COOs have their fingers in a lot of pies. While the job description of an operations manager It varies greatly from company to company, these executives often make decisions in all areas of the organization: from production, marketing and sales to finance and legal.
On a daily basis, COOs strategize on how to build a healthy company culture and stay ahead of the competition, while also dealing with areas like finance. They work hand in hand with Executive Director, helping to take chores off their plate while keeping a stake in the ground in rough waters.
As businesses grapple with hyperscale, recruiting, and hybrid workforces, we asked six COOs, from Forto to Flipdish to Zego, about the key challenges they’re facing right now.
Adjust tools and processes to work at scale
Flipdish is a software company that provides digital ordering solutions for the hospitality industry. We have just been valued at $1.25 billion and we have every intention of building a €100 billion company. So my most pressing problem is figuring out how to change our team’s mindset and processes to fit a €100 billion company.
Questions I’m grappling with right now include: How do we automate our onboarding processes so we don’t need to increase our operational headcount? How do we migrate our tools that we started using when we were a 50 person company to tools that scale to accommodate 10k people? How do we collectively raise the bar for more ambitious goals, projects and hiring standards?
These changes would be difficult to implement even if we had unlimited time and bandwidth to think about them. We have more than doubled revenue and headcount year over year and we have every intention of continuing to grow at this rate. Trying to automate processes and grow incredibly fast is like trying to fly a plane while we’re in the process of building it. It’s a delicate balancing act that’s both insanely fun and incredibly challenging.
Jessica Oppetit, COO of Flipdish (Ireland)
Ensuring scalability at a time of hyper-growth, internationalization and global disruption
Right now, my focus is on enterprise scalability. Forto is a global company experiencing significant geographic expansion into new markets while experiencing constant hyper-growth. This inevitably brings new levels of complexity.
Along with the executive team, a key challenge in my role is matching the right strategy and operating model with a strong purpose, vision and culture. This is something we constantly review to make sure people have a true North Star and the correct guidance on how to get there, without trying to define absolutely everything. Our goal is to maintain a culture where all of our people feel empowered so that they have the autonomy to make decisions, and this stems from our core values and leadership principles.
Getting this balance right can be a challenge. As COO, I’m always thinking about things from a systems perspective and understanding how we scale internationally requires a “wide lens” view of the entire business. But while planning is crucial to help manage increasing complexity, I always keep in mind a quote attributed to Socrates, which says that “you don’t know what you don’t know”. All the uncertainty of the last couple of years with Covid, the Suez Canal and now Ukraine has really shown the importance of finding the right balance between strong planning and staying nimble and flexible.
Without structure and planning it is very difficult to be efficient. But to maximize the company’s potential, you must complement these structures with the right culture to empower your people.
Dr. Michael Ardelt, COO of Forto (Germany)
Improve efficiency in a hybrid team and a very dynamic environment
Efficiency is one of the most important aspects of any business, although it has not been easy in the last two years as we have all had to overcome obstacles that have changed the way we operate.
One of TechChill’s most important values has always been building a strong core team, because we believe that once you bring together people with the same set of values and a common goal, the rest can be taught along the way. However, we do have some team members who work remotely, others who come in at different times of the day or even on weekends, some of whom we only interact within spreadsheets.
For this reason, we need to define what efficiency is for all levels and all types of functions, providing sufficient background information, support and trust. When the team is growing, the schedule escalates quickly and new projects and stakeholders come into play every day; it becomes a very challenging task, but it is one of the most crucial to keep improving as a business.
Lauma Sile, COO of Tech Chill (Latvia)
Simplifying a complicated electric bike subscription service
In dance, we they want to create a world where people with electric bikes can be serviced in hours, not weeks, with no phone calls, no lines, and no need to take a broken bike to a shop. We’re working to create a simple experience where a member can simply sign up for Dance through her phone and have an electric bike delivered to their doorstep.
My approach is to ensure that all the pieces fit together and that everything we build and invest helps us create an easy and seamless experience for members, whether they are in Hamburg or Paris.
To create a great product, we have to balance the big and small bets, and find the right investment partners to make those bets. Subscription is still in its infancy when it comes to electric mobility; it is a long-term game. Simplifying something as complicated as a connected ebike/emoped subscription service requires the support of multiple sources of capital, a global and diverse team, and of course a large community of members.
Christian Springub, co-founder and COO of Dance (Germany)
Finding quality hires in an increasingly hot talent market
The biggest bottleneck to scaling a business is talent. Right now, we have barely scratched the surface in the refurbished phone market and we are still on our journey to become a world leader in this category. Because of this, we aim to hire over 1,000 new Swappiers in 2022 alone.
Most start-ups and scale-ups can feel like the talent market is hot right now: Everything from growth marketing to software engineering is in demand. What has really helped us is to focus on our mission. We are looking for people who are passionate about dedicating their working day to building a more sustainable future. And we’re finding that people are coming to us, too: Many talented professionals have joined us from many of the top tech companies who care about sustainability and want to bring this concept into the mainstream.
👉 Read: COOs are the unsung heroes of startups. This is how you can empower them
However, I don’t think finding talent is something leaders can just outsource to RR. H H. I spend a lot of my time recruiting, whether it’s interviewing or having (virtual) coffees with potential candidates. I believe that all managers of high-growth companies should spend significant time talking to people interested in joining them.
Long story short, I think it’s about putting enough time and effort into recruiting, and really determining why someone would want to join your company. I firmly believe that a people-centric approach is the only way to sustain long-term growth. With the right people and culture, you’ll get the strategy, execution, and results to follow.
Emma Lehikoinen, COO of Swapie (Finland)
Balancing short-term and long-term goals
For me, the biggest challenge is striking a balance between focusing on things that impact the business in the short term and keeping the long-term vision firmly in sight. Too often, teams focus on what needs to happen today and tomorrow and don’t take the time to consider how actions and workflows interconnect down the road, or what it takes to build to scale.
I find it extremely valuable to set aside regular slots with our leadership team to focus on the big picture and the overall direction of the company. Information from these sessions is then fed into our weekly company meeting, Zego Huddle, so everyone understands where we’re headed and why we’re taking a particular course of action.
Sonia Flynn, Zego COO (Ireland)
Miriam is Sifted’s correspondent in Germany. She also covers the future of work, co-authors Sifted Startup Life Newsletterand tweets from @mparts_