This is the blunt question I got from a fellow colleague during our last review process, which I have to concede, shocked me at first. But I realize how important it is to understand what the management roles in a ever changing startup do and I have decided to try to answer it for one and all.
The easy answer would be to state, jokingly, that as COO, I do all the things that our CEO doesn´t want to do, right?. but then, I would have to define what it is that the CEO of a scale up tech startup actually does, and that might to prove even more of a challenge. ;).
So, trying to determine where do I spend my time and efforts, I have gone back to the raw data of my weekly activities, as see if that helps somehow.
I spend approx. 10 days a month in NYC, leaving Madrid on Monday mornings and coming back on Thursday evenings the week after, so that only one weekend is impacted each month, and hence I do not lose too many marriage points every trip.
Marriage points (as I have explained before here) are like airline fidelity points but they work in the opposite way. The more you travel, the more you lose them, and likewise, if you try to redeem your marriage points, you will find out that it takes an enormous amount of them to get even the smallest treat ;).
In Madrid, I start my day at the office around 8:45 AM, after a much needed coffee, with a 30 minutes daily pause for lunch. I try to go swimming twice a week (45 minutes sessions, but it takes a 1:30 hours pause all in all) and I finish my day at the office at 7:30 PM. I try to get home just in time to kiss the girls goodnight, and after dinner I usually spend 1 extra hour with some meetings/calls with the US or catching up with pending matters.
On weekends, family time is sacred, but once the girls are asleep, I usually spend another hour or so per day in work related items. This puts my weekly working hours between 55-60 hours (just to tone down the myth of the 80-90 hours-a-week workaholic entrepreneurs, here is an interesting article on the matter )
In NYC, I start my day at 8:30 AM and I do work some more hours, considering that I don´t have the craving to go be with my family. Over weekends I can focus more on long term projects and catch up with Javier.
Interestingly, when I stay in New York, after 7 PM EAST, you get to enjoy a moment of wonderful calmness, since Europe is totally asleep by then and the US is closing down (sometimes you might still get some noise from SV, but not often). While staying in Madrid, company activity (coming from the other side of the pond) is at full speed till 12 AM-1AM CET, and sometimes I have to remind our US based colleagues, that it is not fair nor polite to expect immediate answers from the Spanish team out of working hours. We are working hard to ensure a better work-life balance at CARTO, as Sergio explains here.
In a weekly average, I spend 10 hours in internal meetings per week (half of those are recurring 1-1s, management or exec meetings, alignment calls, and another half are impromptu meeting to discuss specific projects), and another 20 hours in external meetings (most of them are sales calls of any sort, and the rest are analysts calls, investors conversations, alliances or partnerships and some kind of vendor assessment meetings).
I am fighting unprepared meetings fiercely, and the same goes for a lot of weekly allocated slots for 1-1s and team meetings. I think they are useful but also potential time drainers, I prefer to be called impromptu to take any specific decision with flexibility, and move on (strategy which I learnt from María Fanjul at Inditex).
This chart from HBR.org helps to determine if a meeting should be held or not.
Areas to devote time
To date, I oversee the Sales, Marketing, Legal, Finance and Operations side of the business, with around 7 direct reports and 40 team members under that structure, and my time is divided as follows:
Most of my time is still devoted to Sales (from management to direct sales meetings) and exec management related matters (roadmap, pricing, alignment decisions) with Finance getting a usually defined allocation of hours to close monthly financial reports, look at key KPIs and take some expenses and investment decisions. With our new key hires in Sales, I expect to devote less time to sales and more efforts to enhance the operational efficiency of the whole company. And feel I also need to focus on more strategic initiatives, which have impact in various departments at once.
The email sink:
Email is a terrible curse nowadays, and I suffer it badly. While I am trying to improve lately following Arrola`s advice, which states that email is not the problem (and it is probably right!) .
I just looked at some statistics from my emails last month, and here you have are some insights:
In a slow month, like August, I received 2,877 emails of which 2007 came from external recipients and 870 from internal ones. Considering that emails go dramatically down on weekends, that means I get around 130 emails a day (not considering spam, subscriptions or emails filtered to avoid my inbox, but including internal group emails).
On my side, I sent 1016 emails in the same period to 508 different people (funnily I sent 20 emails to myself, mostly to-do reminders)
I follow the strategy of answering emails (if they do deserve an answer) as soon as I read it, but nevertheless my average response time in August was 1 d and 1 h. And my top 10 email interactions were, of course, with my colleagues: Javier, Sergio, Andy, Ben, Vanessa, Brad and Ashley.
I think that key activities and projects should always have priority over email requests and I am trying to avoid my inbox becoming my to-do list (as it has been for years). While I start feeling less bad about some emails not being answered at all.
Well, coming to a conclusion here, what is all these data telling me?
I probably do too many things, and they are way too different from each other. Again, scaling up a startup is not about doing more things but doing the things that matter right. And learning to say no, many times.
And I definitely need to delegate more, which doesn´t mean to delegate the responsability but give the room to execute on a plan without fear to make mistakes and with means to succeed. At a certain stage, a COO needs to be more a Chief Psychologist and a control freak of time sinks, ensuring that the whole organisation embraces a culture of getting things done, following initial processes and and become fanatic of smart frugality, spending mostly where return is to be expected.
Still way to go.