Roles in startup

Each organization is different in ideologies and approach yet has some similarities with other organizational set-ups. In this blog I will cover one type of a startup organization.

Companies define roles for multiple reasons- for scalability, efficiency, breaking cultural and organizational boundaries or breaking silos (also read: The changing role of the modern sales team


Organization heads (Team Leads): This role is needed to create a vertical strength in the team – example Marketing Team. Often, the lead role is broken down into Global Lead and Regional/Country lead for a globally distributed team. This person is in charge of executing vertical projects (in marketing country lead example: a person is in charge of producing results from the team of his/her country for the marketing). The people playing this role are responsible for quality and quantity of work in functional area (marketing or development or operations).

Project Manager/Scrum Masters (PM): These are the owner of time and resources. People playing this roles are responsible for delivery on time.

Each working team member typically answers to both functional head (let’s say marketing, if he/she works in marketing area) as well as Project Manager if he/she is working in projects (almost always people work in projects with some exceptions in Operations team).

In some cases when management overhead is required to manage a set of related people a new role can be introduced. Example: Internship Manager.

Another style of creating a collaborative environment is ‘Agile Team’. In this structure, one not only reports to the operations, development or marketing manager but are also convincing or working in interest of the project stake holder and product owner. A stake holder is one who invests money and expects a certain result in a product.While a product manager defines product features and how it can be shaped.

To assure success of a modern technology startup it is essential to have an environment of freely moving ideas and collaboration. The above organization structure inherently enforces a top-down style (boss is not always right in modern Silicon Valley startup). But we still need to keep some structure (like mentioned above).

Modern Silicon Valley startups have introduced roles like SME (Subject matter experts) or give amusing or strange titles to reflect an unusual role (from traditional sense) but has positive influence on ideas, projects and decision making.

SME is not specifically a definite role, people don’t report to a SME. This roles is highly paid, highly desired and is an advisory and influential role. It is possible for a marketing lead or PM to be SME as well. This is an expert role where the person has reached expertise and mastery of a subject. Companies try to cultivate the environment where multiple SME are present.

In case a special research is needed a SWAT team can be formed (like Navy seal / commando style) to define specific goals and achieve results.

In a typical Asian (hierarchical companies) the boss decides and followers follow.

In modern technology startup, PM manages product backlog (list of important features). A team (including stake holders, product owners) helps in prioritization with final day of stake holder . It is highly encouraged to receive new ideas and features from anyone. The ideas are added to product backlog. Each task or work is pear reviewed and presented to organization leads including product owner and receives advise or review from SMEs. In this case SME plays a crucial role in influencing and shaping ideas for product without technically having a lead role or direct reporting line.

Many companies have taken advantage of above dynamic, semi-structural and a little casual structure to have an agility, control, deliverable as well as innovations.

This article is prepared as part of training program (