In April we brought you the news that a nasty disease was returning to start-up land: that of grossly inflated titles for people in companies so small they don’t even have executives, let alone Executive Vice Presidents of Business Development and International Strategy. But what we only mentioned in passing at the time was a far graver sin being committed in start-ups all over the country on a daily basis.
It’s the scourge of the founder “CEO”. It’s such a ridiculous appellation The Kernel’s style guide even forbids its usage outside of headlines. What, precisely, are founders of a company with no revenue, a handful of staff and possibly even no funding the chief executive of? (It’s like people who run start-up magazines styling themselves “Editor-in-Chief”. I mean really…)
“CEO” is offensive for a number of reasons, not least of which are its American origins. There was me, thinking it was all about disruption and sticking it to the man. So why does the start-up industry so slavishly imitate the language of the very people it’s trying to subvert? What’s wrong with director – or even managing director – anyway?
Worse still, though thankfully less common, are those founders who style themselves “President” after their A-round, a term so preposterous when applied to technology start-up that there ought to be laws against it. Speaking of laws, here’s a suggestion: why don’t we all agree on a baseline definition beyond which it’s acceptable to call yourself chief executive?
Perhaps it’s £2 million in annual revenue, or a headcount of 50, or some other metric. Whatever it is, I hope you’ll join me in expressing your revulsion and disdain at the absurd hubris of 22-year-olds styling themselves as Chief Executive Officers. There’s no shame in being an “I”, as our columnist Bertie Stephens put it this morning. Nor is there in simply being, shock-horror, a “founder”.
We’re all for supporting aspiration. But come on, now. I’m sorry to be rude, but by calling yourself “CEO”, you’re not expressing how powerful and impressive you are. Just that you’re a bit of a bell-end. Where’s the shame in holding fire until you’ve earned it?