I met with a young pre-revenue company last week and asked the founding CEO what his post-funding plans were to augment his team. He replied that the key hire required was a COO to free him from the day to day details so he can concentrate on strategy and business development. It was a fair resonse, moreover, COO is an ambiguous title, a role that shifts from company to company. I think of it often as being employed as a VP who is first amongst CEO report equals.
The meeting got me thinking about the role of a COO in such a young company. I probably have a faulty memory, but outside of co-founders dividing up titles (e.g. you take Chairman and President, I'll take CEO and Director), I can't recall any successful early stage company employing this structure. I think there are a few important reasons for this:
1. Young companies need flat organizations. Too many reporting layers slow response time in an era of agile development and fast market shifts.
2. Companies need a singularity of leadership associated with vision and execution. This can be achieved with co-founders, but it's really hard, post founding, to bring on board a 'co-leader'.
3. The CEO must dive into all the details, filters hinder her ability to get a visceral feel for what needs to be done. If the CEO is not detail oriented, or has a blind spot for a key company function, odds are that is the area where the company will suffer.