Innovation is great, but not silliness. Creativity is amazing when it leads to clarity or serves a purpose, but not when it results in confusion.
I don’t mind seeing an interesting position title if it emphasizes a priority for that position. So, I like titles like Growth Hacker, Customer Happiness Manager, or Quality Herder, because they are not ambiguous.
But when a position’s title distorts reality because it doesn’t really mean what it is supposed to mean, then we should stop and wonder.
I recently came across 3 such titles at 3 startups I’ve interacted with, and I’m going to dive through each one to prove the silliness of these position titles.
A General Manager (GM) is typically a Business Unit manager, with Profit/Loss responsibilities. A GM is like a CEO of their division, or sometimes of a Group of divisions at large organizations. So why are we using that title in a startup with 45 employees, or at a VC firm where the title involves managing a network of external portfolio company relationships?
In the startup context, the GM is really an Operations manager. They are managing internally a bunch of areas that the CEO wants to offload from her plate. That’s fully understandable. They are like a COO in the making. Perfect. So, why not call that person an Operations Manager? Allow me digress- please don’t put Marketing under Operations. It shows the CEO doesn’t value the importance of marketing.
In the VC company context, that person is really managing the demands of the relationships between the VC firm and the companies they invested in, including lubricating inter-company synergies or facilitating meetings and learnings . So, what’s wrong with Manager, Portfolio Relationships?
Chief of Staff
The Chief of Staff (COS) position takes roots from the Military, an institution that has an organic command-and-control operating model. Every division commander has their chief of staff, and one of the job’s requirements is to “deal productively, successfully and simultaneously with an impressive number of different people”. The White House Chief of Staff is also a famous position (since 1979), described as someone who “typically oversees the actions of the White House staff, manages the president’s schedule, and decides who is allowed to meet with the president.” More recently, very large organizations have borrowed the COS model, as according to this CNNMoney article, they are the “Latest CEO Accessory”. So, the COS would act like a buffer between the CEO and employees or direct-reports, and their job will range from being the CEO’s sounding board for strategic or tactical ideas, to actually implementing certain tasks, big or small.
So, with that backdrop in mind, why would a startup CEO that operates a very nimble organization of 35 employees have a Chief of Staff? I have seen it, and still don’t understand it. A startup CEO needs to have a strong line-up of direct reports, each doing their job within their particular functional responsibility. I can understand the need for a smart administrative assistant, an operations manager, or a CFO to work closely with the CEO, but the Chief of Staff for a small organization seems like overhead or overkill.
Director of Sales and Revenue
This one puzzled me first, then cracked me up when it got clarified. You can call me old school, but as far as I know, the only difference between sales and revenue is in the accounting part. Sales is what you book in orders, and Revenue is when you get paid. That difference depends on your DSO (Days Sales Outstanding), which is the average number of days a company takes to collect revenue after a sale has been made. Basically, it shows how Accounts Receivables are being managed, and it relates to the ability of customers to pay on time.
So, I asked the person that I saw holding this title in this 180-person startup, what is the difference between sales and revenue as far as your job is concerned? The answer surprised me: “sales is a direct sales team and revenue are other products not driven directly by a sales force.”
Let’s interpret that statement by assuming that products “not directly driven by a sales force” are really self-serve web-based products or via a revenue share model with partners. So, I still don’t understand why isn’t this called “sales”?
The only explanation I could come-up with is to realize that startups are brainwashed by VCs who ask- what is your “revenue” model? Maybe that’s why they figured they needed to have a “revenue” job title.
Whether it’s web-based sales, indirect sales, partner sales, affiliate sales, app store sales, a freemium scheme, a revenue share, or some other way to get revenue via a distribution arrangement,- that’s still sales.
Don’t confuse the world
A startup does not have to re-invent everything. A startup needs to know when or what to draw from the body of knowledge that already exists, while they continue to innovate where innovation can make a difference.
If you are a startup, keep in mind that the world outside your company also needs to understand what you are doing.