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Why Startups Won't Stop Rampant Job-Title Inflation

With entrepreneurship education exploding, encouragement abounds for business founders. Fair enough. But why do self-aware people who launch their own businesses so frequently award themselves strings of fancy titles—“co-founder, CEO, president, chairman, and chief innovation officer”—right out of the gate, when the business is run by a handful of people still trying to land those first clients? Isn’t it obvious to prospective customers, investors, and employees that those involved in a startup wear many hats? Aren’t the entrepreneurs worried about undermining their credibility with puffery at a time when credibility is helpful?

For seasoned founders, title inflation is a necessary evil: Internally, it helps massage egos (and maybe save loot if the new title isn’t accompanied by a raise); externally, it helps open doors. If you’re trying to meet with someone at Goldman Sachs, for example, and “you don’t have a CEO, president, or VP for sales title, you don’t get in the door—you’re not taken seriously. You don’t get that meeting,” says Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprises, a nonprofit that helps female entrepreneurs raise equity funding. “And if you don’t get that meeting, the business doesn’t scale, it doesn’t work.”