“Aik, the toilets are clogged again… I guess that’s operations, right?”, the guy in front of me looks at me awkwardly. He is one of my direct reports in the sales team. We’re in a 70-person, Amsterdam-based, SaaS startup and we’re growing at the The Speed it Hurts. Minutes later, I was down on my knees. Ensuring water would flow again. In my mind, I juggled with the various fundraising options we had, to get us through the financial year. I was a startup COO. Hashtag: #startuplife #workhardplayhard #FML goddamnit…
The Chief Operating Officer – the job
There’s this theory where the founding CEO is in charge of everything and hands over all (or part) of the operations to the COO. Yes! We have it defined, great.
But no we haven’t, because operations depend greatly on the company & industry and the part that gets handed over is fluid at best. The operations of an online marketplace is different from a SaaS business, which is equally different from an online food delivery platform. OK, so let’s say that we have really got it nailed. Let’s move on!
But no, we’re still not there. It depends greatly on the personality of the CEO and yeah, of the COO too. And the extent to which you are synergetic. You want to have a complementary team right? Super complementary right?! No.
Because being ‘too synergistic’ means you are very different. Being very different might mean you don’t understand each other, have a different set of values or speak a different language altogether. You might end up killing each other.
It’s really hard to define what the role description of the COO should be. My best guess: do what is needed. Do what the CEO is not capable of doing or not willing to.
I’ve even seen COO’s defining strategy for the CEO, which is like, the complete opposite of operations as far as I can tell.
In Riding Shotgun – The Role of the COO, Nathan Bennett & Stephen Miles state this collection of goals for the COO:
- To provide daily leadership in an operationally intensive business
- To lead a specific strategic imperative undertaken by management, such as a turnaround, major organizational change, or planned rapid expansion
- To serve as a mentor to a young or inexperienced CEO (often a founder)
- To balance or complement the strengths of a CEO
- To teach the business to the heir apparent to the current CEO
- To retain executive talent that other firms may be pursuing
But hey! Sometimes sales is your key operation! Think of a SaaS business that has their product nicely in place. You could argue that at a 90% profit margin, a disruptive product and no setup, it’s the marketing and sales that is truly the operations.
Chief Operations vs. Chief Commercial
So there’s quite a few shades of grey. There’s a certain keep things simple, I’ll focus on two types:
Chief Operational Officer (COO): The structured, process and project oriented executor that ensures that strategy gets acted on, in an orderly fashion. That everyone knows what to do and all problems get fixed. Data-driven & analytical person. On a personality level this persons asks: “OK, what’s the next action?” and ensures new ideas get prioritised versus existing projects. I always thought I was this guy, but I’m not.
Chief Commercial Officer (CCO): The person that leads sales, business development and potentially marketing. Coaches individuals, sets targets, KPI’s (Data-driven & analytical just like the COO), processes and best practices and if he/she wants, outruns all independent sales reps. On a personality level, this person is curious to listen to the customers as well as aggressive and opportunistic towards growing the company.
Well dear aspiring COO’s, CCO’s, entrepreneurs, investors, now that I’ve got your attention… Please help us out…
We are looking for two CCO’s
We are currently looking for two COO/CCO profiles within the Dutch startup & scaleup ecosystem. I’m kindly requesting your help to point me to any great people you might know that you feel we should consider for these roles. It’s OK if you want to check with them first, it’s OK to not do that, whatever works. We’re not the cold-calling stalky types anyway. We just suck at that.
AirBnB for Campers & Caravans, current team of 15, +1000% revenue Growth past 12 months, early stage but already Dutch market leader in camper/caravan renting (this includes ‘old world’ renting). You will lead sales (=supply side), customer support (trustpilot: 9.1) and will join the management team with equity package. The ideal person:
- has proven sales leadership skills in a hyper-growth environment
- has experience in fast-growing environments (no corporates)
- understands the marketplace / supply side game (e.g. Treatwell, Justeat/Takeaway, Deliveroo/Foodora, Travelbird, Deskbookers)
- ideally has experience expanding internationally as well
Fast-growing SaaS platform for roster/team planning in (currently) hotels/restaurants/bars vertical. VC-backed, 26-person and market-leading. Smart & data-driven leadership. Open culture, diverse, no-nonsense, fact-based discussions. Well-thought lead-to-retention pipeline and organisation, which will be led by the CCO in it’s entirety. New position, just starting recruiting. We are looking for someone to join the management team and:
- has proven sales leadership skills
- has a proven SaaS, MRR or Cloud track record
- has experience in fast-growing environments (no corporates)
- smart & strategic listener, naturally curious to understand customers / audience
- experience in HoReCa is not required, as we will expect you to help define additional product-market combinations in the mid to long term.
Feel free to reach out directly to me if you know someone. Happy to connect with that person directly or through referral, whatever you prefer. Will treat referrals discreetly, as always.
Aik Deveneijns is founder of LevelUp Ventures, a team of 9 talent hackers that supply funded startups & scaleups with talent and turning them into hiring machines. All while bashing recruiting agencies…
Earlier, he was COO of SEOshop. A company that grew from 12 to 75 FTE within 2 years, and went on to be acquired by Canadian Lightspeed HQ,
He joined the startup ecosystem after working as a VC at Gimv in the European team. There he focused on cloud, online, semiconductor, and mobile investments.