A brief guide to the chiefs of a start-up management team

Published by Biotech Connection Singapore on

Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Technology/Scientific Officer. Are these the esteemed rulers of a mythical tribe? No, just the members of a start-up management team! Just as every tribe has its hunters, gatherers and healers, there is a dedicated team of individuals behind every start-up. Despite their specialized roles, these individuals share the same vision for the start-up and work tirelessly to bring common goals to fruition.


Note: This list presents the main roles in a typical start-up team. It is not exhaustive and there can be fewer or more roles (Google has a Chief Happiness Officer!), depending on the needs, size and nature of the organization. 


Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

The mug says it all!

Also known as: The Big Boss

Roles and responsibilities: As the title suggests, the CEO is the highest-ranking executive in an organization. In a start-up, the CEO is often the founder of the business. As such, he or she is the primary person in charge of strategic decisions such as setting the direction of the start-up. Like the head honcho of a tribe, the CEO of a start-up needs to have a clear vision to ensure that the tribe thrives. He or she needs to understand and monitor the trends influencing the industry so as to take full advantage of opportunities in the hunting ground. Important roles of the CEO include networking as well as managing investor and partner relations. No man is an island and no CEO is complete without a team. It is imperative that the CEO of a start-up recruits competent individuals to form the executive committee. Then, he or she motivates the team to work towards common goals and meet targets. As the CEO, it helps to be charismatic with the ability to see the bigger picture beyond the horizon! It is vital for the CEO to define the roles and responsibilities of the team members as well as mediate disagreements which arise. It won’t do the tribe any good if hunters, gatherers and healers are confused about their roles while everyone is off chasing an antelope!          

Usually found: Everywhere that he/she is needed as the “face” of the company. That includes meetings, events, talks, site visits… the list goes on!


Chief Operating Officer (COO)

Behind every CEO is a trusty COO.

Also known as: The Second-in-command                                                           

Roles and responsibilities: The COO is the trusty sidekick of the CEO. Second in command to the CEO, the COO is sometimes the co-founder of the business. If the CEO is the visionary, the COO is the executor. The COO works closely with the CEO to assess opportunities and challenges as well as to implement strategic decisions on the ground. He or she ensures that company operations are successfully implemented so that the CEO can focus on bringing the tribe to greater heights. The COO also monitors workflows, resources, manpower and production pipelines as well as research and development activities. The COO should be results oriented with the ability to prioritise so that plans can be transformed into concrete action. He or she is the one who says, “everyone, stop chasing the antelope! Hunters, hunt two deer! Gatherers, forage and gather 100 kg of berries! Together, we will have enough resources to feed the tribe!”  

Usually found: in the CEO’s office discussing operational plans with the CEO


Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Counting (coffee) beans is hard work!

Also known as: The Bean Counter

Roles and responsibilities: The availability and allocation of resources are important considerations for the maintenance and growth of any organization. As the financial leader of the start-up, the CFO is in charge of coordinating and managing finance-related matters. He or she keeps track of and reports the financial history of the start-up to board members as well as investors. The financial well-being of the start-up is an important factor which impacts many decisions. Indeed, the role of the CFO is not to be taken lightly! The CFO also takes stock of the resources that the start-up tribe has, thus earning the unofficial title of bean counter! The CFO should possess sharp problem solving and analytical skills, which will be useful in managing financial risks, analysing market trends and budgeting. As the role involves interaction with (potential) investors, he or she should also have strong interpersonal skills to convince them to support the start-up.

Usually found: Poring over Excel spreadsheets in preparation for the next financial report


Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Just one more photo for the marketing campaign!

Also known as: The Influencer

Roles and responsibilities: The CMO manages the planning, development and execution of the start-up’s marketing initiatives. The CMO is also responsible for creating as well as maintaining the brand and image of the start-up. He or she disseminates the tribe’s messages to targeted audiences across a variety of print and digital media. Hence, the CMO must be adept in understanding what consumers want and tailor the message to capture the attention of their audience. The CMO should be both analytical and creative. They need to make sense of complex information and distil it into messages that can be appreciated by their intended audience to increase sales and revenue. It is advantageous for the CMO to use marketing platforms as well as social media tools judiciously to reach out to potential clients. To connect with various audiences, they should also be curious and knowledgeable about diverse areas ranging from advertising to zombies (if you are in charge of creating adverts like these, you definitely have to be!). An excellent command of language(s), aptitude for design and flair for creating original engaging content will help in getting the messages across!  

Usually found: On various channels and platforms creating marketing campaigns for different target groups.


Chief Technology/Scientific Officer (CTO/CSO)

You may be doing this quite often as the CTO/CSO!

Also known as: The Tech/Science guru

Roles and responsibilities: The CTO/CSO manages the scientific and technology developments in a start-up. As the head of scientific and technological operations, the CTO/CSO combines scientific prowess with leadership skills and business acumen. The CTO/CSO helps to set research and scientific priorities which align with the vision of the start-up. Research, development and optimization are the key words which describe what the CTO/CSO does. Through research, the CTO/CSO develops products and services which are in line with the priorities of the start-up. As scientific and technological expertise are required in this role, many scientists and engineers are naturally drawn to this position. It is indeed an excellent opportunity for those in these fields to put their years of experience into action in the industry!  

Usually found: In the laboratory/workshop conducting experiments  

Photos: Unsplash

Got an interesting topic about bio-entrepreneurship which you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Please send articles, ideas, requests and feedback to daphne.ng@biotechconnection-sg.org. We welcome all contributions! 

Biotech Connection Singapore (BCS) is part of an international network of non-profit organizations, that aims to promote the transfer of ideas from theory to real world applications by providing a platform for fostering interaction between academia, industry and businesses.