Imagine navigating a maze, one that twists and turns with the high stakes of business success at every corner.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) in a startup is the expert maze-runner, orchestrating operations with a masterful eye for efficiency and growth.

For those steering a fledgling enterprise, comprehending the COO’s multifaceted role is not just beneficial—it’s a game changer.

In this deep dive, we’ll unravel the intricacies of what a COO does in the startup scene. This role is the backbone of operational strategy, a catalyst for scaling business operations, and a linchpin in molding company culture.

Whether you’re a seasoned business owner or are nurturing your entrepreneurial seed, understanding the COO’s impact on your venture’s performance is pivotal.

Prepare to gain insights into operational best practices, the balance of leadership and management demands, and how a COO navigates the unique challenges of new ventures.

You’ll leave equipped with knowledge to either fill these shoes or to wisely choose the person who will.

What does a COO do in a startup? A detailed job description

Claire Hughes Johnson, former COO at Stripe

COO stands for Chief Operating Officer or sometimes Chief Operations Officer.

Being a COO isn’t really a profession. Rather, it’s a position within the company. Therefore, a Chief Operating Officer might have to deal with multiple fields of expertise.

The job reflects the current state of the startup. The COO job description thus changes based on the company’s resources and goals.

From Finances to Human resources, a COO can support many pillars that keep a company standing. They have to boost the company’s growth by assisting the founder.

Thus, their responsibilities vary from company to company. But ultimately, they act as the CEO’s most trusted assistants and advisors. COOs strive to fill in the gaps in the CEO’s knowledge and time schedule.

Here are some of the most common tasks a COO might have to face:

  • They carry out the management’s team strategies
  • They act as an advisor to a less experienced CEO
  • They take charge of strategic initiatives
  • They help out a CEO who prefers to work with someone else
  • They prepare the company’s next CEO for the position

A good COO must bolster the CEO’s strengths and cover up their weaknesses. In its early stages, managing a startup is no small feat. A single person simply can’t handle so many tasks at once.

Why it’s important to have a COO? – 6 main responsibilities

Not all founders are willing to hire a COO. Some don’t realize the value of this filling this position. Others are simply too arrogant and think they can handle business management by themselves.

But there’s only so much one person can do. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.

Many CEOs are quite young. Though they don’t lack ambition, they often don’t have enough experience to manage a business. In this case, a skilled COO might be a godsend.

On the other hand, no experience means more room for innovation. Some CEOs think they will do better without sticking to rigid business models.

Founders also like to feel in control of their businesses. Thus, sharing the seat of power with a COO rubs them the wrong way.

The company’s size also plays a part in this decision. Smaller startups might manage the entire company’s operations without the help of a COO.

Unlike CEOs, COOs usually enter the game much later. They usually start out as operations managers. If skilled, they become the head of operations or even the COO.

Skilled individuals might take on the mantle of a COO directly. Startups value skills and they might reach out to these professionals.

Below, we include the 6 main responsibilities of every COO:

They offer guidance

The Chief Operating Officer helps the founder develop new ideas and visions. A good COO can cover the company’s weakest points while boosting its strongest ones.

They often hold the post of a CFO

In their infant stages, startups don’t have many resources. The same goes for capital. Thus, the COO might handle the finances in the meanwhile.

This post is usually temporary. Once the company grows, it might choose to hire a CFO.

They help the startup achieve its goals

To succeed, a startup must be able to reach its goals. Very few manage to do so.

A good COO can bring the CEO’s ideas to fruition. Thanks to their experience, they can determine if the current goals are realistic or not.

They help manage human resources

A startup is only as good as its employees. A COO often helps in this department. They determine what skills the employees should have and when they should be recruited.

They build a network of contacts

Good connections can be a powerful boon to a startup. However, founders tend to be too busy to reach out to other businesses. Thus, this task often falls onto COOs.

They develop various processes

Managing a startup isn’t a walk in the park. On the contrary, the path is often steep and full of obstacles. A startup COO can guide the company safely through such a path.

They do so by developing new processes. These can be related to anything from business administration to employee management. These processes ensure that the business functions properly.

Most startups aim to scale. But to grow, they must keep improving their business operations. These include the following departments:

  • Sales and marketing: This department goes hand in hand with company growth. COOs must constantly strive to improve it to prevent stagnation.
  • Product: Naturally, a product (or a service) is the bread and butter of every startup. But it’s only ever as good as its demand. To maintain the demand for this product, a COO must ensure it remains relevant to the customers.
  • Human Resources: As the startup grows, its halls seem emptier and emptier. Thus, the need for new employees never stops growing.
  • Finance & Legal: More assets mean more responsibilities. A good COO ensures the company doesn’t drown in them.

Most founders don’t seek the help of COOs until their company grows big enough. Therefore, the decision to hire one tells us two things.

Firstly, it means the company is big enough to enter the market and handle the potential competition.

Secondly, it’s managed to attract skilled employees who helped turn it into a success.

FAQ On What Does A COO Do In A Startup

What exactly is the role of a COO in a startup?

A COO, or Chief Operating Officer, in a startup is like the conductor of an orchestra.

They oversee day-to-day operations, ensuring the company runs smoothly and efficiently, often juggling process optimizations and strategic planning, while supporting scaling efforts.

They’re the CEO’s right hand, executing the business vision on the ground.

How does a COO contribute to startup growth?

Growth is the name of the game, and a COO is at its core, driving operational strategy in alignment with long-term company goals.

They’re instrumental in leading teams, optimizing business processes, and aiming for operational excellence to support expansion and profitability.

They lay the tracks for the startup’s growth trajectory.

What distinguishes a COO’s responsibilities from those of a CEO?

The CEO is the visionary, setting the overall direction and mission. In contrast, the COO turns that vision into action, focusing on internal operations, managing day-to-day activities, and improving organizational efficiency.

They’re more in the weeds, handling the ‘how’ of executing the ‘what’ that the CEO envisions.

Does every startup need a COO?

Not necessarily. It’s about the stage and style. In the early days, the CEO often doubles as the COO.

As complexity rises, the need for a specialized operational maestro can become clear.

The right timing for bringing a COO on board varies, hinging on the startup’s operational load and strategic aims.

What are key skills a COO should have in a startup environment?

A strong COO brandishes a blend of strategic foresight and operational prowess. They should excel in leadership, strategic business planning, and problem-solving.

Mastery in human resources management, financial oversight, and process optimizations are non-negotiable. Add in flexibility and adaptability, as start-ups pivot on a dime. Communication skills? Essential.

How does a COO impact company culture in a startup?

Company culture is often set by leadership cues. A COO has a hand on the wheel here, shaping work environment, values, and practices.

They steer the cultural ship through company growth, ensuring the culture scales as beautifully as the business, fostering a space for innovation and collaboration.

What is the relationship between a COO and other company executives?

Relationships are critical; the COO coordinates with other executives to keep the company’s operational strategy and goals in sync.

Aligning with the CFO on financial health, CTO on tech integration, and CMO on marketing strategies, the COO ensures cross-departmental cohesion and operational alignment across the executive landscape.

How does a COO tackle operational challenges in startups?

When operational challenges pop up, the COO jumps into problem-solving mode. They analyze, strategize, and mobilize.

It’s about identifying bottlenecks or inefficiencies in a heartbeat and deploying resourceful solutions that align with business objectives.

Their goal is to keep operations agile and resilient, staying ahead in the startup race.

What is the typical career path for becoming a COO in a startup?

There’s no one-size-fits-all journey; it varies wildly. Some climb the corporate ladder in a related field like business operations management, gaining strategic and leadership experience.

Others might spring from entrepreneurial roots, leveraging hands-on start-up experience. A solid business acumen and a track record of operational successes are common denominators.

How do COO duties in startups evolve as the company grows?

COO duties evolve as fluidly as the company does. In early stages, it’s about building and optimizing core operations.

As the company matures, the focus may shift to scaling operations, fine-tuning existing processes, and perhaps even international expansion.

The COO’s role magnifies in complexity, parallel to the company’s evolution.


We’ve journeyed through the dynamic role of the Chief Operating Officer in a startup’s world, demystifying the essence of operational wizardry these experts bring to the table. What does a COO do in a startup? They’re the ones turning the gears of day-to-day management, fostering a company culture conducive to innovation, and pushing the boundaries to ensure scalable growth.

Their adeptness at wearing multiple hats – from strategic planning to tackling the unique operational challenges that start-ups face – speaks volumes of their indispensability. They don’t just keep the lights on; they fine-tune the brightness for optimal working conditions.

As we wrap up, remember that a COO’s influence extends far beyond mere internal operations. Their footsteps lead to a legacy of efficiency, growth, and leadership strength that carves the path for startups to mature into the giants of tomorrow. Keep your doors open to operational excellence, and the rewards will be as profound as the role they play.

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I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.