Job position security is non-existent in a startup, but work security is. There is always more to do than the company can do.
You may have the title of Product Manager, but if you are the only Marketing department person available when the unexpected customer arrives, you will be standing up giving the company introduction along with the Sales Rep and whatever Engineer you can pull off his computer. The VP of Operations will present the latest marketing positioning to the industry conference because the CEO and VP Marketing are on a plane to China to negotiate an order with a large customer. Summer interns are rounded up to write the next business plan as required by the venture capital firm interested in leading the next round of financing for the startup. All of that has happened to startups that I have been close to.
What needs to get done gets done, regardless of title. This is threatening to insecure personalities. It is expected by serial entrepreneurs. There is no place in startups for turf wars. Instead new enterprises are places where mine is yours and yours is mine. They behave more like cooperatives than hierarchical organizations. They are both eager and bold with humility and quiet confidence.
That sense of teamwork and rapid job shuffling requires a culture of trust. Each person must be open to others doing their work for them when that is best for the company. People jump from title to title and give little regard for what is on their business cards. Titles are for helping customers and strategic partners quickly understand what a person represents in the startup.
If you find prospective employees demanding job titles above their demonstrated abilities, it is wise to avoid hiring them. Such pride comes before their fall. If they insist on perks (cars, expense allowances, travel first class) send them on their way. Those are signs of people focused on themselves instead of on the startup.
People will surprise you. Some will be set free at last to finally do what they have dreamed of. The results can be stunningly beautiful. They produce amazing products, negotiate significant deals, clean up impossible accounting messes and recruit world-class talent. I’ve seen these results from people freed from big company politics and family dominated multi-nationals.
Then it is your turn to promote them. The announcement may include a fresh job title, more cash and increase in stock option. That encourages others in the new enterprise to aim high, to over achieve, to go for the big win. It excites the culture. It sets a path for others to follow. It is how your organization learns, grows and matures.