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What Does a COO Do in a Startup: Role and Responsibilities

Optimize your startup’s internal processes, deliver results, and launch for success with the help of a Chief Operations Officer.

Written by RamotionMay 2, 20249 min read

Last updated: May 2, 2024


As a startup, you may think adding a COO or a Chief Operations Officer to your leadership team is overkill. You’re just at the beginning of your venture. But that’s one of the reasons why you and many other early-stage startups may benefit from a COO.

Sure, not every company has to hire a COO. But if you want someone to ensure your internal organization is operating efficiently, then the critical role of a COO fits.

Does this sound like what you're looking for? Read on and learn what the pivotal role of a COO entails.

But, the COO role is broad and not easy to define. This is especially true for startups with limited resources. They can be a CEO’s partner, a company mentor, a manager, an innovator, or all of the above. As a Chief Operating Officer, efficiency is the name of the game.

So, what exactly do they do?

What are the Key Responsibilities of a Startup Chief Operating Officer?

The COO’s job scope depends on what you want your company to accomplish. We have outlined some key responsibilities to consider when looking for candidates for this crucial role.

Manage Business Operations

The Chief Operating Officer is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company. The role entails setting key operations metrics, creating standard operational processes, overlooking operational strategies, and troubleshooting problems.

The COO also delegates tasks and authors policies and operation strategies.

Improve Internal Company Performance

The COO plays a crucial role in the overall performance of the company. Image via Unsplash

Among the primary tasks of a COO is conducting performance analysis in every department. This ensures that any skills gap is caught early on, allowing for proper training, upskilling, and reskilling opportunities.

That said, the COO works closely with the HR department, lending their operational expertise to hiring talent who aligns with the company's goals and values. And finally, they are proactive in financial management and improving logistics.

Suffice it to say that business performance hinges on the operational excellence of its Chief Operations Officer.

Nurture Healthy Work Relationships

Depending on the scale of your business and operational strategies, processes are complex and dicey. But with a well-versed COO on board, you have a glue to hold your otherwise fragmented teams together.

They do this by actively seeking out opportunities for workshops and mentorship sessions, mixers, and other events. They make sure everyone mingles and bonds rather than work like robots.

A happy and healthy workplace environment boosts morale, performance, and profitability!

Implement Business Strategies

Chief executives have varying skills. For instance, a CEO could be more of a visionary, good at strategic planning, but lacks follow-up.

This is where a COO comes in handy. Equipped with risk management and problem-solving skills, they effectively help the CEO realize business strategies and achieve success.

Analyze, Create, and Deliver Reports

The COO ensures that the CEO gets accurate and timely reports to gauge the current health of the business. Illustration via Freepik

COOs are expected to be on top of everything by gathering information, analyzing data, and periodically delivering reports. They monitor every department and assess their performance, like financial reporting, assuring that everyone’s on track with their deliverables. Thus, a COO with strategic thinking and consistency in reporting is vital.

Well, you have a pretty good idea of what to look for in your potential Chief Operations Officer. But, how do you know when you need one?

So, Do You Need a COO?

It depends.

Your decision to hire a COO boils down to your goals and where you are in the market. Companies may want to hire a Chief Executive Officer simply because they are overwhelmed with the daily business operations.

Expanding a business is not easy. You need to manage teams across several branches. The overall business development process and risk management can be complex.

Maybe you need help to develop strategies and execute them effectively to achieve your company’s vision. Or do you want someone to liaise between the executives and the rest of your startup team?

These are just some circumstances where hiring a COO is a strategic business move. But, you need to be diligent when hiring.

What Makes a Good COO?

Not all COOs come from the same mold. But, there are core competencies and qualities a good COO has to succeed in their role.

Strong Leadership Skills

COOs make hard decisions, lead collaborations and strategic planning between teams, and promote a harmonious work culture, among others. Thus, strong leadership is required, especially in a cross-functional role.

Having a strong leader as a COO also fortifies trust within the company, making employees more confident and motivated to achieve the set goals.

Creatively Resourceful

Running a company has many challenges. For instance, budgeting is often a sensitive matter that needs careful deliberation. It requires creative resourcefulness, especially for startups.

A COO understands the company's goals and needs while providing innovative solutions to optimize resources. With an out-of-the-box yet strategic approach to financial management, it drives sustainable growth within the company.

Managing resources includes finding and honing the right people, too. COOs explore and develop their potential as they grow with the company. In effect, they impact the overall startup's success.

Proactive Learner

A COO deals with various teams as they go about the management of every business function. To effectively perform this, a good COO must know everyone's function and how they can best contribute to the set goals.

Proactive learners have the humility to recognize their lack of knowledge and take extra steps to boost their competencies.

Data-Driven Decision Maker

A good COO recognizes the benefits of quality data to an organization. They are a source of precious insights that could pave the way for companies to reach their milestones and expand their potential.

That said, a COO should be a data-driven decision-maker. They prioritize nurturing a data-driven culture where decision-making relies on evidence-based information and calculated risks.

They sift through every report, checking supporting facts to ensure reliability. They invest in data research and hire data professionals like data scientists and analysts.

Finally, the COO assures everyone gets access to data-driven insights, allowing departments to find what they need to make informed decisions. In effect, startups are less likely to make mistakes.

Effective Communicator

It takes immense management skills from the COO to streamline the company's operations and communicate effectively with different departments and other stakeholders.

For instance, non-tech members may need help understanding your software engineers.

With clear communication through efficient channels and systems, a COO can enhance productivity in multifolds.

Other Technical Qualifications of a COO

Like other company key roles, the COO has huge shoes to fill. You need someone technically qualified in education and experience if you want results.


At the very least, a COO should have a business degree or anything related. They need to have the fundamental management skills and knowledge to run an organization.

Of course, advanced degrees like an MBA are often nice to have. If they have other certifications related to their industry, that would be a great competitive advantage, too. It means they have the initiative to take extra steps to sharpen their skills and knowledge.

Technical Experience

The more experienced a potential candidate is in managing a business, the better. So, look for a viable COO with at least five years of experience within the same industry. They should also have a stellar track record in leadership roles as directors or departmental managers in their past companies.

But aside from these, a COO candidate should have a great performance review in delivering results and managing and cultivating diverse teams. Finally, look out for candidates with a robust network. They have spent a considerable time forming relationships with other professionals and industry leaders.

Remember that while technical qualifications matter, having someone with soft and hard skills is more likely to be a successful COO. Someone who can give you the numbers, develop your team, and build meaningful relationships and trust within the company.

Tips When Hiring a COO for Startup

Your first step to finding the right COO is mapping out a hiring plan and a list of expectations. Image via Unsplash

Finding someone to fill the COO role can be lengthy and taxing. Your hiring decision can be detrimental to your company’s operations. So, here are additional tips to help you get it right!

Tip 1. Know What You Want

A COO plays multiple roles. One can be good at executing business strategies and overseeing business development. Another can be great at the performance management of your team. So, it’s best to know what exactly you want from them.

Start by having a clear list of expectations with your business goals in mind. While you may want someone on your team who can challenge you, the right COO ensures they understand and share the same values as your company.

Tip 2. Look Within for a Potential Heir

An advantage to internal hiring is you can skip training someone from square one. The potential COO is already familiar with how your company runs. They have also built relationships with the members of the team, making it easy to onboard them.

So, look around. Your next COO can be one of your middle-level management teams, like directors and department managers. With the right combination of skills and knowledge, you can hone them and contribute to your startup's success.

Tip 3. Hire a Visionary Leader

A visionary leader thinks long-term and considers the big picture when creating value for the company. You want a COO in for the long haul and committed to bringing your organization to the next level.

A visionary COO is also keen on being the voice of inspiration and motivation for the employees. They create a diverse and healthy work environment where everyone contributes to the company's success.

The Takeaway

The role of a Chief Operations Officer has been misunderstood by many as nothing but a CEO’s lackey. Some even think it is a redundant role. But that has changed over time, with iconic companies making great strides as they streamline operations.

Among the most popular COOs lauded for their operational expertise are Google’s Anna Corales, the person behind Pixel 6 and Fitbit, and Apple’s Jeff Williams, who helmed many of the brand’s health initiatives.

They have proven that a COO plays a crucial role in the leadership team. Beyond managing the day-to-day operations of the business, the COO enriches and realizes the CEO’s vision and long-term company goals.

Do you want to learn more about establishing a startup? Get in touch and let our dedicated experts guide you.