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I'm currently creating a startup in France about talent scouting in the music industry, even though the enterprise in not official yet I already have to talk to potential partners and potential clients.

Since the enterprise is "in progress", I currently introduce myself as "head of project", but can I say that I'm CEO, knowing that the enterprise will be created in the years to come ?

Is it ok to put that title on LinkedIn or does that require the enterprise to be officially declared ?

EDIT

As many told me "Not to put CEO in a one-man business", this is not the case, we already are eight in the project, I just happen to be the creator of the project.

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    You could always steal from the master of theft, Steve Jobs, and call yourself "Interim CEO" – JohnHC Apr 18 '17 at 11:09
  • @JohnHC The only problem I see with that is that officially an "interim CEO" is supposed to be a person temporarily in charge as long as no official CEO has been chosen, used in times of trouble in an enterprise. But that could be a solution though. – sh5164 Apr 18 '17 at 11:13
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    If this is currently a one man show, I think it would be more fitting to introduce yourself as an entrepreneur. CEO implies there are other people taking care of actual development while entrepreneur implies you are the one wearing many/all the hats. Surely you may inflate your position and size of your business by introducing yourself as the CEO but that image comes quickly down if your potential partners and customers get more serious with your entrepreneurship. Also setting up a corp is usually rather trivial process so if you already talk to potential customers you should do it ASAP – JarkkoL Apr 18 '17 at 11:46
  • @JarkkoL We currently are eight in the soon-to-be company. The only thing that prevent us from creating it right now is that we're about to finish our studies and want to wait for that before fully launching the company. – sh5164 Apr 18 '17 at 12:11
  • "Founder"? Might be suitable as well. – Edwin Lambregts Apr 18 '17 at 13:54
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Is it ok to put that title on LinkedIn or does that require the enterprise to be officially declared ?

You can put whatever you like on LinkedIn, just like you can give yourself whatever title you want in an organisation you control, whether said organisation is real or fictitious. But what you should be asking is what is considered appropriate or professional.

Since the owner of a business has full control, he can give himself whatever title he fancies and there are indeed plenty of people who introduces themselves as CEO or President of their one-man operation. Because it's become so common I can't outright tell you that it's a faux pas or give a blanket recommendation against it. Certainly in start-up cultures people might expect that you call yourself that even if your company never really came off the ground.

However, many hiring managers will still roll their eyes when they see CEO and "one-man business" in the same application because it's seen as self-aggrandizement. I would recommend that you opt for the simpler, less pretentious and slightly more accurate "Founder" instead.

Even in your case where you're dealing with 8 people coming together to launch the company I would still be hesitant to adopt CxO labels, just because they're so often used by people in poorly run start-ups to inflate the importance of their work. It can be difficult to justify using executive titles in a small company, though as mentioned it's becoming more common to do so. As mentioned above doing so probably won't really hurt your profile but I think a little modesty in calling yourself simply a (co-)founder and explaining your role in bullet points and accomplishments rather than via a title would be the way to go.

The fact that the company isn't officially incorporated yet is ultimately not relevant, provided that you don't misrepresent the effort involved. If you are working on this business plan full-time the lack of incorporation isn't an issue. But if this is all still in the planning stages and you only spend a few hours a week on this you most likely don't want to present this on the same level as your actual nine-to-five job.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you want to highlight this experience on your resume without giving the appearance that you're embellishing. Resume writing is a skill and takes a careful balance between overselling and underselling but people who are ahead of the curve when it comes to experience, like you are in this instance, should typically opt for the latter and let their experience speak for itself.

Do note that all this only applies if you are or will be job searching after graduation. If you want to use LinkedIn more to promote your new organisation or your place in it then I can see an argument being made to opt for CxO labels from the start.

  • I made an edit, as the company isn't a one-man thing, we are eight in the project. But I get your "not full time argument", which is true, as I take all my free time for the company but am studying in the same time. – sh5164 Apr 18 '17 at 12:32
  • @S.Hochberg While I appreciate your acceptance of my answer, I want to point out that we generally encourage you not to accept an answer too quickly. You may want to give other people a chance to submit an answer as well and accepting early tends to discourage other people from replying. You are free to change or remove the mark-as-answered tick at any time and you may want to do so and wait one or two days before evaluating the answers you received and accepting the one that you found the most helpful. – Lilienthal Apr 18 '17 at 13:30
  • Sorry, it's just that you made an answer who summed up all possible cases, which made me think that the answer is what I was looking for. Other contribution sure doesn't hurt it's just that yours sums up most of what can be said on the subject. – sh5164 Apr 18 '17 at 13:33
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Be upfront with potential clients as you clearly explain all of this. Indicate you have a product, the company is not formed, but when it is, you will be the CEO. Personally, saying you have a product and are starting the company should be enough. I would assume you'll have some decision making role regardless of your title.

Titles can make communication a lot easier (as you mentioned in a comment) and many people prefer to be talking to a decision maker. You're going to be making promises about the future of the company and product. Be careful what you say.

You mentioned that you have code. I hope you have a product you can demonstrate. Otherwise, if people don't laugh in your face, they will as soon as you turn your back.

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can I say that I'm CEO, knowing that the enterprise will be created in the years to come ?

Is it ok to put that title on LinkedIn or does that require the enterprise to be officially declared ?

You can say anything you like. LinkedIn certainly won't care.

But it would be odd, and could be rather awkward to say you are the "CEO" of a company that doesn't actually exist. And you certainly don't want to mislead potential partners and clients regarding the state of your potential company. If pressed, you may have to admit that the company is actually still just an idea ("in progress" idea) so far. That could cause more harm than good.

Once your company is incorporated (or otherwise legally formed) you can grant yourself any title you choose, such as CEO. At that point it would make perfect sense to use that title.

Until then, I'd just say "I'm in the process of forming a company". No need to declare an actual title.

  • Well it's not just "an idea", we have already coded part of the solution, so we have a solution to sell to potential partners and clients. I get your point about the no need to declare an actual title, it's just that in the startup environment (in France at least), people like to know who they're talking to and title is a convenient way. As stupid as it may sound, people will tend to listen to me more if I come as "CEO" or "President" rather than "The guy in the process of forming a company", which is why I asked the question. – sh5164 Apr 18 '17 at 12:03

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