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Bursts of Color - Do You Need a COO?

Most established companies have a CEO, CFO, VP Sales and VP Engineering... and there's general agreem
Bursts of Color - Do You Need a COO?
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #30 • View online
Most established companies have a CEO, CFO, VP Sales and VP Engineering… and there’s general agreement about what these jobs do. By contrast, Chief Operating Officer (COO) is a weird role. Many companies are perfectly happy without one. And amongst those companies that do have a COO, job descriptions vary widely.
So should your company hire a COO? That all depends. If you’re considering it, following are some ideas about what can work.

The Right Match Can Be a Thing of Beauty
Jack Altman’s Lattice was growing fast, but still early, when:
We hired J Zac Stein, former VP of Operations at Zenefits, as our COO in November 2017 when we were just over 20 people. The idea was that he would be a general purpose business athlete who could run a function for a while, build up a strong foundation, leave it with great leadership, and then move on to the next thing…When you’re still early in your company’s life, this flexibility is extremely valuable.
Jack describes their working relationship – and has some other great suggestions – in How to Work with a Startup COO.
Trulia COO and CEO making magic (from Paul's blog post)
Trulia COO and CEO making magic (from Paul's blog post)
Hire When You’re Exploding With Growth
It’s wonderful when that COO match happens early, as it did with Lattice. Other times, the great match happens later, as it did for Sheryl at Facebook. The right time to hire a COO is not necessarily at any prescribed size or stage, but rather when you’re growing fast and can make the most of that extra leader. Paul Levine (former Trulia COO, now VC) describes it well in his post The Right COO Will Take Your Company to the Next Level:
A good time to add a COO is when your company is exploding with growth, and you need a partner to capitalize on a ballooning list of opportunities.
If your startup is struggling to gain traction or growth has slowed, adding a COO likely won’t solve the problem… As an early-stage founder/CEO, you need to fix what’s wrong yourself.
Key Things To Recruit For
If you decide to pursue a COO, you’ll weigh many factors. Here are three I’d focus on:
  1. Complementary Skillset. If you’re hoping for 1+1=3, you need someone with different expertise and interests from the CEO.
  2. Personality Match. You’d better like each other, because the company is depending on your teamwork.
  3. The Right Motivation. Beware the candidate who sees this as a stepping stone to CEO.
More Rambling on This Topic
I gave this talk on Do You Need a COO? (16 minutes + Q&A) some years ago at a Khosla Ventures event. Fun fact: my session was followed by Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair. Nice company!
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Geoff Donaker

Bursts of Color is a newsletter for start-up leaders who work with Burst Capital. It's meant to include products, people and ideas that I think are interesting and maybe relevant for you.

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