CEO vs COO Relationship

One of the most interesting dynamics in a startup company is the relationship between the Founding CEO and a Co-Founder or COO.

In many startups, like Slack, this relationship is usually one of the first to form, and in most cases is out of necessity. In a startup, there is an incredible amount of skill, energy, time commitment to build a company and take it to the next level. Dealing with issues such as human resources, legal, accounting, and all of the other aspects that come with managing a business is increased 10x in a startup.

Compared to a business that has experienced growth and stability, a startup is very unstable and its resources are limited. Therefore getting the right relationship between the CEO and COO becomes overwhelmingly important.

Having started several companies as both a founder and co-founder, I have come to realize that the skill sets required for both roles are very different. As the leader or CEO, you are the visionary, the person who everyone else is relying on to get the job done, close the deal, or ensure that the lights are on in the morning when everyone returns to work.

This alone is very difficult and I am sure many CEO’s agree can keep an entrepreneur up until three or four in the morning. As the COO, your main responsibility is to ensure the CEO is able to do his or her job effectively, without any hurdles or hiccups.

The COO’s normally serves as the eyes and ears of the startup organization, keeping everything running smoothly. To use a clichéd analogy, the CEO and COO are like the brains and the body of an organization. In most cases, the brain is the leader, instructing the body that it wants to go somewhere (the destination).

The body’s job is to ensure that everyone reaches the destination safely and without comprising the rest of the body. Similar to the brain and body relationship, the CEO and COO must work together to achieve the success in a startup.

In order for that to happen, however, certain key ingredients must be put in place, among them being a high degree of trust and commitment by both parties.

There are some key takeaways that may be useful to entrepreneurs crafting this dynamic relationship for the first time.


I generally look at a resume for less than 10 seconds on average. With the plethora of resume related services available on the web, creating a highly functional, pretty, and nicely formatted resume is not hard to create, but that tells me nothing about an individual’s passions or burning internal desires.

Granted, from the resume I can usually glean whether I want to take the next step and schedule a phone call is warranted, 80% of the time I commit to a phone call if the resume passes, which is quite a lot of phone calls.

However the phone calls never last more than 10 minutes. In the first two minutes, I see what their passionate about. In the next two minutes, I investigate why they want to join SME, assuming they did their research.

And finally, I ask about their leadership and communication style. If I like what I hear I proceed further, if not, I move on.


team of successful smiling young business people

Although we are not talking about dating chemistry, in many ways the CEO and COO business partnership is like dating. In the beginning, both parties will feel each other out over the first few weeks and months, hopefully continuing with a smooth ride in a long term commitment.

There will of course be respectful disagreements, and opposing arguments, which in my opinion help strengthen a startups long term prospects. However the initial chemistry is very important and should never be overlooked in this relationship.


During my academic career, one of things I liked about some of my professors was the lack of office hours. It was not that they weren’t accessible, but quite the opposite, they seemed to always be accessible and responsive.

Like any organization, the commitment level of the most senior members who be imitated by everyone in the organization. If the CEO and COO are always available, the message to rest of the company staff is very clear, you can expect both of the leaders to be committed to this startup 24/7.

As I explore different opportunities within other startups, I am sure this dynamic relationship will play out similarly as it has done in the past. For a COO, knowing that the CEO is fully capable of leading an organization to success is extremely important. And for a CEO, knowing that the second in command is running a flawless operation relieves many sleepless nights.

Building a startup from scratch is no easy task, however with the right CEO/COO dynamic, everything the startup needs to get going on the path to success is achievable.

You can get registered for our Hackathon and hear more from our sponsors, mentors, and judges about building these dynamic relationships.