AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Evolution of Roles in a Startup

We often see in the life cycle of startups that the organization starts with a couple of engineers who handle all aspects of technology and as the team grows specialization starts to be required. At some point, QA engineers are hired, sys admins take over deploying and maintaining hardware, and DBA’s are brought on board to tune databases. This is a very natural evolutionary process but does require some adjustment by the individuals as they are forced to give up responsibility and become more specialized. One of the toughest hurdles to overcome is getting engineers to relinquish their access to the production environment. Taking control or responsibility away from someone is very hard on people’s egos.

Another often seen necessity in hyper growth startups is to upgrade leaders. A leader who was capable of leading and managing five engineers isn’t necessarily capable of running a 50 person tech organization. Often people in particular leadership roles don’t scale with the fast pace growth rate of the organization. In these cases the individuals either need to relinquish their roles or be replaced in order to continue to scale the company. This doesn’t mean pushing them out but more likely it means finding a more suitable role for them. A great role for many CTO’s who need to step aside is to remain in a leadership and technical role as chief architect.

The key to being successful in this evolution is to be open and address people’s fears and concerns. It is much better to speak openly during reviews about an individual’s capabilities rather than have that person worry about their future. The same goes for engineers being asked to relinquish control of the production environment. Be open, talk to them, and listen to their concerns. An open dialogue about why the organization needs to change at this particular time in order to continue to grow and scale is usually accepted very well.

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  • Jeff Kramer

    in November 2nd, 2010 @ 15:02

    This has been a very difficult issue for me in past start-ups. Not so much the production boxes, but not letting Developers write to the Production Database created major issues in a previous company. Once the process was in place for a while, everyone agreed it was better, but it was a major shift for some of the people who had been in the organization since the early days.