If I need a first class leader Ops Director & succession planning for hopeful exit next year, should I advertise for a COO, CEO or COO/aspiring CEO?

We're a fast growing start up with global opportunities and a team of about 30. Managing ongoing Operations is too time consuming. Getting 'out there' building partnerships and evangelising is more my forte - although the product has a complexity that does often need some involvement on my part as I founded the concept (although I'm not a complete control freak). There's little doubt we need a COO to therefore enable scale. Due to varying challenging personal reasons, we're keen to exit in the next year - I don't want a lengthy earnout, and regardless, I need to 'step back' a bit in the meantime too. It's now been suggested I should hire a CEO - although have a dilemma - help!! If I hire a CEO - maybe we get a better person, but they also need the internal focus. It obviously will cost more (although there's always a small equity package) - I'm also concerned then that I'm much further removed from things (I want to do less / have external focus / hand over management, but still have some involvement). Advertising for a COO, gets a COO (hopefully) - but need to know they're fit for succession planning to be CEO. I also need to figure how the structure best works - does the CMO / CFO / CTO report into the COO (obviously yes, if hiring a CEO). I read somewhere it's bad to have a COO who manages all the others and there's an extra layer, although I think if done right, this could work - bearing in mind also that the objective here is to build the business to scale (giving me the chance to 'get out there' / exit / for succession planning. How about a happy medium - advertising for a COO with CEO aspirations? Any thoughts would be very helpful! Thank-you!


I've advised 40+ startups on hiring, org structure, and leadership, and excited to take a stab at this question.

The key first is defining in more detail the role you need today and the role you aspire the company will need 12 months from now. Where do they intersect? What hard skills vs soft skills are needed at each juncture?

The real important part of this will be whomever you hire, will they have their domain in which they can make their own calls and have the final say while you're still there? Management overlap or disagreement is generally what causes leadership to be a mess. The best talent you'll want to attract will expect to have final say on many matters and not have to run so much by you.

As you mentioned, COO's typically have different skill sets than CEOs. COO's run the internal business and allow the vision set by the CEO to become reality. It happens, but not a guarantee than a COO can evolve into a CEO. Your typical CEO is busy setting the vision, meeting investors, building partnerships, brand, working with media, hiring, etc... In the case of many CEOs, they simply don't have the time to meet with their direct reports who lead the other business functions. Although it's prestigious to report into a CEO, most people are frustrated by the lack of time, feedback, and direction they receive. This is where a COO can add a lot of value; by having more time to manage, lead, and guide the rest of the leadership. This way the CEO can spend time with the COO, and the COO then pushes the right framework, expectations, and feedback to the rest of the org.

If you have any other questions on this matter, happy to discuss on a call.

Answered 5 years ago

Simple: Hire for a Chief Operations Officer with experience in Strategic Account Management and or Direct Marketing. This can be in focused in your industry or depending on the individual in any industry as long as the experience and maybe educational background for your business model.

An executive leader, regardless of position, should not only be attentive to the future, it's hurdles and opportunities, but be able to couple them with current assets, resources and build upon whatever existing key customers you might currently have. In a COO these traits are more so mutually inclusive with at least a basic understanding of finance and economies of scale.
Check for culture fit and understanding of the product as part of screening process...

Answered 5 years ago

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