The six roles of the startup world

It takes a wide range of talents, and not a little luck, to build a successful startup. Beyond the internal team, there are board members, ecosystem players, investors, and experts in finance, law, and staffing. But a vibrant startup environment has six distinct archetypes: Hackers, hustlers, designers, analysts, investors, and advisors.

The original trio: Hacker, Hustler, Designer

The first three players on this team were initially proposed by Dave McClure back in 2011 (though he sometimes referred to them as hacker, hustler, and hipster.)

The hacker

A hacker is a full-stack developer who creates algorithms, IP, and technology. In computer security, the term hacker is often used to describe someone who’s doing something illegal. But the term has evolved. Today, “life hacks” are things like using a Pringles can to focus Wifi, or a hotel ironing board as an ergonomic, adjustable desk.

What these have in common is the creative act, often repurposing existing systems to create something new that wasn’t initially intended. That subversive, unexpected mindset is key in a startup where engineers will have to incur technical debt as they adapt and experiment with their product.

The hustler

Hustle is marketing, both of the product and the company itself. It’s sales, and the vision, and leadership. A hustler can create a reality distortion field, and often leads the team as CEO. They’re the one who pitches, and moves the business from experimentation to execution. They live in a Zen-like balance between enthusiastic confidence and constantly questioning the business model.

The designer

Design is where the company and its products touch the market and its users. The designer owns brand identity, application and web design, user stories, copy, layouts, and more. Just as the hacker knows the tech stack and the hustler the presentation stack, so the designer knows the communication stack.

That’s not to say the designer is just an artist. They’re fluent in split testing, adjusting tone to consumers and businesses, mailing lists, and myriad social platforms.

Keeping everyone honest: The analyst

In response to this initial trifecta, in 2012, Startupfest content chair Alistair Croll wrote a post entitled Hacker, Hustler, Designer … Analyst? In it, he argued that there’s a fourth person, working with data science and analytics, who keeps the other three honest. In the original framing, financials were the domain of the hustler and analytics the responsibility of the designer, but Alistair argued that data plays an increasingly vital role in startups, and deserves its own persona.

“But I think we’re still missing one team member. Above all else, early-stage firms need to iterate quickly. They need to gather feedback on how their product is used, analyze it, devise experiments, and figure out what has to change. In an early-stage company, the role of analytics is to iterate to product/market fit before the money runs out. As a result, every startup needs an analyst.”

What’s more, it’s easy for startups to become delusional. The hustler’s job is to convince others, often in the absence of proof, that the company can change the behaviour of a lucrative target market. Sometimes, it’s easy to drink your own Kool-Aid—so separating the hype from the facts keeps the business honest about its progress.

Lifting it up: Investors and advisors

The two remaining archetypes aren’t part of the founding team. They provide resources and expertise from outside, in exchange for a fee or a return on investment.


Typically, investors give a startup money in exchange for equity. They’re making a bet on the future. Investment models have changed over the years, particularly with the introduction of convertible debt (a simpler way to loan money that turns into shares when the company hits certain milestones.) More recently, revenue-based financing gives startups other options to add fuel to their tank as they grow. And of course, there’s always borrowing money, which comes with a more predictable cost in the form of interest and can be a way to drive growth without additional dilution of shares.

Accelerators and incubators straddle the line between money and expertise, and stay in business either through government programs, a seat at the table for investment, or a small stake in the company. These organizations might provide infrastructure, legal assistance, and access to angel investors rather than cold, hard cash. And some organizations contribute in-kind assistance, access to talent, or other resources.

Whatever their form and contribution, however, investors are a key component of the startup ecosystem.


The final archetype of any successful startup ecosystem are advisors. From board members to business coaches, accountants to lawyers, these experts can reduce the risk a startup faces by bringing their experience and domain expertise to a business. Sometimes this is highly specialized knowledge it doesn’t make sense for the startup to have in-house, like intellectual property law or supply chain management; at other times, it’s experience with a particular business model, or seniority on a board.

Advisors complement the team, holding them accountable. They may also increase the confidence of investors and other stakeholders. And their involvement early on can significantly increase the chance of smooth liquidity events while avoiding the sort of dumb mistakes that paralyze a junior team as the organization scales.

The Six Roles at Startupfest

One of the ways we’re engineering serendipity at Startupfest 2022 is by classifying everyone according to their archetype. We know that everyone on a startup team tackles a wide range of tasks, but we’re forcing you to choose whether you’re the team hacker, hustler, designer, analyst, investor, or advisor. We’ll be creating distinctive badges so you can identify your peers, find that perfect teammate, spot startups you can help, and pitch investors. And we’ll be using these archetypes for our matchmaking activities.

So get ready to start building your dream team in July, as we reveal new ways to meet fresh faces and force genuine connections across the entire startup ecosystem.