Ops strikes back
the COO/CFO resurgence
Yesterday I was catching up with a friend at HBS. He’s an ops guy in tech.
He remarked how, over his entire career, the path to COO has largely been through the *growth* org: product management or sales.
And, at most companies, there’s no emphasis on these roles at all.
“Few growth stage companies—let alone startups—prioritize ops, dude.”
This landed viscerally with me: there’s been such an unbalanced focus on growth over the past decade in technology… structural gluttony has crept into the market.
Much has been written about the excess and the perks that came with it, particularly for the workforce: paid sabbaticals, free lunch, work-from-anywhere, extensive stock-based comp…
But two groups I’ve seen left behind in the fun — and that are due for a *massive* resurgence over the next decade:
the COO and the CFO.
Private technology companies are largely led by product-visionary entrepreneurs: optimists, glass-more-than-half-full, pedal-to-the-metal.
Right now, these companies are structurally in need of a ‘bad cop’ to counterweight these (generally) ‘good cop’ CEOs.
Great COOs and CFOs enable the vision. They implement guardrails to keep the organization from over-rotating. They enforce accountability. They tend to the blocking and tackling, which enables the rest of the organization to push the envelope even further.
Early on, entrepreneurs can wear both hats. But with scale, that breaks. And that (still) isn’t being reconciled in the market.
Look for many splashy hires in both groups over the next six months and a renewed focus on finance, ops, and austerity in tech.
A few things I think we’ll see COOs & CFOs clean up first:
S&M: most companies have too many unprofitable channels, experiments
CX: a lot of SaaS is feeling like services when you double click on headcount
Stock-based comp and default promotion culture — fear is good!
Reducing & refocusing product orgs: prioritizing the retention, revenue drivers
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