Why hiring a COO was the best thing I did for my business
As any entrepreneur will tell you, one of the biggest challenges in growing a business is knowing which responsibilities of the business to hand off. Even more difficult is knowing when to hand them off. In order for the business to grow, this handoff has to happen, but if you don’t execute it strategically, the detrimental consequences can reverberate across the entire organization.
As my own company, Playwire, grew from a handful of people working out of a small office in Deerfield Beach, Florida into an 80-person company across multiple offices in different cities around the world, I knew I needed to address the question of how to foster this growth in order to provide a solid foundation for the company’s successful long-term future. Playwire was not going to be a casualty of the all-too-common “grew too big, too fast and couldn’t handle it” fate that has befallen many a startup.
In the beginning, with only a few employees onboard, it was manageable for me to oversee the operations of the business, keep a pulse on my team, and do what I do best – go out and close deals. I was able to focus internally to ensure things were running smoothly at the office and also able to focus externally on keeping customers happy and courting prospects.
And then we started to grow — and grow fast. Yes, this was a good problem to have, but as we grew, internal operational processes and procedures naturally grew more complicated. Something had to give. I couldn’t be on the road and, at the same time, be sure that everything was running smoothly back at the office anymore. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the office every day, dealing with an assortment of HR, IT, technical, office management, and building issues. Understanding that my people were the company’s most important asset, I had no choice but to take a step back from selling in order to make sure people were happy and the business kept running.
But this course of action was more of a Band-Aid than a long-term solution for both myself and the company. The reason we grew so quickly was because my cofounder, Steven Berger, and myself had purposely and thoughtfully hand-selected our team for their specialized skill sets. Everyone had a role to fill, and I know myself well enough to know that my specialty does not lie in operations. In order for us to continue growing, I had to spend more time meeting with clients and participating in the sales process. By mid-2015, four years after Playwire’s inception, I knew it was time to bring in a COO. While handing the operational aspect of the business to someone else was difficult, in hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made for my business.
As any startup moves into maturation, maintaining control in the midst of rapid growth is key. Hiring a COO introduced a layer of process and control that was missing from our organization. Among some of the first changes: the implementation of a more rigorous business reporting, monitoring, and tracking structure; development of a strategic business plan for the coming 2016 year; the introduction a renovated compensation structure for our sales team; and creation of a bonus plan for all non-sales employees so that everyone participates in the success of the company. These were all core elements of the business that needed to be updated in order to foster continued growth. With someone in the role of COO, I could turn my focus solely to customer acquisition and retention.
And while I was out doing what I do best, our COO was methodically implementing a new internal structure. Many of our early processes were need-based and arose from a specific set of circumstances. Hiring a COO with Fortune 500 experience allowed us to address our organizational needs in a much more strategic, comprehensive and “big picture” manner.
The results? In terms of revenue, I was able to fill the pipeline with substantial deals and give my company the potential to triple in size in the coming months. Beyond this, with everything now being tracked regularly and in a standardized manner, we are able to better forecast sales and revenue, and reverse engineer everything from hiring to sales and marketing needs. We are more organized and have more foresight. We’re no longer a startup flying by the seat of our pants. Our growing executive bench demonstrates that we are a real player in the space. We are growing up and growing fast.
Starting and growing a company is a delicate balance maintained through many decisions, big and small, over the course of an organization’s life cycle. As startups work to establish themselves, it can be hard to strike the balance between growth and process. And while making the right executive hires can be stressful for any founder, it’s essential to recognize the roles you’re not able to fill and bring in the people who can.