A few years ago, a dear friend of mine, and one of the best role models I could wish for as a COO, Vered Raviv Schwartz, wrote a great article which described in the best words I could ever think of the role of the COO. In this same article, she also referred to the timing for a COO to move on to the next adventure.
As I plan my next leap forward at JFrog, saying goodbye to my old team, the ones that became part of my extended family for the past decade, I remembered the Mary Poppins metaphor again, knowing that “ Mr. Banks and the kids” are now up for the future challenges and don’t really need me anymore to hold their hand…
As life isn’t a fairytale, I know some of you are wondering whether it makes sense, so here’s my story and my lessons learned. Those that know me, know I always thought there’s more than one way to make things happen, and as Mary once said so well, what’s most important is to keep in mind that “anything can happen. If you let it״…
How it all began
10 years ago, I got the opportunity to take over one of the best roles iIn my career; one which took me as far away as possible from my comfort zone, out of the known to the unknown, out of the “been there done that” to “ what the hell am I doing here and how am I going to win this”, out of the domains I could teach to the ones feeling like a first grade student and into many fascinating arenas that I had never thought I would navigate.
It all started with a random meeting at a coffee shop with Shlomi Ben Haim, JFrog’s amazing CEO, who was about to relocate to the US and wanted someone to oversee operations while he pushes the business forward. At that time, JFrog had only a few dozen employees, with one small office in Netanya – Israel, and a BIG dream of revolutionizing the way software is being built, managed and distributed in the world.
At first, I wondered what it means to be a COO but as Sherryl Sandberg once said “if you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat, just get on”, and this was indeed, exactly what I did. In fact, my original team had a nickname that described it perfectly. We were called – “The Best Of The Rest”, since we were a combined team that did everything which had no other function dedicated to it.
Getting leaders on board
When customer and vendor agreements started to be too much to deal with an external party, I got the opportunity to hire our first legal counsel, who later on became our first GC and the one who established our legal team. When the single source online marketing manager couldn’t do all of the important marketing tasks by himself anymore, we started hiring more dedicated functions to our marketing team such as SEO experts, web developers, product marketing and more. I can’t think of any other organization which would let me lead marketing through an IPO without ever doing a marketing role in the past.
It was one of the most challenging and fulfilling jobs of my career, one which also changed my perspective about marketing. I now understand how crucial analytics and systems are for marketing and how crucial marketing is for growth at all stages.
At some point of time, we encountered the issue of meter billing in the cloud and started looking for solutions to support our growth in the cloud. The need for having a product role became clearer at that time and I had the pleasure of hiring our first product manager and exploring the evolving subscription market together. We started by asking colleagues and friends of ours, trying to learn from their experience. But soon enough we realized no one has any secret sauce and in some of these meetings, these colleagues asked us to get back to them and share our solution if we find one;-)
Milestones along the way
Many other milestones were along the way; raising capital, expanding to new territories and opening entities in Europe and APAC. Here are some of my lessons learned from my journey:
- COO is a role which may have a variety of meanings and scopes for different companies in different stages. The best metaphor I could think of at the time was that of the operating system of an organization. As I used to say to my team – as long as your computer is up and running after you open it, no one cares about the operating system which is running in the background – and although I know my friends may claim otherwise, I don’t believe there’s only one best in class operating system. Some may use Linux, some may use Windows, some will use Ubuntu. It depends on the specific business need, the specific computer, but also your personal preference.
- There’s no one way to grow into the COO role. During the past decade, I got a few requests to share some tips as to how to get to this role. I personally grew into it. Starting from heading HR in a variety of companies, which isn’t the common practice I’m familiar with. Most COOs I know come from either a finance/legal background or business/R&D. In fact, at that time, I didn’t know of anyone who leaped into a COO role from HR. But I can definitely say now that the people side of the job is one of the most important ones for this role.
- “Get the right people on the bus”, just as Jim Collins said in his timeless book Good To Great. I wouldn’t have managed to do anything without getting best in class people on “the bus”; Ones that were willing to take the challenges of the ride, leverage the opportunities and confront brutal facts along the way, and not less important, ones that knew how to WIN & Have Fun. Thank you to my dear staff, team and partners along this journey. My gratitude to you is endless.
- Learn Learn Learn! The most important skill to adopt for this role is constant learning. You’ll never be an expert on all fronts and there will always be a new challenge which you never thought of and will require you to do thorough research, look into benchmarks, ask others who have more experience than you do and learn new domains all the time. The business needs can range from building the company’s new website for scale, dealing with a complex M&A, and evaluating and implementing new systems. There’s no “operations academy” in which you will learn this. It’s constant on-the-job training. THANKS to everyone that was always willing to teach me, and believed in my ability to grow and make it happen. This list is soooo looong. A special thank you to our amazing co-founders and my dear friends – Shlomi Ben Haim, Yoav Landman and Fred Simon. Thanks for your trust. I never took it for granted and can hardly wait to continue our joint journey.
- Change Change Change! Keep on practicing evolution at every stage along the way. The best fit at an early stage of a company can sometimes be the worst fit at a later stage. This applies to both systems and people. For example, a few months ago, JFrog announced our first CIO. I was honored to transition the relevant teams that were part of my org to his new organization. At this stage of the company’s growth, we must have someone with much more experience than I ever had within this domain.
Leap to ESG
Speaking of change, I’ve always spoken of the importance of constant agility of the COO role. One which can and should evolve over time. This leads me to my next adventure as I start to build my new role as JFrog’s Chief Sustainability Officer.
This is a new role for the company, and for me personally. I’ll have to leap again into unknown territory, learn new domains and push governance, environmental and social programs forward. I strongly believe that as our CEO wrote so well in the opening of our first ESG report, “doing good is good for business”. I’m proud to keep on leaping forward with JFrog, the liquid software company, aiming to make a difference and demonstrate the impact of ESG on our business.
Stay tuned for my next post about it…