Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category

9 Reasons Why Your Startup Needs a Mysterious, Unsung Hero

11 February 2018

imagesEvery business — even a startup — needs a mysterious, unsung hero, a COO.

Importance: A COO — particularly one with lots of broad exposure — knows which levers to pull to make each functional area work in a coordinated way, needed for a startup to succeed.

Don’t Wait Too Long: Most startups wait too long to hire a COO.  Hire immediately if you produce a physical product – or if the founder/CEO is immersed in building the technology. Hire when you hit product/market fit if you build digital products.

Why “Mysterious” : Per this Harvard Business Review article, the role of Chief Operating Officer is the most mysterious and misunderstood position because of the complexity and diversity of responsibilities.

Why “Unsung”? The COO always expects to be blamed, yet knows they will miss out on the praise.

Custom: Per Etsy COO, the COO role needs to be custom-defined at every company and requires deep self-awareness from the founder to outline the specific skills and qualities they need in a partner.

How to Customize: Ask three questions: What is CEO drawn to?  Where does CEO procrastinate?  What does CEO want to learn? COO will fill in missing puzzle pieces.

Seven Types of COO’s:   Change Agent.  Mentor.  Other Half.  Partner.  Heir-apparent.  MVP.  Many COO’s are a combo of 2 or 3.  I’m usually the Executor, The Change Agent, and the Mentor.

Ten Traits of COO’s: Including among others: they execute; they have an extreme attention to detail; they hire the best people; they always set meeting agendas; they adapt; they build trust with the workforce; they are loyal; their ego is checked; they have chemistry with CEO.  Full Inc. “Ten Traits” article here.

Can’t Afford a COO?: Then hire an interim COO (on a part-time or full-time basis) for 3 – 6 months to get things set up.

MassChallenge – Another Successful Interim Assignment

21 January 2016

HQ Standard_VerticalI have been involved with MassChallenge since its inception, mentoring over a dozen companies.  Some went on to become cash prize winners, and most are still on-going concerns. I have also completed three interim assignments, helping MassChallenge itself by working on key operational initiatives. Most recently as Interim COO I implemented organizational changes so we could take the best practices from our Boston accelerator and apply them to the successful launch of MassChallenge UK, our first international in-country program. In 2015 we welcomed 90 startups to our London accelerator while spending $500k under budget. Based on what we learned in the UK, we created a “Play Book” to permit the simultaneous and efficient expansion of MassChallenge to multiple cities around the world, with three cities –- Jerusalem, Geneva, and Mexico City — added in 2016 vs. a plan for two cities. I once again will mentor companies in 2016.

Four Cases When Hiring an Interim CEO Makes Sense — Even for a Young Startup!

10 October 2012

Number 4

I’ve done 10 interim CEO / interim COO gigs during the last 10 years.  In my view, there are four cases when hiring an interim CEO make sense:

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  1. For The First 3 – 18 Months of a Startup: As detailed in this post (which in turn was prompted by a post from Flybridge Capital Partners venture capitalist Michael Greeley’s) there are times when hiring an interim CEO at the formation of a startup makes sense.  Adding the experience of a senior, successful entrepreneur to the passion and vision of the founding entrepreneurs can increase the likelihood of the venture’s success.  (This is the role I played at Ember Corporation.)
  2. Helping a Founding CEO: Often, later in a startup’s life, a founding CEO can use help.  Rather than terminating the founder and “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” a better solution might be to bring in an interim COO to counsel the founder, and – in many cases – to actually (more…)

One Way a Founding CEO Can Survive Their VC

7 October 2012

SurvivorMany (most?) founding CEOs don’t survive their VCs.  As Galen Moore states in his Mass High Tech piece, “Venture capital investors are notorious for investing in a startup, then replacing its founder with a more-seasoned CEO from their network.”  Galen highlights four founding CEOs that have survived, though the article is a bit light on specifics as to how each achieved their success.

Here’s one way: In the last decade, I’ve seen first-hand a number of companies where a founding, first-time CEO heads the VCs off at the pass by bringing in a seasoned COO, on an interim basis, to help them through a rough patch.

It’s true that half of my ten interim assignments have been as CEO, where the VCs wanted to replace a founding CEO.  In each case I was asked to take over from a fired founding CEO and “right the ship” before an executive search for an industry-specific CEO could be undertaken.

But the other five interim assignments have been as COO, where the founding CEO themselves decided (more…)

Question: When is someone who works less hours the better employee?

9 October 2010

Answer:  When they focus on efficiency, not time.

I advise young founding CEOs, either in my role as interim COO or as a “CEO Coach.”  A common issue they raise is their frustration with an employee who does not work incredibly long hours.  I struggled with this until I recalled that, when I was their age, I felt the same way!  I’ve been managing since I was 23 and, for about a decade, I too was impressed with an employee who worked the longest hours.

But then I hired Chris Pooley and he taught me that (more…)

The secret to a successful startup? A great idea being worked on by people with three characteristics you’ll not find on a resume

11 September 2010

Through the MassChallenge Mentoring Program, I’ve been spending three hours each week advising RelayRides, a company with a great idea – peer-to-peer car sharing – that’s smack in the middle of a strong new movement, Collaborative Consumption as written about in The Economist and by Leigh Buchanan in Inc, Clive Thompson in Wired, and Jenna Wortham in The New York Times.

Late on Tuesday, the founder, Shelby Clark said, “Instead of just advising me, why don’t you just join us to accelerate our growth?” After a handshake agreement, I started that day as part-time interim COO.  By 9 PM I was reminded that what it takes to turn a great idea into a successful company is (more…)

The Economist: “Why Many USA Companies Now Hire Interim CEOs.”

30 December 2009

The Economist has a great article about the type of work I’ve been doing for ten years, Interim CEO. The piece addresses why many American companies are now adopting a practice that originated in Europe, and why so many top-notch execs are enjoying these temporary CEO jobs.

The Economist postulates that “interim executives may be the wave of the future in all rich countries, as these countries evolve from what Peter Drucker called a ‘society of organizations’ into a ‘society of networks.’”

Why Companies Do It

The article details three reasons why a company might choose to (more…)

Building on Michael Greeley’s Idea for Senior Successful Serial Entrepreneurs Joining Startups

31 October 2009

StartupI agree with venture capitalist Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners who recently stated that building companies demands great passion, vision and intelligence but “it also helps to have done it before.”  He goes on to say that what the marketplace really needs are “senior successful serial entrepreneurs” to serve on the next generation of entrepreneurs’ boards, to open up their rolodexes, and to share what worked and what didn’t work. He ends by noting that, “such mentorship is difficult to find.”

I would like to build on that suggestion; rather than having these serial entrepreneurs simply serve on boards, I suggest that in some cases they should actually serve as the startup’s interim CEO while the company is getting off the ground.

Every startup has a myriad of details and actions that need to be done. Rather than having a board member who simply advises, “You need to do this; and you need to do that,” in many cases the startup would be better served by (more…)

My First Post; So I’m a “Change Agent”

22 December 2006

“So you’re a change agent!” With those words – change agent – the CEO of a European company recently summed up 30+ years of experience on my resume.

Previously, the most succinct description I’ve come up with is this:

I specialize in three areas, startups, rapid expansions, or turnarounds. I either start things, grow things that others have started, or fix things that others have broken.

The “things” being “started / expanded / turned around” include products (from all sorts of industries), sales organizations, factories, divisions, or entire companies. And of course it’s not me who accomplishes all this; rather it’s the incredible people I’ve been fortunate enough to lead.

My boss, Omar Khudari, has been bugging me to start a blog to share… (more…)