Thoughts on Titles in a Startup

We’ve spent quite a bit of time lately around the office talking about the value or titles in a startup.  Do you give people big titles because they are effectively in charge of things? Or do you give people smaller titles so you can promote them (and not sound silly)?

Let’s examine these positions a bit.

To come to a startup you risk quite a bit: salary, time, security, etc.  I don’t think it’s as big of a risk as others do, but that’s probably why I started a company.  Many others do think it’s a huge risk and won’t come to a startup.  There are two important impacts on titles on this risk calculation:

  1. It provides extra compensation directly (titles count, not just cash)

  2. It provides post startup benefits/security (e.g. get a better job later from a better title).  (Ancillary, if startup is acquired, better titles help.)

The titles can also make sense.  If you are the only marketing guy, you are the Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Marketing.  Because you are marketing.

On the flip side, I think the titles can sound overdone.  Technically, yes I am the CEO.  But it’s not like I am in a private jet. I answer the phones and do the dishes (and sign the contracts).  However, every title, including mine seems inflated at this stage.  There are subtle things we have done here to have an impact.  Use of the word “Lead” is a good one.  It shows the value and significance of the person’s impact on the business and their role.  It gives us room to promote them down the road as we grow.  It sounds valuable and important without sounding too over the top.

I guess by now you can see where Wallaby comes out on trying to have smaller titles and more long-term opportunity.  Would I give someone a large/fancy title if they were the right candidate and demanded it? I honestly don’t know.  I’d prefer you don’t ask.