Why Hiring a COO Can Help You Scale Faster

May 22, 2020

If you haven’t already read the first seven posts in this series on “Scaling Your Startup…Through Your Best Nature,” check ‘em out now. They begin here.

As a recap, I shared a framework for thinking about the best and worst in our own natures -- the Primitive Mind (or ego) and the Higher Mind (or spirit) -- and why managing this duality is critical for scaling your business through the three stages of a startup journey. Then I covered six examples of how our ego can get in the way of us scaling our company, and how our Higher Mind can come to the rescue.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss a key opportunity for scaling our company in Stage 3 of the startup journey. Recall that in this stage, we want to execute the go-to-market playbook that we created in Stage 2. Stage 3 is about expanding our team while executing consistently, so that we can deliver predictably on the expectations that we set, all while seeing the forest and the trees simultaneously, in a phase when “trees” -- i.e. all the details of execution -- become exceptionally abundant.

In this post, I’ll cover an example of how channeling our higher nature can help us achieve this goal. 

Example #1: How to Extend Yourself...without Over-Extending

As you might expect, we think about our own abilities differently when our ego is involved.

The Primitive Mind: “My executive team can’t get stuff done.”

The Higher Mind: “I wonder if I need help leading this team…”

The best founders know their own limits. They know when they need help. They know it because they’ve calmed their egos enough to have clarity. They see one or more of these signals:

  1. Too Much Individual-Contributor Work: They’ve got a lot of personal projects underway.

  2. Misalignment: The functions are not working together as a symphony (see post #5 in this series here). Their activities don’t support each other’s goals. The founder may be managing initiatives as one-offs, as opposed to components of a larger strategy.

  3. Go-to-Market Fit Challenges: Despite the founder’s best attempts, the go-to-market playbook still does not exist. The problem is not merely keeping everyone on the same page; instead, there’s a gap in thought leadership on what the end-to-end customer journey should look like. 

  4. Product Gravitation: The founder finds themself gravitating significantly toward working on the product and evangelizing the vision (internally and/or externally).

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Depending on which signal is dominant, the founder will need a different kind of support -- i.e. a different kind of COO. COO is probably the most ambiguous executive title, because it can refer to a wide variety of roles and spans of control. The most intense type of COO runs the business. Other types of COOs are more like Chiefs of Staff, whose job is to empower the CEO personally.

In the chart above, I've listed the functions that each type of COO may own. These vary a lot depending on the situation and the other executives we may have on our team. For example:

  • Some companies choose to separate People out of the Operations-focused COO's domain so that the employee experience has an explicit voice at the executive table.

  • The "Chief Journey Officer" type of COO may have the title Chief Revenue Officer in some companies, especially where there's a long-tail of small business customers. In those companies, Professional Services may not be a necessary function, and Support may report into the Product or Engineering team in order to enable fast iteration on bugs and simple experience issues.

Titles may also vary considerably. Besides the CRO variation, the "Runs the Biz" type of COO sometimes has the title of President. In general, you'll need to figure out what scope of responsibility and title makes sense for your organization.

When we leverage our higher mind, we usually see that we need help. And then we can analyze what kind of help we need.

Bottom line: A COO can help us scale, by extending us as founders. Becoming aware of this benefit can be the make-or-break for our company in Stage 3.