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Technically I am the CEO of the startup, but since we're only 2 people, it sounds kind of cocky and wrong. What title should I use to present myself to potential clients, given the fact that Project Manager was the one we decided the other person is going to have.

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You are Founder, aren't you? – user272735 Aug 28 '14 at 3:43
Yep, I am the f ounder – Christopher Francisco Aug 28 '14 at 13:17
up vote 4 down vote accepted

It partially depends on what your business structure is.

  • For example with a LLP (or other forms of partnership) you can just call yourself Partner and it is what you are and it clearly shows what control you have.
  • With a Proprietorship you can just call yourself the Proprietor (yes I know that's not applicable to your situation but for the sake of completeness)
  • With most larger corporate structures (whether or not they are currently larger in actuality) ie LTD, LLC, etc. I would second qdot's suggestion for Executive Director. I would also say that CEO is technically accurate and is not actually cocky if you have a corporate structure. Another thing to note is that in many (usually much larger) corporations Project Manager is not a singular position; if that is what you are acting as with a particular client then there is no reason not to state that as your position.

Dual position is also totally fine especially with a small business most people will be filling multiple shoes. Depending on the client I have titled as Developer\Proprietor or Designer\Proprietor or on sub-contract I have used various positions as applicable to my current task when dealing with the contractor's clients (like Network Admin, DBA etc.). As long as it accurately describes your role in decision making and your current task it is fine. A bit of cockiness isn't necessarily a bad thing either ;)

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The duality I've been referring to was the "upstream -> relationship to shareholders/stakeholders" and "downstream -> relationship to employees/clients" role of a board. If you are (as you undoubtedly are) also doing operational tasks (DBA etc) - put those as well, at least on some of your business cards. I used to carry 5 different cards at some point. DBAs of your client don't care if you're also the owner / Executive Director - they care if you are (today) a fellow DBA who's consulting for them. – qdot Aug 27 '14 at 15:53
I usually deal with people online so I only carry 2 or 3 business cards... but I have a dozen saves email signatures that I just select. – Nick Wilde Aug 27 '14 at 15:56
I believe you're right with the filling multiple shoes, so I'm going to go with something similar to developer/founder – Christopher Francisco Aug 28 '14 at 13:21

This might sound really terrible, but I have a standard procedure for dealing with this type of thing..

Always present yourself in a meeting with the title that best supports the position you are trying to gain with your client.

Early on, my business partner and I were quick to establish each other as friends and business partners with equal equity, but I was also quick to relinquish CEO for his advantage. Giving me the title would not mean anything since I'm the one working internationally on our product while he pushes lead generation and investor confidence.

My advice to you is own the title you go with that gives you the biggest position of power in the meeting. As odd as it sounds, CEOs aren't really supposed to be humble. Their job is to show their amazing team's intellectual prowess and hard work.

The reality is, you're probably the one who gets most of everything that's going on, and it's your responsibility to own everything your team accomplishes and fails on.

Whether it is a position as Director, President, Founder - I say it depends on the meeting. Younger clients with vision often like a title like Founder more than President or CEO.

A Chief Executive has big shoes, but chances are your cofounder's shoes are equally large - I think their choice of a smaller title may be what is confusing here - internally, something like Chief of Operations or Technology might make more sense. You guys should have established both titles concurrently - it is my suggestion that you change his title to something more leader-like since he is probably filling a greater role than a standard PM.

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Speaking from the UK perspective, in those circumstances I used Executive Director or Founder, or both Executive Director / Founder - it's precise (I sat on the board) - which means you are introducing yourself as someone with the final say over the deal, it doesn't lead into secondguessing.

Ultimately, I ended up printing two sets of business cards (which actually, given the duality of the role of the CEO, it appropriate) - the Executive Director one used for client relationship, especially when the deal was small compared to the overall deal-flow (the client doesn't care if I founded it or not, he cares if I am responsible for the business, and he cares that I don't have any superiors that can overrule my decisions), and the Founder one used for key business relationships - where the client/provider relationship is not that clear cut, and highlighting the fact that I started this business is more to my advantage (they need to know it anyways, it will come up in due diligence on a deal that size, and I can also (re)define vision and mission).

In your (US-centric?) case - CEO should be OK, the only cocky part is the Chief component where you have no board of Executive Officers to preside over. Or, just use Executive Director.

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