Who should be in a startup team?

Often people approach a startup with a naive attitude that they can succeed by just doing what they want to do. The reality is that there are many roles that need to occur to have a reasonable chance for success. In this post, I will summarize a lean team and the roles that they may need to implement.

  • Idea person – who should function as
    • Domain Expert
    • Tester – does the product match their vision?
    • Handling Sales Calls  (because they speak the client language – hopefully)
  • Product Manager – the decision maker for the development team
    • Researcher
    • Business case writer
    • Specification writer
    • Project planner
    • Documentation writer
    • Tester
    • Code reviewer
    • Liaison
    • Handling Sales calls
  • Developer Team
    • A pair of developers
      • Team Programming'
      • Redundancy if one leaves


For a short period you may wish to involved a “shirt-sleeve architect”, an architect that is current on technology and likely a good developer with heavy experience. Their role would ideally be:

  • Overall design based on the specification
    • Modify it to match the skill sets of the developers
    • You are not is a situation where you can hired developers that can handle aggressive sophisticated designs
    • You need a foil for developers advocating technologies that they want to learn, instead of technologies that they are experienced with. This is risk management.
  • Design the database (if needed) – OOP and Database Design are two different cultures
    • Script the database (with triggers, indices and Referential Integrity)
    • Decide if some OOP data access can be used (simpler databases) or if stored procedures should be mandated.


The reason that I reduce the involvement of the Idea person (apart from testing) is that they will often not understand implementation issues. There are exceptions – but think of building a house, the owner may think that they know how to do wiring or plumbing … but it they do it, the odds are that it will fail inspection and the work will need to be redone (after ripping out the drywall). The owner of the idea tend to be possessive and ends up being too close emotionally on one side, and too far from best (or required) practices on the other side.


You need to give the Idea person a lot of pats on the back and make sure they feel useful (and ideally be useful) but the odds that they will with the best of intentions distract resources and obfuscate a good implementation. The product manager role is too keep him or her happy and be a buffer protecting the developers from randomization.


At some point you may need to add a tester – this person roles should include:

  • Testing
  • Support
  • Handling Support Calls
  • Some maintenance coding and tuning

The bottom line is that there is much work to be done. And the work needs to be done well. Odds of success goes down if  things are put off because suddenly everything is needed and there is no time…. so junk is produced and the customer is left with the impression of a sloppy company (a nice way to loose sales…).


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