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COO Job Description for Startups: A Guide

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February 18, 2021

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Do startups need COOs?

It's incredible how few startups think they need a COO.

Unless your CEO has a superabundance of operational smarts, it's imperative to have one. 

There are a couple of reasons for CEOs thinking they don’t need COOs. Sometimes, the chief executive feels he needs to be as close as possible to the business's beating heart, and a COO would interfere with that. Other top executives feel that their company is way too small to have a CEO.

Still, others believe that hiring a COO is a badge of shame because it's an admission they cannot do it all themselves.

In this article, you’ll find out the essential soft skills every COO needs, the importance of trust in the CEO-COO relationship, and what value COOs have for founders.

Let’s dive in!

Some CEOs know they need a COO

There are founders out there who know they need a COO. These are mostly the egoless ones who've recognized that they lack certain essential skills and don’t want to take the time to acquire them.

There's no way a single individual can possibly cover all the territory necessary to keep an organization moving in the right direction. To maintain focus (which is a critical skill of any entrepreneur), a CEO will need to hire a COO.

That way, the founder can preserve his most precious resource—his time and energy. He won’t lose focus, meaning he won’t dilute his power and his effectiveness.

Some CEOs might bring a COO on board because they need a partner for their entrepreneurial adventure. It can get lonely at the top, and having someone who can be a springboard for you can make the journey less depressing.

The truth of the matter is the role of COO can be highly beneficial to the struggling startup. It can even be necessary in some situations. It shouldn’t be dismissed outright because a chief executive doesn’t think the company’s size warrants one.

Many startups are founded by CEOs who are young and inexperienced. At this stage in the game, having operational experience is often not a disadvantage but an advantage. That’s because the startup CEO doesn’t have any mental baggage when it comes to creating the business model for the company.

He’s free to do whatever he wants, which means he’s not stifled by historical constraints on his creativity. However, once the startup ball gets rolling, keen operational expertise becomes more critical.

This is precisely the moment when a CEO should bring a COO on board.

COO job description for startups: roles and responsibilities

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a startup is a top-tier executive team member.

They handle the day-to-day running of the organization. The COO has overall supervisory responsibility for the entire company’s operations. The roles and responsibilities of a COO vary wildly depending on the startup they work for and how the organization chooses to define the position.

There's no single job description for a COO. Every founder's needs are different from every other, and the challenges their businesses face are even more diverse.

  • A startup COO might be recruited to accomplish some or all of the following tasks:
  • Execute strategies developed by the top management team
  •  Lead strategic initiatives
  • Consult with a CEO who’s a bit green behind the ears
  • Partner with a chief executive who doesn’t work well alone
  • Groom the company’s next CEO

In most startups, the role of a COO is to take things off the founder's plate.

In these companies, A COO's role is complementary to that of the CEO. No founder, no matter how skilled or experienced, can possibly cover all the incredibly complex aspects of running a burgeoning startup.

Many founders believe it’s best to separate the top-level management functions into two different jobs.

CEOs with a burning passion for the product they invented will want that focus to remain on the product and the marketing strategy. Say the CEO would rather set strategy and be the outside spokesperson for the product. In that case, the COO can be the executor of the strategy. 

By taking on a COO, the CEO can focus on those aspects of the position he's outstanding at and also enjoys the most. The COO can assume the rest of the business operations. By thinking of the division of the workload in this way, the relationship between them makes a lot of sense.

Search for the kind of experience and background that’ll help your CEO to execute his vision. For a COO, you’ll want someone who has the managerial chops to be a CEO of an organization.

A COO often acts as a sounding board for the CEO and can advise corporate initiatives. He knows how to separate the potentially lucrative opportunities from the distractions.

You also need a person who’s so enthusiastic about your corporate vision that he’s willing to give up the perks of being a CEO somewhere else to be a part of your mission.

COO job description for startups: Salary

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a startup CEO is $125,722.

COO job description for startups: Skills

Your COO needs to have the extraordinary ability to keep your organization's high-level strategy uppermost in his mind at all times as he executes the daily actions required to carry it out.

Your COO must be good at strategic thinking so he can help make your company's vision into a glorious reality. To do this, he'll need a results-driven approach to business. Because they are responsible for ensuring strategic vision translates into profitable operations, COOs must be data-driven and not rely on gut instincts or hunches.

A good COO should have a stellar track record of successful financial management so that he can be the rudder that steers your company in the right direction.

COO job description for startups: Soft Skills

According to the Oxford Dictionary, soft skills are "personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”

It can be a little difficult to list the skills a COO should have. That’s because instead of possessing a single set of easily identifiable business skills, a COO needs to adapt to changing business environments.

Nevertheless, your COO candidate needs to be the bridge between the vision that burns in the CEO's mind and the strategy that will carry out that vision.

When you’re hiring a COO for your startup, make sure your candidate has a few soft skills. One of the most crucial is leadership. He must be exceptional at managing, leading, and supervising team members so they can expertly fulfill corporate objectives.

A good startup COO checks his ego at the door the minute he walks into corporate headquarters. These kinds of COOs toot other people's horns every chance they get. They will often unceremoniously turn down speaking opportunities and instead let others do the talking. When the media requests an interview, a superb COO will find ways to share the spotlight with others.

Without your COO having superior decision-making skills, your startup could founder. He must delegate effectively, knowing when to take on a project and when to hand it over to another.

He’ll need to be an excellent communicator with a superb ability to resolve problems and mediate conflict. Problem-solving in an uncertain business climate should be a startup COO's core skill. 

The importance of trust in the CEO-COO relationship

During the recruiting process, the CEO must find someone he can implicitly trust.

There also must be mutual respect and openness for the relationship to flourish. Both CEO and COO need to recognize and appreciate the complementary skills that each brings to the table.

The role must be explicitly defined, with the expectations and responsibilities clearly laid out. This can be done in the final stage of recruiting when the CEO and COO can get together and map all this out on a whiteboard.

Red flags for COOs in a startup environment

You need to watch out for red flags when you bring in a COO to your startup.

One of the biggest ones is a lack of trust, which can lead to discord, strife, and friction. Another one is when there aren’t clearly defined responsibilities for each role.

This can cause confusion and misunderstanding, which will have a demoralizing effect on the rest of your employees.

Let us help you find the perfect COO for your startup

If you need to bring clarity to your COO job description, reach out to us at Hunt Club.

Executive recruiters like us can help your CEO define the role of your prospective CEO. What’s more, we can oversee the entire recruitment process for you, saving you tons of time and energy.

Call us today!

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