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3 Job Titles That Signal, “Founder will be fired”

by Larry Chiang on May 21, 2015

Larry Chiang’s book, What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School, has an entire chapter devoted to “Entrepreneurship #Ch9 and Sales via Lead Generation #Ch6”. As CEO of Duck9, he helps institutions make credit receivables less risky and plays the other side to by getting college students a “FICO” credit score over “748.6”. After a Harvard Law School keynote, Harvard Business wrote: “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School

NY Fashion Week has supermodels getting a high FICO credit score because I supermodel on-the-side
By Larry Chiang

I sit first chair entrepreneur in silicon valley. It means I sit in front rows of lectures and tech conferences and my friends’ keynotes and copiously take notes. It also means I am the secretary (and only person who brought pen and paper) to a board meeting.

Larry Chiang at UT "One Semester Startup" (CS 178) #CS178 Photo credit: Josh Baer, co-founder, Capital Factory Larry Chiang at UT “One Semester Startup” Demo Day (CS 178) #CS178 Photo credit: Josh Baer, co-founder, Capital Factory

My favorite question from the front row = ‘Can you repeat that.’

Here are 3 job titles that signal, “Founder is likely to get fired super, soon.”

– COO. “Chief Operating Officer”

Peter Thiel, VC at Founders Fund said in a Stanford CS class, “COO is a person you hire to eventually replace the founder/CEO.” When you hear, “We hired David Sachs to be COO,” something’s up.

The co-founder who is CEO should be operating. When VCs speak of ‘operating experience’, they are talking about COO skills. COO skills should be inside the CEO. If the two similar roles are in two different people, the CEO is on the way out. Think of COO as an on-deck, next-in-line, CEO.

In fact, the next two job titles are similar. They should be performed by the founding team…

VP Marketing.

Need scale? Got a team of founders waiting for a growth hacking savior!?! Well…, spoiler alert. Founders should focus on sales. Not marketing. It is not just me and 20 startup experts telling you. That is strait from a YC partner, Jessica Livingston (<~~ click for the WSJ article she penned)

I would boil down a snippet of a quote, the the whole WSJ article points to the danger inherent in a “VP of Marketing”. Because a ‘VP of marketing’ is not the savior you’re looking for. The first question VCs ask of they like your technology, “What are you going to do for DISTRIBUTION?”

Counterintuitive point #1: The VP of marketing cannot be brought in to help you ‘Cross the Innovation Chasm’.
Counterintuitive point #2: Marketing is a way for startups to avoid doing the tough work of ‘sales’.

Speaking of faux saviors, the most dangerous job title = “VP sales”

“Hiring a vp sales just sets a ticking clock on when the founders are to be fired”
— Larry Chiang

Counterintuitive point #3: As technical co-founder, you must sell. You can hire a couple junior people to facilitate lead generation. But you must sell yourselves as a co-founding team.
VCs call the appearance of a second VP of sales, “Startup death spiral”. Fellow board member, pattern recognizer and Stanford professor (ENGR 245*, engineering 145**) actually wrote an article called “Startup Death Spiral”

Founders get fired so often for the same reasons that I memorized a system of links
THAT should scare you.

So, go back and reverse engineer my system of bit ly links like you copy paste my forked gitHub/ StanckOverFlow code.


Countermeasures to getting fired and countermeasures to ducking chapter 9 bankruptcy (#DuckCh9Bk) include:

– Installing the sales subroutine #CS183s (it’s putting vp sales skills inside CS majors

– Learning sales skills as the technical founder via the CS subroutine #CSmajorCRO

– Playing with “PopUpInternship” to learn to sell via 16, 7-hour pop up internships

Best countermeasure to avoiding startup bankruptcy: Having all the co-founders learn to sell and promote (yes all five CS majors code and promote)

– Founders getting fired was so prevalent PRE 2007, that there was a secret class ENGR 145s*** It ‘cured premature startup death’ [It’s based on Tom Kosnik, professor Engineering 145, who stated “help prevent premature startup death.” He teaches ENGR 145 (no “s”)]. See ‘#ENGR145s’

* ENGR 245 “Lean Launch Pad”

** Engineering 145; *Technology Entrepreneurship*

***ENGR 145s; ‘SALES in Tech Startups’

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