Way back in the day there used to be two or maybe three Chief Officers in a company: the CEO, the CFO, and the CTO. But over the past couple of years in reading the business and tech press I’ve been inundated with new brands of Chief Officers: we have Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Product Officers, Chief Revenue Officers, Chief Legal Officers and yes, Chief People Officers. Have I missed any? Why do I think there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians?
As I’ve posted previously, in the early days of a startup there are just two jobs in a company: making stuff and selling stuff. So you have to have a CEO, but she or he must also serve as the Chief Technical Officer or VP of Sales, depending on their background. Founding teams used to have VPs of Sales, now known, I guess as Chief Revenue Officers. And I can live with senior execs who used to be called VPs of Marketing now being called CMOs, Chief Marketing Officers. But then the ice gets thinner. What is a Chief Product Officer and how do they relate to the Chief Technical Officer? Is that the new name for the VP of Engineering? And do we really need to relabel Corporate Counsel as Chief Legal Officers? Yes, as a company grows dramatically you do need to add to the founding team. But the one CXO position I do have some trouble with in very early stage ventures is the COO, the Chief Operating Officer. I’ve seen too many founding teams composed of a CEO, COO, and CTO. What’s wrong with this picture? Where’s the VP of Sales, whoops! I mean the Chief Revenue Officer? It seems to happen most often with academic teams who decide to form a business out of the academic work and all of a sudden need to titleize everyone. How’ that for verbifying a noun? But until the CEO’s reach is exceeded by their grasp adding a COO is just adding overhead and complicating communications and lines of authority. Two time tested ways of slowing down a fast moving startup.
With my somewhat jaundiced view of the COO role I was surprised to see the Inc. article by David Brown, a founder and co-CEO of Techstars. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting David Brown when I was invited to join the Techstars Boston mentoring cohort, only David Cohen. But his article 1 Essential Thing That Is Bringing Success to Silicon Valley’s Pied Piper not only makes a good case for the COO position, he defines their tasks and their role within the high growth venture – which if you’ve been watching, Pied Piper has become. Just in case you haven’t been watching I highly recommend the HBO series Silicon Valley. It’s hilarious and about as accurate as you can get and still be a fictional TV series. Trust me, if you haven’t seen if you will want to binge watch on HBO-Go to catch up.
Perhaps the best test to decide when you need to add the COO position is when you have nailed it, so you can scale it. And you are scaling it by adding rocket fuel otherwise known as VC money to fund your venture.
COO’s manage the day-to-day operations of your company. They need to be what jokingly used to be called crack managers, meaning they prevented anything from falling through the cracks.
David has some helpful tips for finding your COO.
- They have a constant running to-do list, with highlights, circles, and scribbles everywhere
- They send action items to team members after every meeting to make sure the team is on track
- They send calendar invites immediately after you’ve locked in a time for discussion
If your company has grown so fast that things re in fact slipping through the cracks, and like Pied Piper you have just closed your Series B so you can afford more overhead in the CXX suite, by all means do read David’s article and draft that COO job req. Perhaps your first question when you interview a candidate would be, do your know who Jared is, or better yet, what does Jared do?