Monday, March 16, 2015

What is the best title for a startup founder?

In the early days of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg printed business cards with the title "I'm CEO, Bitch." To any self respecting entrepreneur, the title of Chief Executive Officer smacks of old school hierarchy. I hold my nose every time I see it on my business card. I try to tone it down with Founder & CEO, but a startup with a CEO? "Bitch please" (Angie Tempura). 

A startup with a CEO? Bitch please.
Tweet: A Startup with a CEO? Bitch Please. Best Titles for Startup Founders. @marcbolh

My first business cards at Ascendo had no title and I used several humorous titles to describe myself. Then a friend told me I was shooting myself in the foot. "People want to know if they are talking to the boss, head honcho, el capitan." So I added CEO to the next batch of cards and it made some things easier, like getting meetings with other CEOs. But I still dislike the term Chief Executive Officer. I assume it means a person whose main job is to speak with unearned confidence.

And so I've been looking for a good title for some time. I like Chief Facilitator but people might think I'm in charge of maintenance. I like the word Designer in a title, which could be used to mean designing the company's strategy, processes, etc., but designer makes people think of Jon Ivy and I don't want that comparison (btw, Ascendo is looking for a UX designer).

I recently pitched PhraseMates at Fishburners co-working space and used the title "Storyteller". That choice was inspired by Bernadette Jiwa's great book, The Fortune Cookie Principal. Shout out to Stuart Hall for recommending it. I do believe that a person leading a company needs to tell the story on a regular basis, but using storyteller as your title sounds a bit dodgy.

My favorite title at the current time is Lead Sherpa. The person running a company needs to lead the team to a destination, like a sherpa climbing mount Everest. They need to be in front, choose the best path, and be the first to bear the pain of a bad decision. They should carry some heavy things and lighten the load for others by being a facilitator. And finally, they need to keep everybody, including the customers, focused on getting to the summit.

I've started rolling out this title on the PhraseMates web siteI'll still be dropping the CEO title whenever it helps, but in my mind, I'm the Lead Sherpa on a fantastic journey to enhance people's lives with great apps.

What interesting titles have you heard for the founder of a startup?


  1. I simply identify myself as the Founder. It accurately identifies me as the boss of a small company with big ambition.

  2. I simply identify myself as the Founder. It accurately identifies me as the boss of a small company with big ambition.

  3. For me, being CEO = Chief Everything Officer. Let's be Twitter friends! I'm @LoveYourCRM

  4. I also hated CEO as a title until I read that CEO stands for Chief Empowerment Officer. Now I Rock my CEO title!