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Letter to the CEO: How Do You Select the Right VP’s for Your Start-up?

In the early days of a start-up, when everyone is hustling, it’s easy for team members to push for a senior position. Not everyone in your start-up is qualified to be a VP. But your co-founders and early employees will often try to push you, earlier than you expected, for better titles.


Before giving in, you need to consider the impact that this person has on your organization, and whether he or she can really handle the increase in responsibility that goes with the title change. Having the title of vice president doesn’t make anyone think more logically or sell more. It likely won’t change personality or behaviour. So be clear about their actual contribution.


Many fall into the trap of thinking that because they helped to build your start-up or took risks by joining, they have somehow earned an executive designation, that they are qualified (maybe even entitled) to move up. There are many director-level employees who believe that executing more, selling more, taking direction better – on a tactical level – will get them promoted. None of that necessarily signifies good VP material.


The difference is this: the director is focused on executing tactics. The VP is focused on executing strategy. For a VP, it’s less about solving specific problems and more about understanding the business and ensuring that the chosen tactics serve the macro issues of that business. It’s the strategic vision of the business that dictates the tactics that need to be executed at the director level.


So how do you know that someone is ready to move from the director level to the vice-president level? What qualities and qualifications do they need?

  • Expertise: The individual must be considered an expert and trusted source in their field. A subject-matter expert or technical master. Someone who has had multiple internal roles, has in-depth knowledge of the entire business, can critically evaluate areas outside of his or her own area of expertise, and has a firm understanding of the external environment (competitors, global market, etc) and their impact on the business.
  • Senior Level Contribution: Works across different strategic and business units in the company; is able to set, engage and champion the objectives of the organization across the board and with their team.
  • Management and organizational skills: Builds organizational capacity; motivates and challenges others in a way that inspires and promotes excellence. Leads and develops people, sets the pace, and people naturally flock to them as a leader.
  • Decision Maker: Makes tough decisions and is accountable for them even when the outcome is negative. A senior manager must deal with uncertainty and be exceptionally versatile.
  • Risk Taker: Not afraid to lose their job. Passionate, emotionally intelligent, and has enough experience (good and bad) and insight to have convictions they will stand up for, for the sake of the greater good.


If you have colleagues that have all of these abilities and can share the burden of running the business, promoting them to the VP level will be a savvy decision on your part. It will help you build a better company and ensure more job satisfaction. If the employee is not at the right stage yet, ask them to wait and grow with your company – your company needs builders and architects. Someday this director will be a VP, but he or she still needs to grow into the role.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif