The 3 People That Can Make or Break a Startup



In big businesses, it’s not uncommon to see a handful of executives in the C suite, a few more than that in upper management, and even more plentiful people filling lower management roles. But when you’re launching a startup, this type of infrastructure is unnecessary and a harmful goal to aim toward. Eric Ries, creator of The Lean Startup, advocates for operating with much less waste. And in the world of startups, every position counts.

So if you are the one launching an organization, or if you’re considering joining one, it’s imperative you know some essential traits that individuals in each primary role should possess. Here’s a look at three of the most crucial functions within a startup (assuming you already have your product developed and services refined), and what each one requires.

Capable CEO

If you’re the inventor of your product, it’s easy to want to be the CEO. After all, this is your baby and the flashy title is arguably the most well respected in business. Right? Not so fast. While it may be tempting to call yourself the chief executive officer, only do so if you have the skill-set required. There’s no shame (and often a lot of business reward) to bringing in a qualified, experienced CEO to run your company instead.

The CEO should be the one to have her eye on the overall company vision strategy. She should be able to evangelize about the business, as well as motivate everyone else under her. There isn’t a single cookie-cutter personality that makes the best CEOs, but that person does need to be able to excite others and be a natural leader. Sound like you? Then great, maybe you can be your own CEO. But if this is a far cry from who you are, then look long and hard at hiring a chief executive officer.

Marketing Maven (or Master)

Marketing is consistently evolving as both a science and an art. While the CEO is a key position, the head of marketing (whether you call him a CMO, VP of marketing, marketing manager, or some other title) holds a large amount of influence over the ultimate trajectory of your company. Choose this person carefully.

Your head of marketing should be extremely creative, as well as likeable. In order to get the entire company on board with marketing efforts, this individual should be able to rally the troops simply because people want to be part of what they’re doing. A leader in this arena ought to be agile and have a firm understanding of a wide range of marketing tools like cloud contact systems, social media analytic platforms, CRM, and marketing automation. As marketing moves into a more and more technical field, whomever you elect to this position may ultimately need to be a hybrid of a CMO and CIO.

Approachable Customer Service Agent

It may be surprising to see a customer service role listed in importance after your CEO and head of marketing, but it makes a lot of business sense. When all is said and done, the person who runs your customer service department is responsible for how your buyers view your organization. This individual will have to direct a team on proper etiquette around dealing with customers, and must be a superstar when it comes to interpersonal relationships. He should have extensive knowledge about your product or service, be empathetic, and be a great listener.

Researchers at Rice University found that conscientious employees are the ones with the highest propensity for providing excellent customer service. So seek out people who are meticulous and have a high level of integrity for this position. Your company’s standing, in the eye of its customers, depends on it.

When you have your product or service nailed down and are ready to unleash it to the market, don’t let your excitement cause you to start a hiring frenzy. Instead, begin with these central leadership positions and then slowly add in other important roles as they become necessary. It’s best to be lean in the beginning, and strategic in building the infrastructure of your company. With a little (nominal) bit of luck, and endless thought and hard work, you’ll reap the benefits in no time.

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