?
  • Creating user personas (typical person who need your product to solve their problem) and buyer personas (typical person who will decide if the company will buy it if you are a B2B company)
  • Pricing —  set prices for the product based on value, production cost, and sales cost.

Main responsibilities:

  • get information on customer needs through research
  • create marketing objectives and strategies for a product
  • determine and change product pricing with the company scale
  • create a forecast for each product’s sales and analyze the results
  • control the product team: planning, meetings, training, monitoring performance.

CTO / technology guy

The main thing to remember about the position: they are not free software developers. CTO organizes the development team, shapes the development strategy, the project’s tech stack, and deals with other business-related tasks. 

At the same time, CTOs should be ready to roll their sleeves up and do some heavy lifting (including coding) to get a product off the ground. This means being able to juggle different roles, becoming a master of all things when it comes to tech.

Main responsibilities:

  • inventing, developing startup’s product 
  • managing tech team for it to work productively
  • building and fine-tuning the company’s strategy for using tech resources
  • ensuring competitive advantage with the help of new technologies
  • focusing on how the development team can optimize its spendings and increase product revenue.

CMO / communications coordinator / product marketer

For an early-stage startup, the role may be merged with a customer service rep. For some startups, you don’t have to hire the most expensive top-level executive, and for some — you may go for outsourcing. If you hire a medium-skilled professional, you can get a marketing strategy from a senior consultant.

Skills to have:

  1. know marketing channels, can develop a marketing strategy
  2. perfect copywriter, basic design skills 
  3. analytics
  4. customer development

The specialists help startups make sure their vision and product reach a wide audience. They create and build the company’s customer base, and most importantly, make the company profitable.

Main responsibilities:

  • lead generation, user acquisition, and retention
  • marketing communications
  • brand development and management
  • research and analytics
  • product marketing. 

Sales manager / business development 

Often the best salesperson at a startup is one of the co-founders. If it’s not the case, you should care seriously about bringing the role to your team. 

However, remember that a typical salesperson wouldn’t survive in the startup world. Since in an early-stage startup you haven’t case studies or customer success stories. Rather, they need to convince potential customers to try an untested product from an unknown company and hope it will help to solve their problem. You need a sales genius, who will sell the ice to the eskimos

The sales role in a startup needs soft skills like nobody else.

They need to convince a prospect to take a chance, which requires confidence and persistence, as well as a deep understanding of the startup problem space, mission, and culture.

Main responsibilities:

  • developing a sales strategy, processes, and tactics
  • prospecting and closing sales
  • hiring, training, and managing a sales team

CSM / Customer service representative

Your startup brand’s cornerstone is establishing positive relationships with your customers. A CSM crucial role is creating a customer experience that will trigger word-of-mouth referrals.

It is not enough to have a great product if your company can’t effectively communicate with its customers. Your reputation will inevitably suffer without professional handling of clients’ questions. That’s why you need to fill the role as soon as possible. 

Beyond meeting customer needs, the customer service rep will also build and make an effective customer support team. As the startup becomes more successful, a CSM will also create workflows between them and the sales team to ensure that customers are well supported after purchase.

Main responsibilities:

  • provide customer experience beyond their expectations to encourage word-of-mouth referrals
  • manage product onboarding for customers to see value quickly
  • encourage renewals, cross-sells, upsells
  • build processes in and manage a customer support team

Positions for outsourcing 

As a rule of thumb, a job should be filled internally if it is related to a core competence of your business. Other roles can be outsourced. Here is how to outsource intelligently, including how to identify your essential competencies. As your team grows, you may bring additional services in-house. 

Chief financial officer (CFO) / finance guy

For the first time, you can employ small business accounting programs or outsource the accounting and finance role. In some startups, the person may be in-house and also perform a role of HR and an Admin guy.

The role is responsible for:

  • creating financial processes and reporting requirements useful for the company scales
  • thinking out the company’s financial capabilities
  • optimizing the cash they already have, and building a plan for when the company is ready to scale
  • keeping financial records
  • may also be responsible for payroll.

Development team

For some super technical startups, where technology is complex and unusual you might need to hire in-house engineers. However, when you have only an idea with no money and a stable team it is really hard to hire skilled developers.  

While your CTO sets tasks and controls them, you may hire software developers, designers, QAs through smart outstaffing or on freelance platforms. The last is the most common and well-known choice for tech as well as non-tech people. 

However the first is now the most promising and cost-effective since:

  • the agency is responsible for the team and each additional member is backed with extensive software development, business, and industry expertise
  • fast team expansion and scale down, which is impossible with in-house hiring with minimum 2 months of recruiting
  • help with managing the team
  • 2-week trial to decide whether the developer is right for you
  • a big panel of experts. So you can hire specific talents for short-time missions
  • you don’t have to care about software engineers’ motivation and training: the developers train and stimulate each other to learn faster, even if not working on the same project.

HR managers / recruiters

When you have more than 10 employees you probably will need a recruitment agency or freelance person to look for the best talents to scale your team.

You might hire an HR consultant for things like performance management, training, development and employee relations.

Legal advisors

As with any other business, startups need legal help from the very beginning. What they are mainly deal with: 

  • intellectual property: trademarks, copyrights, patents, etc.
  • contracts: employees, partners, sales
  • compliance to privacy and other regulations depending on your industry.
Key extracts Must-have team members for the first years: hustler, industry expert, operations manager, product guy, extraordinary salesperson, communications and customer services person, technical guy. Roles to outsource: financial staff, development, recruitment, legal staff.

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