Too often I meet with an early stage start-up company and get four or five business cards from the executives which include titles like Chairman/CTO, President, CEO, COO and so on. While these are standard titles, the odd thing is how they get combined. This blog entry gives some very simple advice on titles - which is to make some tough choices up front and figure out who is really in charge.
The first card I usually look at is the President/CEO's card. Often a red flag immediately jumps out at me when the President and CEO title are split among two different people - meaning the people in the company really don't know who is in charge. A slight variation on this theme is when there is a COO as well as a President/CEO, which leads to the same conclusion. All of these combinations basically mean that the management team hasn't come to grips with who does what yet.
From a venture capitalist point of view, there needs to be one person in charge that will take responsibility for getting things done. This splitting of titles can be avoided if the management team spends a little time up-front making some tough choices and answering questions like:
1. Who is going to be in charge and why?
2. Do you really expect to have more than one person on the BOD?
3. If so, how long do you expect them to stay on the Board?
My advice to start-up company executives is to make the choices up front - get rid of any ideas of having someone with a COO title and get on with running the company.