Whom might you need - a basic team structure in a SaaS startup
14% of all startups fail because of the wrong team. And it can be easily fixed or, even better, prevented, which is what we want to accomplish with our article today.
When after building your SaaS product using either SaaS platform services or SaaS no-code tools, you find yourself wondering - what’s next - then it’s time to start focusing more on structuring your team.
The sad truth is, lots of startups fail. More than it seems at first glance. Some fail in the first year, and the rest typically follows during years two through five. Most failures are pretty obvious and understandable - wrong business model, poor product, competition, etc.
However, what’s interesting is that 14% of all startups fail because of the wrong team, which can be attributed to a faulty team structure, poor management, etc. And it can be easily fixed or, even better, prevented, which is what we want to accomplish with our article today.
Learn how to structure your team at different stages of your startup, who you might need for which department, and how to communicate within your team. Stick around for our next article, and you can also find out how to get customers for your startup.
SaaS startup - business model
One of the newer business models that have emerged with the rise of the Internet, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), is basically when you have a piece of software that can be accessed and operated using a web browser simply by storing it on a cloud infrastructure. You then offer other businesses access to that software for a fee or a subscription.
The SaaS business model, when done right, can bring many benefits, such as:
- Consistent revenue stream. Thanks to recurring payments, you get not only a more regular income but also more accurate tracking of financial numbers and customer-related metrics;
- Much better customer retention due to long-term cooperation. It’s much easier to get loyal customers when you constantly interact with them than when you only have one-off payments.
- Regular updates, which maintain your clients’ interest, instigate more responsiveness and help you gather consistent and more accurate feedback that can then be used to better tailor your product to customers’ preferences.
Examples of SaaS startups
If we’re speaking about big names in the industry, you surely know some of these large SaaS companies that were once startups showing great promise, for example, Adobe or Salesforce. The former is now setting trends in creativity software, while the latter offers CRM, marketing, and analytics services. Other notable examples are Slack and Zendesk.
However, speaking of somewhat less-known but equally impressive SaaS companies still at their startup stage, we have Seedata.io, a cybersecurity platform from London; Phyllo, a relatively new startup providing APIs for content creators; and ClickUp, a workplace integration tool.
SaaS team structure: from small to large organizations
The SaaS team structure can drastically differ depending on what stage of the company’s growth or expansion you are currently in and how many employees you have (i.e., how large the company is). Let’s start with a startup team at the beginning of the journey.
Startup team structure: small
Before the first proper investment, the startup team structure is typically just a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and a few other people that are either founding partners or senior hires like Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Sales Officer (CSO), and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
The titles may differ, but generally, you need positions responsible for product and technology, as well as sales, marketing, administration, operations, and processes. A small startup team that is slightly expanded after an investment is around 5 to 10, sometimes up to 20 full-time employees.
Quickly breaking down the essential roles above: the CEO is in charge of the company’s vision, direction, and culture; CTOs usually deal with technology and development; the CSO is responsible for everything sales-related. Eventually, CMOs are the ones who deal with the clients and product promotion.
Startup team structure: medium
A medium-sized startup team at this point will enter its “scaling up” phase and count from around 25 to 50 full-time workers. Try hiring multi-skilled people that are adaptable since your company is still in that stage of rapid change.
Now you can introduce more distinct hires to your team that will have more specific responsibilities:
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO) - one of the primary executive roles involving the essential accounting and finance duties in the startup;
- Business Development Manager, that will take care of the company’s growth from both sales and marketing perspectives;
- Chief Product Officer (CPO), the main responsibilities of whom involve devising product design and development strategies, conducting customer research, etc.;
- Customer Service Representative - a position that will help your startup develop strong connections with your customers by addressing all their queries and issues;
- And other employees like marketing manager, sales manager, accounting manager, etc.
Startup team structure: large
Entering the “big leagues,” where the two types of large startup teams typically count 1) 50 to 100 full-time workers and 2) 100+ people in the crew. Now you need to stack up roles within the company that will help you maintain your success and accommodate all the new responsibilities that have surfaced after you established yourself on the market.
At this point, you can add roles like vice presidents (VPs) of sales, marketing, product, development, quality management, customer success departments, etc. Your product, engineering, and design teams are getting more full-fledged.
For example, a Vice President of Sales will help the company with brand promotion, finding and engaging new leads, sales team management, keeping tabs on market activity, and sales reporting.
The Customer Success Lead or Director, on the other hand, will ensure your existing customers remain happy and satisfied with your SaaS product while keeping track of all essential metrics, gathering feedback, and simply being the client’s advocate within the startup.
Large SaaS team structure: departments
By the time your SaaS startup has scaled up to the point where you have more than 50 full-time employees, you already have a few fully-formed departments. Let’s go over some of the crucial ones like product design team structure or marketing team structure.
An important note: you may not have only some or even most of these departments in the exact structure described below. Each startup is unique with its distinctive needs. Generally, you’ll usually need teams that deal with development, design, and marketing.
Don’t take all the employee recommendations at face value; add only those you feel you would benefit from the most. Some job titles can intertwine, merge (wink), or transform, and it’s completely normal and up to you to decide.
SaaS product team structure
One of the most essential initial hires in product teams is the Product Manager that will help your startup take your product from an early idea to a proper concept, validate it and transform it into a successful launch of your product.
Your product team can then consist of Development, Sales, Marketing, and Design teams. With product teams, you’ll also encounter two types of professionals - generalists and specialists. Your team will need both:
- Generalists have broader skill sets and are irreplaceable at the initial stages of your product development.
- Specialists bring more specific skills to the table and are great hires later on when you have lots of more distinctive tasks and issues for them to tackle.
SaaS development team structure
The SaaS development team will include positions like:
- Project Managers,
- Business Analysts,
- Software Developers (Front-end/ Back-end),
- UX/UI Designers (see: design team structure),
- also Quality Assurance Engineers and other types of developers you might need.
SaaS sales team structure
With larger SaaS, your sales teams will probably also need the following:
- a Sales Director,
- a few Sales Representatives,
- also, some Account Executives,
- Sales Engineers,
- and Sales Managers.
SaaS marketing team structure
A SaaS marketing team primarily takes care of the brand, product, and growth marketing. The first core area of marketing department responsibilities can include titles like:
- Brand and Content Strategist,
- Creative Director,
- Social Media Manager,
- and PR Manager.
Product marketing will also need the product marketing manager, UX Writer, Product Owner, etc. Lastly, the growth marketing area of SaaS startup responsibilities adds titles like Marketing Operations Manager, SEO, Email specialists, and Inbound Marketing Managers.
SaaS design team structure
With the design team, you’ll need both specialists and generalists in product design, user experience research, user interface and visual design, user experience design, branding and marketing design, user interface engineering, etc., as well as the Design Director and a few managers.
The link between roles and communication in startup teams
One of the crucial decisions you need to make before structuring and scaling your SaaS startup team is clearly outlining and defining roles and responsibilities within the organization.
While at the start, various duties could’ve been intertwined and shared with other executives, later on, a more straightforward structure is needed to maintain control and hierarchy.
That’s why those holding the positions that contain Chief, Lead, or Director in the title should step back from certain duties and delegate them in order to gain more focus on the overall strategy. Communication is key here.
Here are a few tips:
- Try making it clear to any new hire the exact duties and responsibilities that the person will be expected to handle;
- Set up various types of communication channels and tools, such as project management platforms, productivity tools, CRM, business messaging, video conferencing, etc.;
- Clarify what information needs to be reported to senior staff and management and in which cases.
SaaS startup team structure: examples
To set a few examples, let’s go over a few prominent startups, some still rising and some quite established already. First up we have a well-known Swiss startup Proton, offering their VPN services for secure and safe browsing, ad blocking, and Internet speed “booster”.
Their essential staff begins with a CEO and a CTO, and a Company Advisor. An Engineering team has a VP of Engineering, four Engineering directors, a Senior Automation QA Engineer, a numerous senior and regular Engineering managers, etc.
Their Talent or Personnel team include an Internal Comms & Engagement Lead, Staff Engineers, a Talent Acquisition Partner, and a People & Culture Director. Their Product team includes a Product Experience Director, Product Managers, a Senior Product UX/UI designer, and Senior Full-stack, iOS, and Back-end Engineers.
Marketing and external affairs are being handled by a Brand Manager, a Head of Public Policy and Government Affairs, a Director of Growth Acquisition, a Campaign Manager, a Performance Marketing Manager, and a Head of Legal. Other vital roles include Data Scientists, Customer Support Leads, Copywriters, Office Managers, etc.
Shortcut (formerly Clubhouse). Founded 6 years ago, this startup specializes in project management for various software development projects. Their leadership team is what struck our attention, having only five essential team members for running a SaaS startup of their size:
- Co-Founder & CEO, who “drives the company’s vision”;
- VP of Finance, bringing growth strategy and finances together;
- VP of Marketing, making sure the company’s marketing strategy works the way it’s supposed to;
- Chief Product Officer, whose primary focus is collaboration and healthy planning facilitation;
- Head of People Operations, responsible for people initiatives, strategies, and programs, including HR Compliance, recruitment, and employee experience.
Another example of leadership teams can be found in Loom - a SaaS company from California, United States, that offers customers efficient video messaging tools. Their seven-people crew at the top of the startup’s ladder includes two co-founders - a CEO and a CTO, a VP of Product, a VP of Sales & Success, a VP of Engineering, a VP of Finance, and a VP of People.
Nine essential leadership roles are established by our next SaaS startup example - a PRM-based solution PartnerStack that helps entrepreneurs with their partnerships. Their top crew consists of the following:
- Two co-founders, one of which is also a Chief Executive Officer,
- Chief Technology Officer,
- Chief Product Officer,
- Chief Finance & Operations Officer,
- Chief Sales Officer,
- Chief Marketing Officer,
- Chief Customer Officer,
- and Chief People Officer.
Scaling your team
Effectively scaling your SaaS startup team is just as important as the initial assembly of your essential workers. The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t a) hire too many people all at once and b) make all your hires executive ones.
We have more tips on the matter because our CEO hosted a webinar about successfully scaling the design team.
This upcoming event is an excellent opportunity for Chief Product Officers, Product Directors, Heads of Design, etc., to gain relevant knowledge about the ins and outs of building and expanding your company’s design team.
To register for the webinar, click here. Meanwhile, we have an interesting freebie for you to check out, along with other benefits.
So, ultimately, if you feel like you don’t really know how many people your team should have or what role effective communication plays, you definitely need to join our upcoming webinar.
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