What does an executive director (COO) do in a startup?

Original author: Andy Sparks
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COO, Chief Operating Officer - chief operating officer, analogue of the executive director in Russia

In this article I will describe the uncertainty of the role of the executive director (ID) in a startup, and how I became one at Mattermark.

Titles should not really matter much, but unfortunately everyone needs to be assigned a title. And to me as well. Today I am an ID in Mattermark. The only agreement that can be reached when discussing the role of an ID in a company is that such an agreement is unattainable. Especially in startups. Its role varies from company to company, and some simply do not have such a role - not everyone is sure that startups generally need an ID.

On the left are tasks for which you do not have a special person.
In the middle - develop a system for their implementation, hire specialists or transfer them to another employee, and move on to other tasks.
On the right are tasks that you do not hate, and which you do not solve very badly.

I believe that the work of the publishing house that founded the company is to do important things for which individual specialists have not been hired yet, to hire them or transfer responsibilities to someone in their place, and move on. The founding ID must be one of those people who do a good job firing themselves.

How my role as an ID developed

I haven't been id all my life. From a legal point of view, Mattermark is no worse than Referly, but, as Daniel put it, "Mattermark was not a strong point." I did not participate in the basis of Referly. Daniel and Kevin hired me when I closed my startup, LaunchGram. I was one of the few workers at a time when Referly was not feeling very well, and in my job duties it meant, in essence: "follow Daniel's instructions."

I remember one day at dinner, Daniel told me that he and Kevin decided to close Referly, and I was not sure that I would find a place in their next company. She said that she has no idea what they will do, but that they will be happy to join them and continue to carry out all sorts of tasks. I did just that, and it’s not much different from what I’m doing now.

When we started working on Mattermark, Daniel wrote a lot and talked with potential investors, I manually collected a cloud of data, and Kevin helped me transform my build process into a program. Our company consisted of a blogger, a dude who does non-scalable things, and a programmer. When we were about to launch Mattermark, I had an epiphany. I asked Daniel and Kevin: “Am I the co-founder of this new thing? Because it seems to me that it is. ” They assured me that this is indeed so. As a result, Daniel became our CEO, Kevin - technical, and I did not need a more specific title than the "co-founder".

Mission One: Launch a Data Processing Team

First, we collected data manually. We had an advantage over others in that we were ready to do non-scalable work to increase our value in the eyes of our customers.


Therefore, the first team that we created was a team of analysts who populated a whole forest of spreadsheets with company data from a portfolio of venture investment firms. Initially, I managed it, so first we titled my post “Head of the Assembly and Data Processing Department”. When we built the processes for obtaining certain reference data (we called them the “human algorithm”), we realized that I created a ready-made team. It's time to hire a more qualified department head.

Mission Two: Deal with Sales

In January 2014, we tried to go through the first round of investments, and learned that we need to prove that we can enter other segments of the user base. Our sales at that time were exclusively for customers who came to us on their own, and we received many registrations from clients not from venture companies - from bankers, investors and retail companies, to realtors. I set out to increase profits and determine whether we are ready to begin sales in new segments.

I did a good job, but did not want to make eight presentations a day. It was hard for me and for the company. Dismissing myself from sales, I fired one of the most productive sellers.

BTW: as an ID / founder, you will often have to do something you don't like. In the end, you will need to find someone who will do this in your place - or you just burn out at work.


At the beginning of work on the second mission, at the next meeting, one of our engineers asked: “Andy, I know that you work a lot, but what exactly do you do?” We all laughed, and I explained what I was working on.

But I felt like an impostor, because I was fulfilling my previous mission as an ordinary employee. But co-founders should be involved in team management and business management, right? It seemed to me that in order to be a leader, I needed to manage people. I asked myself what I want to lead. I knew that the opportunity would appear, and that while I am focusing on increasing the value of the company in the eyes of customers, I am doing the right thing.

BTW: changing roles is a tough job for someone who does it, but it also confuses the rest of the team. Be sure to communicate your new responsibilities to everyone else.

Mission Three: Become Executive Director


My next mission is more difficult to determine, because it included five submissions at once. This fall, we needed to move to a new office, deal with hiring staff, start customer support, establish customer relations, and turn our startup into a professionally managed company (lawyers, accountants, HR, and all that). At this time, my position could be entitled either “vice president of equipment, recruitment, customer support, finance and HR”, or “executive director”. One of the investors suggested another option: "Vice President for all garbage." So I chose the "executive director".


In 2015, we hired a great customer relationship manager, Manali Karmarkara. Now his team works like a well-oiled lightning bolt. We switched from centralized hiring with our own recruiters to a model that distributes this load among managers. In the end, we hired the vice president of finance, Emad Khan, who is now involved in finance, HR and equipment.

Kate Rabua says: “you are constantly correcting something,” and this is actually so. You also always solve problems that you have not encountered before. Solving problems in uncertain situations is the core skill of ID.

In the future, my work will not change: I will have to find the most important tasks for which the company does not yet have specialists, hire them or transfer them to someone, and move on.

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