7 Operations Responsibilities for Startups

What are the operations responsibilities for a startup?

If someone were to ask me to describe the role of operations in one sentence, I would boil it down to this statement.

“Operations creates and manages all the systems that make sure both internal and external customers stay motivated and happy.”

I’ve put together a checklist of responsibilities that covers the possibilities. It can be used to evaluate what is needed in the role of your company.

Specifics responsibilities will vary from startup to startup, depending on the skills and trust level of the founder(s), who typically and currently are handling operations early on.

It’s not necessary to find an operations person for a startup with expertise in all areas mentioned below. There is no startup operations manager job description that is one size fits all.

Finding the right operations person for your company is more akin to finding the right puzzle piece that connects to the founder(s) puzzle piece. The person that complements the founder(s) skills will be the best fit.

In no particular order, I present the role of operations.

1. Product Development

Operations will insure the vision of the CEO is being executed. It comes into practice by making sure the team has the tools and metrics in place to produce on time and on budget. In a LEAN and MVP environment, test and measurement processes are set up and managed by operations coordinating with development, sales and customer service.

2. Finance

If a startup has already taken on investments, most likely the deal required a CFO. In that case, operations may not have much to contribute. If the startup is self funded, operations can run finance, book keeping, banking relationships, and tax accounting. I’ve seen company finances handled with spreadsheets, Quick Books, and managing outsourced services. The bottom line is operations has to understand how to manage your business expenses.

3. Recruiting HR

Recruiting takes up a lot of time. Hiring great people is critical to growth. So, when managed efficiently, operations will insure the time impact on the founder(s) and managers will be minimized through a well defined recruiting process, whether that be through formal recruiting methods or boot strapped methods.

4. Legal/Compliance

Legal and compliance will vary from industry to industry and the founders will have a handle on the important issues that require attention.
Experienced operations people will have dealt with litigation in some manner. They will typically have their go to lawyers to ask questions and avoid problems.

5. Customer Service

Taking care of the customers after the sale is as important as making the sale. A customer service on boarding process is critical to long term success.
During early growth, customers are typically handled with white glove concierge service. That is perfect up until there are too many customers to efficiently handle with the staff on hand.

A scalable system and process has to be put in place before that day comes, or you will stress staff and clients. There are plenty of great CRM systems and people capable of this important responsibility. Operations will establish the process and the people so that customer service works.

6. Marketing and Sales

Taking care of your revenue generators is important. The founder(s) will be close to the sales pipeline. How do go about monitoring and measuring the activity? Who is going to set up the tools and processes?
Knowing what your revenue generators are doing in the field is important to planning and budgeting. Operations puts in place the systems and tools that allow sales and marketing information to be collected, measured and successful.

7. Administration

Operations has to pay the light bill, set up an office, and deal with all the non-core business contracts. This is what most think about, managing the business, when operations is mentioned. Operations handles the day to day activity.

Is it Operations Manager, Director of Operations, or COO?

The title of the person taking care of operations at an early stage in a company life could be virtually anything. I’ve seen titles thrown around to recruit good operations people. I’ve seen titles in very small companies that were used to establish turf.

There is no right or wrong answer because different circumstances will drive different titles. The title should be in line with other titles in the company, so as not cause an eyebrow to raise by employees or outside influences like investors or clients.

The most important lesson is to realize is that business operations for startups is a critical function on day 1. Which is typically handled by the founder(s), because they have no other options.

The operations role in a startup is better done by an experienced operations professional. As soon as the option becomes available for the founder(s) to shed operational responsibilities, they should. Freeing of the operational responsibilities frees up a founder’s most valuable commodity, time. The time is better used focusing on spreading the vision and building the company.

Originally published January 18, 2017 at www.bigsoftwareideas.com