What should my title be in this start-up situation?

I have a good friend who recently started his own business. He is an expert in his field, but doesn’t have the time or, quite frankly, the skills to run the operational side of the business. I have volunteered to help him, gratis, with the day-to-day operations with the hope of eventually becoming the Director of Operations once they have enough money to hire me away from my current corporate gig (I’m not cheap).

My question is, what do I call myself when representing the business in meetings with clients and outside vendors? As of now I plan to go with ‘Acting Director of Operations’, but I thought I would throw it out to The Dope to see what ya’ll think.

Chief Operating Officer?

ADO sounds good to me. Acting Chief Operations Officer?

Why not just “Director of Operations” or “Chief Operating Officer”? You’re filling the role. You’re not keeping the seat warm for somebody else who is temporarily absent, which is what “acting director” (or acting anything else) would suggest to me.

You’re not being paid for the role, but that doesn’t affect your functions, your competence, your authority, your represenative capacity or anything else that is of concern to outsiders dealing with the enterprise. There is no need for the title of your role to signal anything about the remuneration you receive (or don’t).

If it’s still a small enough company that they’re scrapping along with volunteered labor, then overinflated titles hurt more than the help IMHO. I don’t think you can fairly call yourself a director of operations until you at least have someone to direct. I would go with something more casual like “I handle the operation side of things at X” or “I run the operations side of the business”.

If you’re early enough along that you can be plausibly called a co-founder, the co-founder title is wonderfully vague enough to indicate “I hold an executive level position here but my purview is vague”.

Small companies often have big company envy and want to get all the trappings of a big company way too soon. This is a mistake, the only advantage you have as a small company is that you’re not hampered in all the ways big companies are necessarily hampered and if you don’t take that advantage for all it’s worth, you’re going to be fighting an asymmetric battle every single time.

Moderator Action

This seems more opinion than factual, so off to IMHO we go (from GQ).