Navigating the role of a COO in a startup

January 22, 2024


Building a strong team is an ongoing task, especially for those in operations. Learn from the experience of our COO how to be an effective leader in an operation role.

Although most of us can remember the names of CEOs, CTOs, or even CMOs from startups and companies, the truth is that very few can name many famous COOs. According to McKinsey, “In 2000, 48% of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies had a COO. By 2018, that number had dropped to an all-time low of 32%. But COOs are making a comeback. As of 2022, 40% of leading companies had a COO, with the financial and energy sectors leading the way at 48%”.

As a startup Chief Operating Officer, you have many responsibilities, including mentoring, managing day-to-day operations, strategic expansion, and empowering employees. It's crucial to anticipate change, as companies no longer rely on five-year plans due to the ever-changing and disruptive world we live in. Unforeseen circumstances arise often.

In essence, a COO is like a box-to-box midfielder, working closely with other essential functions to help shape their agenda. Some COOs collaborate with marketing and finance departments to optimize budgets and enhance the customer experience.

As the best copilot, you must engage effectively with the CEO, seize opportunities to focus on problem-solving and have a comprehensive understanding of the organization to communicate effectively with stakeholders.

In order to succeed in today's post-pandemic era, COOs must be adaptable and capable of wearing multiple hats. They must be skilled in managing talent creatively, creating a positive work environment for employees, promoting diversity and equity in the workplace, and fostering a thriving company culture. For this edition of our blog, we had the pleasure of speaking with Yenni Peña, Pygma's Chief Operating Officer, who shared her insights on team building.

Yenni Peña, Pygma’s COO, shares her experience on building a great team.

When I found out that we would be talking on Pygma's blog about the roles that people can play in a startup, I thought (and decided, here I am) to share my experience and what, in retrospect, have been key points to build the team we have today.

We started Pygma with a team of four people. Today, we are already 15 people. Our way of working allows us to align and coordinate our remote team activities.

We consistently strive to find new solutions to overcome challenges and continuously improve the quality of our work. As a team, we prioritize providing value to each other in every project we work on, whether internal or external. We are an agile team that grows stronger every day. Here are five factors that have been instrumental in creating a cohesive and effective team:

1. The right culture

It takes the time to define it, make it present, and strengthen it daily. It has been vital to prioritize and align ourselves from our strategy to the most straightforward task and have clear parameters guiding our decision-making. In addition, it allows us to streamline the onboarding processes of those who join our team.

2. Having as a premise that Pygma is built by the people who are part of it

At Pygma, we believe that our people are the heart of our company. Our team is dedicated to creating a work environment that places a high value on mental health, actively listens to our staff, provides clear onboarding procedures, and offers recreational spaces for everyone to enjoy. We understand that each individual's personal and family circumstances can impact their work, and we strive to be supportive and accommodating to all.

3. Working with a modus operandi

When we talk about our modus operandi, we're referring to our approach to work. It's worth noting that we've never created a completely new way of working from scratch. Instead, we've consistently adapted and enhanced our methods by incorporating the ceremonies, tools, and techniques from various methodologies that best suit our needs. We conduct experiments and regularly assess what's effective (which we continue doing) and what's not (which we stop doing).

4. Having a planned and progressive change management

Learning is a gradual process. When changes are implemented gradually, people are more receptive and adaptable to them. Although it may take a little longer, it is part of the learning process.

5. Working with tools that promote transparency, alignment, and focus while strengthening the organizational memory

In our case, we adapted Thiago Forte's The Second Brain proposal to optimize access and management of information, documentation, and project management.

Building a strong team is an ongoing task, especially for those of us in operations. These factors have been critical in our team's success: having a clear culture, an organized structure, implementing effective procedures, and staying focused on  strategic goals.

How aware were you of the importance of the Chief Operating Officer in your company or your startup? What other areas from a startup would you like us to explore? Let us know by sending an email to