Previously on Scaling Start-Ups,
Founder: My VP of Sales is not working out 😖
Me: Why is that?
Founder: I don’t know. He was the VP of Sales in a big-name start-up 🤔
Me: What did he do there?
Founder: He was the VP of Sales and they loved him. The references we received were glowing! 🤷♀️
Me: What is the structure of the team he is leading today?
Founder: It started around 12 and grew into 25 people now, 2 Heads of Sales and 2 Sales managers 🚀
Me: What is the size of the team he managed previously?
Founder: I think…around 10 salespeople? It’s the same - isn’t it? 🤨
Errmmmm, NO. It most certainly is not the same!
As your number of employees grows, your organisational and team structure begins to change. This requires different management roles to be unlocked - each with a new scope of accountabilities to manage the increased complexity.
Broadly there are 4 types of management roles: manager of specialists, manager of managers, manager of functional strategy and manager of business strategy.
Let me reintroduce Mugs ‘L’ Us (a fictional start-up from Season 1 of this blog) which is taking the world by storm with its left-handed mugs. Please meet Eve, the VP of Engineering at Mug ‘L’ Us.
Eve was hired as a Tech Lead and was one of the first 3 hires at Mug ‘L’ Us. She was responsible for everything from requirements gathering to writing and deploying code and managing infrastructure. Like everyone else in the early days: she did everything that needed to be done. At this stage, she was a senior individual contributor.
💥 Inflection point 1 (at end of Phase 1 growth) ~50 people
Mugs ‘L’ Us found its product-market fit and the next phase of growth was to get a foothold in their market. To do this, it started to formalise specialist areas and the organisation is structured with subject matter expert leaders to provide direction.
Eve became VP of Engineering with the responsibility to build her team to deliver on the technical needs of the business. Her role evolved from doing everything herself to an MG1 role of managing 8 individuals.
💥 Inflection point 2 (at end of Phase 2 growth) ~100 people
Mugs ‘L’ Us saw sales rocket by 800% in the UK and secured another round of funding. The operational complexity of delivering the mugs at such high volume and speed increased along with their success.
As a result, Eve’s team continued to grow. She hired Engineering Managers to manage her ever-growing team and sub-teams within Engineering. At this point, Eve's role evolved from MG1 to MG2, with her new managers taking over her MG1 responsibilities of managing ICs.
💥 Inflection point 3 (at end of Phase 3 growth) ~200 people
Mugs ‘L’ Us continued to see 50% QoQ growth and expanded from EMEA to the US and APAC regions. The business growth added complexity in supporting multiple languages, security, and time zones (just to name a few!) - which meant the Engineering team continued to grow.
Eve no longer had the capacity to manage the increasing number of managers. She needed to group managers in similar specialist areas together and hand over her responsibilities of managing managers (MG2). She stepped into the MG3 role. Her MG2 managers were responsible for delivering the current tech strategy and she needed to shift her focus to longer-term Tech strategy (e.g. forecasting, planning, removing future blockers), working actively with other functional leaders to influence business strategy.
💥 Inflection point 4 (at end of Phase 4 growth) ~400 people and beyond
Eve has played a pivotal role in growing Mugs ‘L’ Us to get to where they are today. As the business continues to dominate the global market for left-handed mugs, she has been promoted to the role of CTO (MG4). She is now part of the C-level team whose role is to set long-term business strategies and influence the company (not just her department) to achieve the highest priority business objectives together.
Looking back at Eve’s journey in Mugs ‘L’ Us, although she held the title of VP of Engineering, her management role transformed twice (MG1 to MG2, MG2 to MG3) as a result of the growth of employees and business, before eventually stepping into the CTO role.
Not all job titles are created equal
Job titles vary in terms of scope of accountabilities and impact from one start-up to another. When a management role is created or hired, it is important to have a clear understanding of the scope of accountabilities and the impact expected of that role. This will ensure that we identify the right individual with the relevant experience and capabilities to be hired, or we can plan and develop internal employees who can transition into the role.
✍ JooBee’s note:
I can already hear you saying: “If only the problems we face in start-ups are that clear-cut!” The aim of this blog is to understand the 4 broad management roles and the core accountabilities that come with each role.
Imagine learning about colours; you start by identifying the primary colours. Next, you learn that when you mix primary colours like blue and red together, it gives you purple - a secondary colour. When you know these basic principles of the primary colours and how to mix them, you can personalise the combination of blue and red to give indigo (more blue), magenta (more red) or any spectrum in between.
Similarly, in the context of management, you may have a VP of 10 people (MG1) who need to assume some responsibilities of setting functional strategy (MG3). Knowing the core responsibilities of the four management roles, you know as a business what to expect from the role and, at the same time, communicate clear expectations for your manager to set them up for success. Always avoid stealth expectations!
In the next episode...
Me: Hearing the story of Eve, which management role does your current VP of Sales hold?
Founder: MG2, and within the next 3 months, the role will most likely become MG3 as we are growing quickly! 😱
Me: At the time when they were hired, what were their responsibilities and their capabilities to perform in that role?
Founder: I believe the role was MG1, and they were a very good MG1! 🥺
Me: I agree. So, based on the business growth and needs, what are you going to do about it?
Discover what happens by clicking on the next episode.