Startups: How to divide responsibilities between Co-founders
Sep 18, 2022 | Company Building
Most startups get a very important thing wrong that can be life or death. That thing: How to divide responsibilities between cofounders. Unfortunately, there’s no right answer. But I have a secret: a way to do this that works 95% of the time. And it’s shockingly simple
Early in my career, advisors gave me all the wrong advice. The most common: a spreadsheet of responsibilities divided between cofounders. The problem: this is way too complicated, and complexity stunts growth. I needed something far simpler.
After several iterations, I found a radical approach that just works. Here it is: One cofounder (the CEO) drives Expansion The other cofounder (typically the CTO) drives Delivery … Let’s unpack both.
Expansion means net new sales, users, and customers. It means signing new deals, driving marketing strategy, and enabling growth. The CEO grows the company as smart and fast as possible. They are masters at product market fit.
On the flip side, what happens when a customer is signed? That becomes Delivery. CTOs implement, integrate, and build the features necessary for customer needs. If it’s a consumer company, they also make sure users stay engaged and happy with the platform.
Another way to say this: The CEO drives Signups
The CEO also typically runs product vision while the CTO is responsible for delivering against this vision on a timely fashion… of course having critical input into the vision as well.
The CTO must be able to deliver against vision while also meeting customer needs, balancing both and giving themselves leverage through hiring as needed.
The best division of roles occurs when both parties are playing to their superpowers. So of course this advice should be a framework more than a strict ruleset. Modify it to suit your needs
If you adopt this framework and one side cannot keep their end of the bargain, there’s two possibilities:
1. You might need to adjust responsibilities to play better to each other’s superpowers 2. (The tougher reality) One party might not be able to scale as fast as the business needs If #2 occurs, address it head-on.
So, what about the case where both cofounders are non-technical? Still, decide who is best at Signups vs Delivery. Whoever is best at Signups becomes the CEO while the other could adopt a COO or President title, while having the technical team report into them.
Ok that’s it! I’m 28 and founded several companies worth collectively $12+ billion. Here I share my secrets. If you found this helpful, give me a follow
Let’s build something great. The CTO drives Activation & Retention