Bizops | Why BizOps Is the Hottest Team in Tech @ Coinbase

Poste / Role
Commercial | SalesOperations
Type de ressource / Resource Type
A lire | Must Read
🇫🇷 / 🇺🇸

Back in the early 2000s, my friend Robby Kwok called me to say he was thinking about taking on a new role at Yahoo, moving from the corporate development team to some nebulous-sounding group called business operations. It seemed like a strange move to me, someone well familiar with CorpDev.

But then he described what this “BizOps” team would be doing. Jeff Weiner, the former head of Yahoo CorpDev, was moving to an operating role, and BizOps would be supporting him. The team’s job was to get him access to whatever levers he needed to move the company forward.

Now that sounded interesting.

A Key to Success

By 2009, Weiner was at LinkedIn and was looking to start a similar team. Robby politely declined, but referred me to Jeff and LinkedIn CFO Steve Sordello. They wanted a leader who could combine analytical, operational and strategic expertise. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for me.

Over the next four-plus years, I took LinkedIn’s Business Operations and Analytics team from zero to more than 120 dedicated professionals. We helped the company grow from fewer than 50 million members and $120 million in revenue in 2009 to more than 275 million members and $1.5 billion in revenue before I left in 2014.

I left LinkedIn to become chief operating officer at NerdWallet. And one of the first things I did here was launch a BizOps team modeled on the one I built at LinkedIn, but adapted to the needs of a startup in hyper-growth mode. It may be unusual for such a young company to be so invested in BizOps, but I believe it’s essential for our success.

What Is BizOps?

To understand what BizOps is, it’s helpful to look at the kinds of things BizOps does.

For example, at LinkedIn, I studied our metrics and found that, according to the “magic number” for software-as-a-service companies — a sales efficiency figure that incorporates revenue and sales and marketing expenses — our hiring-solutions business could get significantly larger and at a faster rate. So I recommended pouring on the gas — hiring many more salespeople. That corner of LinkedIn’s business grew from tens of millions of dollars in revenue to $1.3 billion last year.

Our team also dissected the data on LinkedIn’s heaviest users and devised a segmentation framework that the company used to develop subscription products aimed at recruiters, job seekers and salespeople.

That’s BizOps — a decision-support mechanism that helps with everything from optimizing day-to-day options to carrying out high-priority initiatives to tackling the most important strategic questions.

Weiner describes the BizOps role well in a LinkedIn recommendation for Andrew Braccia, his partner in getting the business operations ball rolling at Yahoo:

“He was the first person I hired when our business unit was created at Yahoo, and his role eventually grew to become the equivalent of both COO and CFO for the group. His ability to meaningfully create value crossed every functional area within our organization. Whether it was managing the P&L, evaluating M&A, integrating acquisitions, developing strategy, providing insightful product or marketing feedback, or developing the talent on the team, Andrew's contributions were invaluable.”

At Dropbox, the Business Strategy and Operations team focuses on the company’s most important business priorities: unlocking new growth, driving alignment on strategy and building foundational infrastructure, says Sirish Chandrasekaran, who heads the group. The work requires close collaboration with other teams. In a fast-growing, dynamic company such as Dropbox, there are always new, promising projects, so the team has to ruthlessly prioritize which ones to focus on.

“We often find ourselves at the intersection of the most important issues for the company,” Chandrasekaran says. “You are fundamentally shaping how this company’s going to be.”

The BizOps team at online payments company Stripe is focused these days on defining the product development cycle, taking feedback from customers and translating that into engineering priorities, says Brian Sze, who heads the team.

"We're hanging our hat on being the experts about our customers," Sze says.

Not Just Consultants

BizOps professionals are like strategic consultants in they way they can see beyond the avalanche of decisions that take up so much of the attention of managers. But there are important differences. For one thing, someone within the company has a closer perspective and can establish a stronger level of trust than an outsider.

Consultants also tend to make recommendations and then take off, isolating them from any potential fallout from those recommendations. That’s not the case with BizOps, says Megan Tedford, a NerdWallet BizOps manager and another former consultant: “We help all the way through the execution.”

Many of the toughest questions come to BizOps first, says NerdWallet senior associate Jaime Ortiz. “It’s going to be up to us to drive to the answers and how we’re going to execute on them,” she says.

Kevin Yuann, NerdWallet’s general manager of credit cards, hadn’t worked with a BizOps team before joining the company. “I equated BizOps to a standard corporate strategy team,” he says. “It’s much more than that.”

For example, the idea of offering live customer support for credit cards came up in a meeting that included Yuann, NerdWallet CEO Tim Chen and me. Yuann asked Tedford to look into it as her first project for NerdWallet. Within days, she had developed a five-page plan. She made the business case for the idea, condensed all of NerdWallet’s credit card knowledge into a framework that someone with no experience could use to answer questions, tested it by taking customer questions herself in real time, trained other employees in the system and measured the service’s impact. This feature went live this month in July.

“She just ran with it, executed it and drove the results herself,” Yuann says.

Ortiz didn’t even know how a sales team worked when we asked her to design a three-month pilot project with sales reps reaching out to banks and credit unions about participating in our comparison tools. That project demonstrated the value of a sales team, so I asked Ortiz to help hire a head of sales, build the team out and adapt the successful sales approaches used by other businesses.

There’s no “typical” day for a BizOps professional. Team members may shadow co-workers, interview outside experts, develop skills like Python and SQL proficiency, analyze data, lead a brainstorming session, write up a strategic plan, design and monitor pilot projects, conduct postmortems on projects, formulate and monitor key performance indicators, synthesize best practices, interview candidates — or just block off time to think about how to break immense challenges down into manageable chunks.

Building BizOps at NerdWallet

NerdWallet’s mission is to bring clarity across all of life's financial decisions. Our BizOps team provides similar clarity within the company — a vital role when we’re making big decisions every day.

I’m building a BizOps team of people with intellectual and emotional intelligence and a history of accomplishment that stands out even within a pool of high achievers. They usually come here after at least a few years of experience in consulting, finance or tech.

I pair them with managers in our matrixed organization — both in horizontals, such as content and marketing, and in verticals, such as credit cards and banking. “You kind of become the COO of whatever the business partnership is,” says Megan Weir, who recruits for our BizOps team.

Having BizOps people embedded with different groups helps ensure that they are informed and have the trust of the managers they’re working with. “I feel like I’m actually part of the team,” senior BizOps manager Geoff Brooks says. “Ultimately, that improves the recommendations I’m making.”

The mark of success when you’re a BizOps person is being the first person a general manager calls when she has the time to think through an issue. “It’s really being the right-hand person to a business leader,” says Andrea Leewong, who worked in consulting before becoming the first member of NerdWallet’s BizOps team. (Leewong is one of two BizOps professionals who have already been tapped to head groups within the company — a testament to the value of BizOps.)

For Yuann, our credit cards manager, Tedford is more than just a right hand. “In a way, I found a way to clone myself,” he says. “She is able to step in for me on any topic to drive the business forward.”

That said, maintaining a centralized BizOps team allows people to remain more objective than they might be if they were reporting to the managers they’re advising, as well as more focused on the company as a whole. BizOps becomes the company’s connective tissue, ensuring that groups don’t work at cross-purposes or repeat one another’s mistakes.

Yuann knew Tedford from before he came to NerdWallet and reached out to her to join us. He initially thought she would report directly to him, but now sees the value of having her on a centralized BizOps team. “If she reported to me, she would only know what’s going on in credit cards,” he says. But our system creates a natural dialogue that’s particularly important in a fast-growing startup pushing its businesses in multiple directions at once.

The Spread of BizOps

The demonstrated value of BizOps at companies such as Yahoo and LinkedIn has helped spread the concept to more companies, starting earlier in their lives. That’s because it helps companies learn faster and manage hypergrowth with operational and strategic rigor.

Bill Beer, a partner at executive search firm Daversa Partners, predicts that within a few years, hundreds of tech companies will have established BizOps teams. Because BizOps is such a new field, it’s a huge opportunity for smart, analytical people in areas such as consulting and finance to break into tech, he says. “There are more jobs than there are people now.”

For NerdWallet, integrating BizOps into the company has weaved it into our DNA and has given us a BizOps team unmatched for such a young startup. “It means we’re not fighting this uphill battle to make ourselves relevant,” Leewong says.

I modeled our team on what I built at LinkedIn, but there are important differences, based largely on the distinct stages of the two companies. In my next installment, I’ll have more on how BizOps can adapt to the needs of different companies in different phases.

Next: How BizOps Adapts to You and Your Company and Want in on BizOps? Here’s How