Home From Founder to Alchemist, Why Titles Aren’t Trivial

From Founder to Alchemist, Why Titles Aren’t Trivial

The current technology boom is, on most fronts, quite unlike the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. But one aspect that both seem to share is a fascination with titles – both yours and your teams’. Many startup entrepreneurs are returning to the creative titles of the 1990s. Is that really a smart move?

Ranjith Kumaran, founder and CEO of PunchTab (which creates instant loyalty platforms), and co-founder of YouSendIt, where he was the Chief Technology Officer (he’s still on the board) acknowledges the “topic of unique, creative and alternative titles keeps coming up as of late.” Kumaran says it’s likely this trend is “a direct result of founders learning from experience. Too many startups found out the hard way that big titles, too early, forced them to create an organization before the company was ready, and then there was pressure to fill it out.”

That is your job

The whole topic might seem trivial, but according to Kumaran titles can actually affect job performance. He explains, “Titles have never been important to me, because my philosophy has always been that everyone at an organization works for everyone else, and should pitch in wherever needed. Titles often give an easy excuse of ‘That’s not my job’, but it is your job, so get used to it.”

Kumaran maintains that in order to create a successful company, entrepreneurs need to focus on building quality products, and meeting the needs of their target audiences. And, he adds, the startups “that are trying to build teams that iterate, and find the best solutions to the problems they are tackling are trying to recruit people who want to get things done, not find a bigger title. For early-stage companies, it is critical to recruit the right type of people. Every hire is critical, and it’s better not to hire than to hire the wrong person. An easy filter to spot the folks who aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves (and instead think their strength is ‘management’) is to not play the game that everyone’s next title needs to be bigger than their last one.”

From Firefighter to Superwoman

PunchTab not only believes in creative titles, but in free choice as well. “Our entire team of 12 was encouraged to have a one word title that they chose,” Kumaran says. “Some are simple and straightforward, such as Founder or Engineer. But we’ve also got a Firefighter, an Alchemist and a Superwoman. These are actually the titles that are on employment agreements, stock grants, benefits documents, etc.”

For startups, Kumaran maintains, “mixing up titles or being less hierarchical means the company can set different metrics by which productivity and success are measured. It also works to neutralize politics as you grow.”

It all comes down to tone, and as the entrepreneur you’re in charge of setting it. As Kumaran puts it, “What a title represents to the team or individual really depends on the company culture. In certain organizations, they mean a lot to everyone involved. In others (like PunchTab), everyone is measured by their throughput, and our investors are just as interested in hearing from the intern as they are from the founders.”

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