ON · #004

A newsletter for everyone who shares our passion for the wonderful but wily world of startup and scaleup operations. 

❦ Your ON team --
Astrid, Aušrinė and Charlene

Featured Ops Hero:
Martin Schilling, ex-COO of N26

 Aušrinė:  One of ON missions is to showcase operations leaders at various levels and how they view and succeed in their respective roles.

This issue, we would like to feature Martin Schilling, the ex-COO of N26, a European neobank which he scaled from ~300 to 1,500 people.

In his COO Secrets video from talent firm JBM, Martin spoke passionately about his key priorities as a fintech COO:

  1. Customer Service: Have a deep understanding of the end-to-end customer experience.
  2. Operational Processes: Understand how you can take a manual Back Office to the next level, i.e. with machine learning.
  3. Commercial Negotiations: Be proficient in negotiating large contracts with both customers and vendors.
  4. Compliance: Be responsible for the entire Know-Your-Customer (KYC) experience.
  5. Talent Management: Be able to attract and retain world-class talent.
Click here for the full episode with Martin and check out JBM's COO Secrets series for more great interviews with ops leaders such as Stephanie Leung, Co-Founder and COO at Tiney, Libby Penn, VP of Operations at Improbable, Novo Abakare, Co-Founder and COO at Syft, and many more.
"The key mindset a COO needs to have is a deep dedication to customer experience. You should approach the job of a COO as Chief Experience Officer. Companies which are leading with NPS usually do twice as well. If you only approach the COO job from an operational perspective, i.e. I’m good at processes, you will end up having to catch everything which happens upstream with marketing, product, technology."

-- Martin Schilling, ex-COO at N26

Featured Game: Overcooked!

The three of us love playing video games, and our latest obsession is Overcooked! It's a co-operative game during which 1-4 chefs must prepare, cook and serve dishes as quickly as possible while a queue of impatient customers builds up.

We have a theory that ops people would be particularly good at this game given the critical success factors are clear communication, clear division of responsibilities, and efficient execution. We've also been thinking about the other roles outside our startup worlds which require great operational skills, so hope you will find as much joy as we did watching two real-life chefs teaming up in a virtual kitchen:

Featured Tool:

 Charlene:  We recently went through Quarterly Performance Reviews at my company and one of the things I've been thinking about is how best to leverage these reviews to have conversations with my direct reports about how they are progressing within their roles and within the company.
On one hand, it's critical for a startup employee to be prepared to shift and take on new responsibilities as the company quickly evolves to respond to fast-moving market conditions. However, it is also important to have a clear sense of how they can concretely build their own toolkit. My Chief People Officer shared with me, which is a treasure trove of skills and progression frameworks.

One framework that particularly caught my eye was Blendle's "The Matrix":

Featured Event: How to Be a Great COO

On February 17th, Redpoint Office Hours hosted Allison Pickensthe former COO of Gainsight and co-author of The Customer Success Economy. It was incredibly inspiring to hear her answer so many great questions that have surely plagued many startup CEOs/Founders, including:

  • What does a great COO do? How does the role work with the CEO?
  • Should you hire a COO for your startup? If so, at what stage?
  • How you should you go about recruiting the right person?

 Charlene:  Having spent 7 years trying to describe what I do as a COO, and having found this Harvard Business Review article helpful but perhaps more relevant to corporate America, I thought one of the most helpful parts of her talk was her description of the different types of COOs, listed from lowest to highest intensity:

1. Chief of Staff: When the CEO needs an extension of herself to drive special projects.

2. Operations Lead: When the CEO needs greater cross-functional glue. Similar to a "CFO-plus."

3. Journey Officer: When the CEO needs a more coherent customer journey and consistency of approach across marketing, sales, and customer success. Could have the title Chief Revenue Officer (CRO).

4. Runs the Biz: When the CEO wants to focus on the product, evangelism, and vision of the company. This COO type manages many diverse functions and may have the President title.

I also really enjoyed hearing what Allison articulates as some of the most important skills to test for when recruiting a COO:

  • "Systems-thinking" ability
  • Ability to progress beyond the function that they "grew up" in
  • Leadership ability
    • Do they wear their "CEO hat"?
    • Can they lead an organization through rapid change?
    • Do they value continuous learning - which is critical in running a multi-function "orchestra"?
In short, Allison was spot on. For more of her incredible insights into the unique and powerful role of the COO, check out her blog recap The Rise of the COO Role. Allison's other post, Why Hiring a COO Can Help You Scale Faster, is also brilliant.

Featured Programme:
Operate Co

Operate Co is a 7-week cohort-based training programme and community built by startup operators, for startup operators.
The programme is designed for cross-disciplinary ops leaders who want the best parts of an MBA without the time or the cost. The goal is to give them a set of mental models, frameworks, and software training that will help them succeed in any ops role.

For the community piece, Operate Co is also convening great ops talent from top startups, to connect for tactical help, workshops, and mentorships.
The topic areas covered:

Week 1 - Problem solving
Week 2 - Project Management
Week 3 - Systems & Processes
Week 4 - Strategic Planning
Week 5 - Org Performance
Week 6 - Financial Performance
Week 7 - Org Behaviour & Culture

The Operate Co team:

Fadi Hindi -- Head of People Strategy & Operations at Udemy

Charles Cushing -- Partner at Pascal Capital and Administrator of StartOps community for e-commerce operations leaders.
Visit Operate Co website to learn more. If you apply, you can list Operations Nation as a referrer and you'll get $100 off the program cost.

Your Ops Voice

 Astrid:  Operations roles in startups are generally under-documented. Especially when talking about operations career paths, we end up having more questions than answers. But we hope that with your help, we can get more insights.

We’d love to hear form you. What does your career path look like? What do you wish you’d have known earlier? Did any resources help you?

If you’d like to contribute with your knowledge and insights on the topic, please fill in this very simple form. We look forward to hearing from you and promise to create interesting pieces of content based on your input.

Click here to share your ops knowledge with us
Stay tuned as we keep exploring the operations landscape, such as the ops evolution into other functions like People Ops, FinOps, Sales Ops, RevOps, Marketing Ops, you name it.

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See you next month! :wave:
The team behind Operations Nation:
Astrid Verstraete - Operations Consultant, Co-Founder of Ops Stories.
Aušrinė Keršanskaitė - Head of Operations at Sphere, Co-Founder of Ops Stories.
Charlene Chen - COO at Lantum, Founder of COOhort.
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