Do titles matter at a startup?
A common argument against titles is, they’re just words.
- Titles limit people’s expression.
- Titles are constraints on someone’s abilities.
- Titles create unnecessary expectations for people’s work.
- Titles emphasize hierarchy, disempower workers and distract employees from their true potential.
As we wrote about in our post What The Heck Is Head Of:
“Titles could sometimes be viewed as cheap forms of compensation that are handed out freely and have no bearing on our ability to make an impact on the organization.”
Harvard Business Review concurs. They wrote in 2013 that deemphasizing the importance of a candidate’s job titles is an easy way to expand headcount. They later wrote in 2021 that some companies will use impressive titles to disguise a job that no one wants, or to justify longer hours or lower pay.
On the other hand, what if startup job titles really did matter?
A common argument for them is, they’re linguistic symbols that create psychological value.
- Titles affect how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.
- Titles impact how we approach the world and how it interacts with us.
- Titles are naming conventions that serve as an essential act of human communication.
- Titles are language signals, and they were invented for a very specific purpose in our culture.
Ben Horowitz of a16z summarized the upside in his bestselling book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things:
“Job titles provide an excellent shorthand for describing roles in the company. In addition, customers and business partners can also make use of this shorthand to figure out how to best work with your company. Without a well thought out, disciplined process for titles and promotions, your employees will become obsessed with the resulting inequities.”
Regardless of what your philosophy on job titles is, one thing is for sure.
Your first hundred hires set the foundation upon which your company can scale. And naming and framing your startup’s employees is no easy task. You have to strike a delicate balance between offering helpful and empowering language, without limiting anyone.
In this post, we present to you a startup job title glossary. We’ll break the organization down by key teams:
Each entry will include a title, key responsibilities and skills.
Now, before we dive into our glossary of key startup job titles, there are a few caveats:
- When it comes to job titles, the naming conventions are not going to be the same at every company, or in every industry. Every organization must ensure that their roles are classified accurately as an expression of their unique culture, goals, values and operations. The glossary below is extensive, but not exhaustive, as there are too many variations to list them all.
- At fast growing startups, roles change quickly, and many startup job titles will have overlapping responsibilities. Considering how many different hats any given team member wears on a daily basis, be sure to build some slack into your system to accommodate this dynamic environment. Titles and departments might merge and later separate depending on headcount.
- Titles describe a role’s responsibilities and seniority. Just like how you’ve decided to name your conference rooms, often the titling structure is unique to a company’s culture. Please note that these titles are generic, and should be modified according to your own standards. You can read more on how titles and job levels align in Pave’s leveling hierarchy in our guide to job levels. That connects job titles to their larger purpose, which ultimately goes back to growth, employee development and equitable compensation.
With that, let’s open up the glossary. Here’s how to name and frame your team for success.
As we revealed in our Pave Data Lab post, the first hire at an average startup (after the founders, of course) is a software engineer. They’re the ones building out the product and making it a reality. Here are the key job titles to use.
- Backend Software Engineer: Works with the product teams to power the products. Partners with other engineers to scale infrastructure, data pipeline, and unlock new product value. Works with business stakeholders to solve meaningful problems for customers. Skillswise, they should know how to build scalable and service oriented applications. They’re passionate about championing projects end-to-end. They also have experience with cloud infrastructure, authentication & authorization controls and can scale production systems.
- Frontend Software Engineer. Creates flows and visualizations that deliver best-in-class experiences and features for customers. Scales products to increase in complexity. Builds UI systems collaboratively with product teams and uses feedback iteratively. From a skills standpoint, they should have deep experience within component libraries, custom implementation and working with designers and product managers.
- Growth Engineer. Builds foundational growth infrastructure for A/B testing, leads ingestion pipelines and tracks user behavior. Builds novel product experiences and finds opportunities to improve the acquisition. Generates ideas, defines success metrics and formulates hypotheses for rapid experimentation initiatives. Growth manager skills are exceptional interpersonal abilities and the empathy to think about things from the customer’s perspective. Analytical acumen and data driven mindset are paramount.
- Engineering Manager. Manages and grows a team of engineers with diverse experiences, and leads them to deliver consistent, high quality business impact. Partners with cross functional teams to ship high value products and infrastructure. And facilitates alignment of technical decisions with business objectives. If this person’s skills include mentoring junior engineers to achieve their goals, driving culture, and shaping amazing software to tackle the problems, this role is ideal.
Engineering is a hot market, and for growing startups, it almost always comes first. To learn more actionable insights on technical recruiting from our talent team, read our post, How Pave Hired Our First 100 Employees.
Our data also shows that the first product hire, like a product manager or even a product engineer, is typically employee number eight, after the company has a few engineers on staff who’ve put the building blocks of the product into place. Use these job titles for your key hires.
- Product Manager: Communicates and collaborates cross functionally with engineering, product, customers, and support. Does engineering jam sessions, product brainstorms, customer calls, debugging tricky issues, designing processes and documenting your knowledge. Their leading skills include empathy, problem solving with internal stakeholders like engineers, and external ones like customers. Must be a strong communicator and relationship builder.
- Design Strategist: Works closely with marketing, sales, and other internal teams to create and maintain a wide range of collateral and assets, i.e., media banners, animated videos, emails, landing pages, social media assets, event collateral, presentations, and more. Top skills include design execution, strategic communication, storytelling, translating technical concepts into visuals, and proficiency in leading design software.
- Project Manager: Onboards multiple customers at any given time. Works in tandem with the customer success, sales team and engineering teams to make sure customers have a quick time to launch and get value from your products quickly. As for skills, they are experts at teaching customers how to more effectively use the product. Coordinates with both internal and external partners along the way.
- Customer Success Manager: Manages the ongoing relationship with customers to ensure the product delivers on goals and outcomes. Synthesizes & communicates key customer feedback internally with product & engineering teams to help shape product roadmap. Number one skills include growing and nurturing customer relationships and multitasking with impeccable organization skills. Their superpower is the ability to understand the why behind customer requests, and devise creative solutions accordingly.
Want to learn how to evangelize your startup’s culture to build the best product team possible? Check out our post From 0 To 100: Operating A Culture Of Recruiting At Scale to see how we did just that, here at Pave.
Sales hires typically come after you’ve achieved product market fit. For small companies, on average, the first sales hire at a startup is the ninth employee, according to our research. But once you’ve built and tested the product and are equipped to build a go to market strategy, you can hit the ground running with these job titles.
- Sales Development Representative: Creates plans in partnership with your account executive to break into new markets. Engages in cold outreach, i.e., strategically research, call, and email potential companies to acquire more customers. Since this is an entry level position, their skills start with grit. They aim high and raise the bar and take rejection in stride. Coachability will help them master their craft and industry, and emotional intelligence will help them deploy empathy to connect with leads and move deals forward.
- Account Executive. Understands the needs of inbound prospects and helps bring on more marquee logos. Strategically researches, calls and emails companies to acquire more customers. Collaborates on strategic projects to build out the sales strategy. Key skills include carrying a sales quota, the drive to fill their own pipeline and the curiosity to immerse yourself in the industry. Lastly, emotional intelligence. Ability to read the room and communicate with impact is a must.
- Sales Operations: Develops a deep understanding of the lead to close processes. Learns how the company scales its systems and operations as they grow. Helps define company KPIs and build the infrastructure for proper tracking and reporting. Additionally, expect to assist with the sales team headcount plan, design and rollout. Required skills include system configuration, architecture, reporting and dashboard creation. Lastly, they can tell a story backed by analysis, and are comfortable manipulating very high data volumes.
- Revenue Operations Manager: Advises on headcount and capacity planning, territory carving, and market expansion initiatives. Designs quotas and compensation plans that motivate reps to achieve new heights. Build a scalable tech stack and systems infrastructure to ensure that everything from attribution to rep performance can be tracked seamlessly. The skills to hire for are deep sales strategy expertise and general go to market strategy experience. Also the ability to communicate a clear, crisp story that quickly gets to the “so what” with data to back up recommendations.
Operating the sales motion at an early stage company is one of the hardest startup jobs out there. If you want the numbers on designing a compensation structure, read our Pave Data Lab post, Getting to 50 / 50: The data behind sales compensation.
Demand generation uses targeted marketing programs to drive awareness and interest in your company's products and services. Marketing partners with the sales team to scale and combine inbound and outbound techniques. Here are the key job titles to focus on as you grow.
- Marketing Operations: Supports campaign set up, nurture programs, and email blasts. Assists in list execution for content syndication. Owns the standardization of data across multiple disparate systems and builds reports for marketing and revenue teams. Skills wise, this person has strong spreadsheet experience and is comfortable navigating CRM tools. They adopt a growth focused attitude and demonstrate the ability to build highly effective working relationships with cross functional teams.
- Partnership Manager: Works on business development efforts, bringing new partners while also cultivating the relationships the company has with existing ones. Develops content and other assets that continue to engage partners and their contacts. Partners cross functionally to help build best-in-class products. The skills include a rolodex of relationships with industry participants. This hire is excited to be a generalist and wear multiple hats. They’re comfortable in a customer-facing environment and get energy from building relationships.
- Content Strategist: Creates compelling brand narratives, shaping it into the strategy of all marketing for the company. Writes, develops and executes the content roadmap, owning asset production and storytelling for various products. Partners with product, sales, and other teams to hone in on the value creation for key personas. They are a prolific creator who can evangelize a consistent brand & message both internally and externally. Exceptional storyteller, with strong written and verbal communication skills. Must be able to work effectively both independently and collaboratively in a team.
- Product Marketing Manager: Levels up how the company talks about its product in the market. Builds out sales enablement materials to present a consistent and differentiated message to the market. Executes customer research, personal development and orchestrates product launches. Number one skills include prioritizing features, using feedback to build the right products for customers and being able to liaise between product/engineering and sales/marketing teams. If they don’t love setting strategic priorities and leading teams, they’re not the best fit.
As the heartbeat of a startup, operations wears more hats than anybody: hiring teams, managing finance and accounting systems, running internal performance reviews and comp cycles. This team builds alignment across the organization and picks up strategic projects that have no obvious owner. Use these job titles as a jumping off point.
- Finance Director: A finance professional with diverse technical and operational experience. Experience in accounting, reporting, FP&A, budgeting, forecasting, modeling, treasury, payroll, tax, cash flow management and reporting, to name a few. Prepares company controls, financial statements, and processes for audits. Skills include profound attention to detail and a strong ability to manage multiple teams, clients, and projects simultaneously. Experience with integration, implementation, and improvement of processes and systems is an advantage.
- Office Manager: Maintains facilities, arranges travel, works with vendors and general office troubleshooting. Develops and implements office policies, procedures and standards to guide the operation. Supports the people team in coordinating cultural initiatives like happy hours, team building events and other activities. For skills, they are detail oriented, reliable and creative. They drive company culture and manage chaos with the utmost finesse. Also tech savvy and can come in to manage internal tools.
- People Operations: Partner with all teams to improve workforce management at all levels. Improve upon current human resources processes to scale and streamline as the business grows. Assess candidate, new employee, and current employee experiences by identifying opportunities for improvement. Crucial skills for this role include superb communication skills, both verbal and written. Confidence and compassion in presenting to all levels of the organization, and passion for enabling and inspiring teams to do their best work.
- Recruiting Manager: Design and implement a scalable recruiting strategy that's grounded in equity and inclusion and supports rapid growth. Create and implement an employer branding strategy. Build and deploy dashboards that provide insight into recruiting metrics such as, time to hire, offer acceptance rate, candidate NPS etc. Collaborate with other human resources team members to build a strong culture. Your skills include consulting internally to solve business issues, excellent communication and interpersonal skills, with a proven ability to take initiative and build strong, productive relationships.
Note, depending on the company size, human resources and finance could be their own stand alone departments. For this glossary, we bundled several job titles together, but they should be modified according to your own company standards.
Ultimately, anytime growing startups are assigning job titles to team members, it can be a complicated and dynamic effort.
While we don’t recommend job titles like “growth ninja,” “coding rockstar” or “digital marketing overlord,” ultimately, titles do impact how employees approach the world and how it interacts with and perceives them.
Regardless of the job titles you choose, use this glossary as a jumping off point. We hope it helps your team move forward in creating a remarkable culture, a transparent compensation structure and a high performance startup.
Remember, titles are artifacts of a larger process and purpose, which is growth, employee development and equitable compensation.
P.S. If you want to read more about how to hire new functions for the first time, check out Building Pave, where Stephanie Evans walks you through three lessons from her experience of hiring for a functional leader.