What Is a Typical Org Structure at a Startup?

The Most Common Org Structure for a Startup

CEO

The top position in any startup org structure is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CEO is almost always the founder or co-founder of the company, and often provides the vision and leadership needed to get the startup off the ground.

When the startup is brand new, the CEO may handle most of the company’s administration personally. But as it grows, they will need to delegate more and more tasks to other leaders within the company. Still, the reporting structure of the company leads upward to the CEO, who usually has the final say in most matters.

Operations

The Operations department is in charge of the day-to-day processes that keep the company operating efficiently, such as project management or supply chain management. Because these processes happen behind the scenes, they’re frequently referred to as the “back office” functions. This is in contrast with the Sales or Customer Success departments, which regularly interact with customers.

Early on in the growth of a startup, the Operations department will often oversee:

  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Legal
  • Marketing
  • Sales

Then, as the company scales, these will likely become their own departments, though they may still report to Operations.

Operations is headed by a Chief Operating Officer (COO) or Vice President of Operations. The COO is usually the CEO’s second-in-command, and may even be a co-founder. Regardless, the COO is primarily responsible for ensuring that the company is running smoothly and reaching its goals.

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Product

Product’s objective is to understand the needs of your customer base, then develop a strategy to create products that answer those needs while aligning with the company’s priorities. Responsibilities include:

  • Customer research
  • Data analysis
  • Product development
  • Product optimization

The Product department “owns” the product and is ultimately responsible for its success or failure.

In the case of product-driven companies, CEOs frequently start out supervising product management themselves. But as their other duties increase, it becomes necessary to pass the reins to a dedicated Chief Product Officer (CPO) or Vice President of Product.

Engineering

Engineering is focused on designing and creating products. This might seem confusing at first. Isn’t that Product’s job?

There are some key differences between the two departments. Product directs the big-picture strategy for a company’s products, while Engineering actually designs and builds those products. Product decides what the products need to do, and Engineering makes it happen.

As you could probably guess, these two departments must work closely together to carry a product from development through design and all the way to rollout. Then, if the product needs to be adjusted in any way, Product and Engineering will have to collaborate on future iterations.

So why not just combine the two? Because the processes, metrics, and priorities of each tend to clash. By splitting them up, you can balance their distinct approaches more efficiently.

The head of the Engineering department is usually known as a Vice President of Engineering.

Marketing

Your Marketing department is dedicated to spreading awareness for your business, demonstrating the value of your product, and converting prospects into paying customers. Marketing will also work to improve the public perception of your company as a whole.

If your company caters to individuals, your Marketing department needs to focus on business-to-customer marketing, or B2C. If you cater to other businesses instead, you’ll need to optimize your marketing strategy for a business-to-business angle, or B2B.

Either way, Marketing will typically manage:

  • Customer research
  • Branding
  • Content marketing
  • Ad campaigns
  • Strategic partnerships

Marketing is led by a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Head of Marketing, or Vice President of Marketing.

Sales

While Marketing works to raise awareness for your products, the Sales team identifies leads and reaches out to potential customers to pitch your product directly. They do their best to generate interest, guide prospects through a winning sales funnel, and close the deal.

The Sales department is usually run by a Sales Director or Head of Sales.

Note: in the case of product-led growth (PLG) companies where the product “sells itself,” a separate Sales department may not be necessary.

Customer Success

Customer Success is responsible for helping existing customers get the most value out of your product. At the bare minimum, that means solving any problems or answering any questions your customers may have.

But ideally, your Customer Success team should also proactively educate and assist new customers during the onboarding process, solving potential issues before they even arise. This will give users a better experience with your product from the start.

The director of the Customer Success department is known as a Customer Success Manager or Head of Customer Success.

Human Resources

When your startup scales enough, you’ll want to establish a Human Resources department. This department will manage:

  • Recruiting
  • Hiring
  • Employee onboarding and training
  • Employee performance reviews
  • Conflict mediation and resolution

The goal of Human Resources is to staff your company with top talent, foster a healthy professional culture, and ensure that your employees are as happy and productive as possible.

Human Resources may be led by a Chief People Officer (CPO) or Human Resources Director.

Does Your Startup Have an Org Chart Yet?

One of the best ways to optimize your company’s organizational structure is to create an org chart. This will give you a bird’s-eye view of exactly how your company is structured—and how it could be improved.

Just click here, and we’ll guide you through the process of setting up your very own org chart today.

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