5 Roles You Never Knew You Needed
When it comes to hiring at a startup, sometimes the most impactful roles aren’t the most obvious.
January 20, 2022
In the process of building and scaling a business, most founders are inundated with their frontline resource needs, which are typically focused on product and technology. While those are no doubt some of the most critical areas, a common mistake is to simply hire fast and build resource volume in those areas without a clear strategy or plan in place for execution.
We’ve found in our organizational building experiences that hiring smart is often far more effective than just hiring fast—and the most impactful roles are often not the most obvious.
Ready to grow your team? Learn how these five roles can help scale your startup’s mission, vision, and values.
Head of talent
This key leader will not only drive efficient hiring of top talent, but more importantly, this person will ensure maximum impact of the team through efficient employee onboarding and cultural engagement.
Why this role matters: Founders often conflate the idea of a head of talent with simply a recruiter— this is not the case. A head of talent’s core responsibility is actually to “maximize the impact of your working team.” This often means building the people systems and organizational infrastructure that will allow you to not just hire, but retain, engage, and develop your talent to allow them to perform at their best.
As a founder builds a team from a small direct set of reports to a larger multi-layered organization, they’ll no longer be directly connected to everyone in the organization. This leads to many potential issues not only related to performance but also culture, motivation, and effective team dynamics.
Not only will a head of talent ensure you’re hiring the right people, but they’ll also optimize onboarding and then ensure that the founders’ culture is effectively driven into the organization and that organizational dynamics optimize the efficiency of the business.
Remember: The essence of scaling is when founders hire a leadership team that will replicate their best behaviors and attributes.
A good head of talent will build that into the organizational culture and hiring process. And as teams grow, your head of talent (in partnership with the founders) can easily increase productivity by 10% or more, ensuring you get the most of every resource you hire within a culturally harmonious working environment.
How to measure success: Organizational productivity as determined by OKR performance compared to plan, retention compared to industry benchmarks, and employee engagement as measured through cultural surveys.
Hiring tip: Look for strategic leaders with a deep understanding of systems thinking. Have they only worked as recruiters? Or do they have experience in talent development and people operations? Both are critical areas for organizational scaling.
Technical program manager
This integral manager sits between all technical departments to coordinate cross-functional projects and generally run a highly collaborative agile operation.
Why this role matters: Technical businesses are becoming more complex with integrated projects that involve multiple parties often in a matrixed organization. Productivity is directly tied to the company's ability to coordinate teams to work collaboratively with maximum efficiency. Companies will often find the lack of coordination between teams slows all development down and results in a false demand for greater resources rather than greater efficiency. The technical program manager plays the critical role of ingesting all major technical projects and ensuring that resources are coordinated across multiple teams to execute efficiently.
How to measure success: Rate of delivery completed technical projects against plan. For example, TPMs will be expected to create and meet delivery timelines with minimal tech debt.
Hiring tip: Look for specific examples of how the candidate can “bring order to chaos.” When interviewing the candidate, ask for the types of projects they worked on and how they brought the workstreams together while providing clarity and simplicity to key stakeholders.
Performance marketer (growth hacker)
Previously referred to as a growth hacker, the performance marketer is responsible for the combination of media and targeted customer acquisition along with organic growth strategies to drive down acquisition costs.
Why this role matters: Growth is the core requirement for any young company—as the adage goes, “if you don’t grow, you die.” Given that a lot of growth engines need time to get started, it’s important to employ resources early on that are purely focused on growth. It’s fairly common for an organization to hire a sales team, but this is often very costly and difficult to scale. In the same way a strong head of talent can build the infrastructure to improve the performance of your recruiting team, performance marketers lay the groundwork to set up your sales or acquisition pipeline. More importantly, performance marketers will introduce organic and inbound acquisition that allows the business to scale far more efficiently.
Consider a combination of digital and organic growth options as early as possible to ensure the longer term viability of the business. A good performance marketer is a sales leader’s best friend. Think of them as the difference between a good top-of-funnel versus a great one.
Remember: Future funding rounds could be specifically impacted by the validation of a growth engine/strategy, so it’s never a better time to begin than right away.
How to measure success: A declining customer acquisition cost (CAC) and a growing contribution of organic acquisition or other growth metrics.
Hiring tip: We’re always big fans of using case studies in the interview process, especially for senior candidates. Consider giving your candidate a real business problem you’re facing. Ask him or her how they’d tackle it. What marketing programs would they put in place? Can they demonstrate an understanding of and facilitation with the data? Look beyond the brand vision, and focus on the actual tactics they’d bring to bear on your growth strategy.
The core of the decision-making process, the data strategist will own and dissect all data and information gathered from the operation and performance of the business in order to help facilitate data-driven decisions across the organization.
Why this role matters: In today’s market, although critical, a founder’s gut instincts will only get them so far. In order to really compete and win in your category, it’s imperative that data plays a big role in the way a founder understands their business. Data is a key driver to architecting your product and your business. To present the optimal datasets and analysis from an early stage allows for far better decision-making and ultimately a far more successful build.
Remember: The data strategist should be a right hand to the founders and integrated in most core decisions made in the building of the business.
How to measure success: How integrated is data in the decision-making process, do the founders have a good sense of business performance, and is there an easy-to-access data platform to support core decisions made day-to-day?
Hiring tip: The differentiation between good and great data strategists is their understanding of the business. Assuming you’ve already qualified their data bona fides, dig in on how well they can apply their analytical skills to business problems. Ask them to give examples of real business problems they’ve solved and how they used data to inform the problem and the solution.
Chief of staff
As the right hand person to the CEO, the CoS helps ensure all of the internal projects and strategic initiatives are running on time. This person also best manages the interactions with the CEO to make sure they’re empowered to focus their time most effectively.
Why this role matters: Having a strong chief of staff is critical. In the early days, things move quickly, and this person will become your anchor in addition to your eyes and ears. As companies reach true product-market fit and real scalability (typically around the Series A and B), CEOs need to spend more time outside the business, and start delegating running the inside of the business to their leadership team. Here’s where the chief of staff comes in. Their primary objective is to take the lead on strategic planning and executing an OKR program, amongst a myriad of other cross-organizational tasks. To put it simply—this individual allows the CEO to be the CEO. When you’re trying to build a company, this is extremely important.
How to measure success: The measure of success here is qualitative as it really relates to the efficiency of the CEO and his/her ability to focus on the right things. If the CEO feels empowered, then the role is working.
Hiring tip: Look for people with deep organizational skills and a history of managing complexity well. They should be strategic enough to understand all aspects of the business but operationally focused enough to execute on projects. Candidates from consulting backgrounds typically do well in these types of roles.
Founders build companies from a place of grit and determination. To successfully scale a startup, founders need to realize that it’s not just about working hard—it’s about working smarter, and doing it better as a result. With these five key hires in place, we hope every founder is better equipped to optimize both the efficiency and impact on their organization and the mission at hand.