About Loving, Leaving and Mary Poppins
After nearly 6 years, I am leaving what has been my second home and family, Fiverr. There is no way to summarize my “Fiverr Journey” in a few sentences. Just think of it: watching Fiverr grow from under 40 people to nearly 400 people with revenue growing at a much faster pace; building the operational and organizational structure and recruiting amazing leaders to support such growth; building our global presence and evolving from a $5 marketplace to a Super-Brand for creative and professional services; raising funds from the finest investors, and doing all that while remaining a tight, warm, funny, crazy, sometimes annoying, family.
Why am I leaving then? To answer this question, I need to explain how I view the role of the Chief Operating Officer (COO).
The COO role is quite ambiguous and takes different shapes and forms in different companies, as well as in different stages of growth in the same company. Although typically covering the supporting functions in an organization (Legal, Finance, Operations, HR, Customer Support/Success and so forth) I’ve met COOs who cover Product, Sales and other departments as well. It depends on a combination of the COO’s skills and the company’s needs. Some see the COO role as “second in command” to the CEO, some as a “Chief Scaling Officer” responsible for all scale, system and process challenges associated with growth, while others see it as a role covering the duties a specific CEO doesn’t wish to take on. The COO is sometimes perceived as the person responsible for “execution”, or in other words, he/she gets things done. An article by Nathan Bennett and Stephan A. Miles suggests seven different types of COOs.
Throughout my years at Fiverr I offered many definitions of what it means to be a COO (answering the question: “So what is it you do exactly?”). Just like managing a 30 people company is nothing like managing a 100, 300 or 500 people company, the COO role in a 30 people company is nothing like the COO role later in a company’s life. This leads me to the most important quality I believe a COO should possess: agility. A COO needs to solve different problems in a range of areas and departments, and needs to be prepared for an ever-changing environment: new people, new technologies, new competitors, changes in management, in the board, in the business landscape. It is not an ideal role for the conservative and feint-of-heart. It is also not a role for the sentimental. You take on departments, grow them, split them, sometimes transition them to others, fill gaps — whatever it takes to make things work. So, after six years, when I am asked to define the role of COO, the best analogy I can come up with is Mary Poppins.
A COO thrives in a state of chaos. A combination of experience, imagination, and a little bit of magic is the only way to put things in order and help others find their voice and embrace their roles and responsibilities. Just like Mary Poppins, it is a balancing act of strict rules with song and dance. It’s like helping George Banks balance his career and family, and stand up for what he believes in; helping Winifred Banks find her place in the family, teaching Michael and Jane core values and giving them the tools to succeed. Once you do all that, they can fly a kite all by themselves… So after creating rules and infrastructure for the successful operation and interaction within the “family,” the classic COO, much like Mary Poppins, is more likely to “follow the east wind” and look for the next adventure.
I found my next adventure, but that is a separate story.