Maybe you are an early-stage founder and you are at the point of needing to grow your leadership team? Maybe you are a newly hired VP or COO and are not quite sure of your role? You may be wondering, “what does the VP of Ops or COO at a startup do?” And the answer is a little bit of everything. PS. read to the end for helpful COO/VP of Ops tips.

I like to compare the structure of a company to a rock band. Yep, you read that correctly. I said rock band.

The Founder or CEO is typically the lead singer, the COO or VP of Operations, is the bassist or the drummer. 

The COO or VP of Operations is extremely necessary for the company to make beautiful music. But, the COO is not the person that’s out front and center for the company; that’s typically the Founder or CEO. 

But that’s okay, if your personality is suited to that and you enjoy the work, it’s an incredible job. I/m the COO at Kruze and enjoy my job thoroughly. So let’s go through some of the functional things that a COO does. 

List of Startup VP of Operations responsibilities

Here is a list of what a Vice President of Ops at a startup usually has on their plate:

  • Managing finances and accounting
  • Recruiting, running human resources, or have it report to you and choosing insurance
  • Overseeing the technology group and IT services
  • Creating company policy

Manages Finances

Almost always, the COO or the VP of Ops at a startup will manage the finances. They’ll work with an accounting team like Kruze to make sure all the monthly financials happen, the financials get closed, and all questions are answered. 

They will also make sure the revenue is received and expenses are all done correctly. They will make sure that all tax compliance is done correctly, the tax return gets filed, and your R&D Tax Credit gets done. Often, they’ll be interviewed as part of the R&D Tax Credit process to make sure all the employee engineer allocations are done correctly, and the projects are documented. 

The VP of Ops or COO has a lot of responsibility in the early days. Most startups hire functional experts to take things off the plates of the founder and CEO. That’s just the name of the game, and refreshing when a company brings in someone to take a functional aspect of the company off your plate. 

Recruiting, HR & Insurance

Besides finance, you will probably run, or have recruiting and HR reporting to you. Recruiting and HR get lumped in together quite a bit, but they are two different functions, especially if you’re growing fast and recruiting a lot of people. HR and recruiting are typically operations types of roles. You want to make sure that you comply with things like your HR handbook, and that you’re doing all the best practices for hiring. You want to make sure that you have the right recruiting mechanisms in place, or you’re working with recruiters on the outside, or you maybe have a dedicated team internally. Also, this sort of straddles HR and operations, but there’s going to be a lot of insurance and nitty-gritty things that you’re going to need to handle as well. 

You’re always going to want to have employer’s liability insurance, and maybe general liability insurance. 

Technology Group & IT Services

If you’re a software company or a med-tech company, scientists, or healthcare biotech company, tech groups, and IT services will usually report up to the CTO, Chief Medical Officer, or the CEO. But your technology group, your technology stack, the people who manage all of your technology, especially the IT services group, are going to report up to you. That’s just an area of high risk for a VP of Ops or COO, and you want to make sure all this stuff is done correctly. 

Company Policy

You’re going to have to know all the policies that a company has to determine such as, your travel or expense policies. Pretty much anything that touches money is probably going to be something that you’re going to have to deal with or work on. 

And you’re going to have some unpleasant nights and situations where maybe there’s an HR issue, attempted hack or theft, or you are not working with a great accounting firm, so your financials are messed up, and you have to figure out how to clean them up. 

Helpful Tips for a COO/VP of Ops

As you can see, there’s a ton of variety in a COO or VP of Ops’ responsibilities. I like that quite a bit. I love doing different things all day long; but you have to be able to balance a lot of things, make sure they get done. 

Organization is key. I could not live without Trello and Asana. One of my favorite new apps is Tada, which aggregates all your to-do lists. I love that. 

You also need really strong functional experts working with you:

These service providers will give you a ton of leverage, make your life a lot easier, and make it so you won’t forget things. They’ll keep you on the right track. 

So I hope that this little day in the life of the COO or VP of Ops helps. 

It’s a really rewarding job. If you’re thinking about going down this track, I highly recommend it. 

And, you know, not everyone starts at the VP or the COO level. There are many times at startups when there are 10 or 15 people, they need to hire an operations or Operations Manager. That’s a great entry point into this career. 

I highly recommend finding, if you’re trying to get into ops, find a startup that’s a 10 or 20 person company and just go be the Jack-of-all-Trades. Do everything needed at that company. You’ll get so much love from the founders and the rest of the team members. 

Again, very rewarding, and I hope you check out this career, thanks.