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BizOps: What It Is, and Why Early-Stage Companies Should Hire For It

Business Operations (BizOps) is a critical function in any company. The role was first pioneered by large technology companies such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Nerdwallet, who each grew the function to several dozen, or even hundred-person organizations. Despite the growing popularity of the function, many early stage founders are still unfamiliar with the role and the value it can deliver.

I believe every early-stage startup should start thinking about a BizOps hire early on. To help, I’ve outlined more about the role in part I of our series on BizOps.

Several next-gen tech companies have hired for BizOps earlier in their journies and have reaped the benefits of doing so. Brian Sze, co-founder of Assembled & the former Head of BizOps at Stripe from 2012-2016, shares that “Biz Ops, when correctly implemented, can be uniquely valuable to companies that are quickly scaling. In the early days, these multi-skilled generalists can quickly adapt to the evolving needs of the business—from pitching different audiences to building processes and filling in product gaps. Later on, you can rely on these teammates to run your most important initiatives since they have unimpeachable credibility to get things done.” 

Given the rise of the modern data stack, companies are now able to track and make use of their data earlier on in their journeys. As such, the new breed of biz generalists are equipped with more data than ever. These savvy business generalists are able to build credibility with a wide range of stakeholders (both internal and external), to “herd cats” (e.g., project management / soft ninja skills to move things along), and to think through product decision-making. 

That’s why I think it’s important at this point to (a) repaint a picture of the modern BizOps role and how it varies by company, and (b) suggest that companies consider hiring for the role earlier in their journey. 

Types of BizOps teams

The BizOps role can mean totally different things at different companies. I like to think about the types of tech BizOps teams along a spectrum with three core types. As earlier stage companies adopt the BizOps function, they most commonly elect between the first two types: incubation teams, or embedded teams. 

Some companies, such as Stripe in the early days, choose to hire BizOps as scrappy generalists who could roll up their sleeves and do work in the trenches. By this I mean employees who could make strategic recommendations and execute on them. As businesses grow, incubation BizOps teams can transform in two ways: they either shift to become an embedded BizOps team, or they dissolve into the organization, with their employees graduating onto specific teams, or as leaders at other startups. 

Recently, early stage companies have started to adopt the LinkedIn-style embedded BizOps approach. The core difference between embedded teams and Incubation teams is that they provide strategic recommendations to their functional counterparts vs. owning the actions themselves (e.g., advising the best way to sell vs. selling themselves). 

What does an embedded BizOps team look like?

To answer this, it’s helpful to first break down how most BizOps teams are structured at large organizations. In typical BizOps fashion, let’s use the framework below. 

On one axis we have the individual or team’s functional focus. This is most commonly product, sales, and marketing. 

On the other axis, we have the types of work that the person covers. This can be split into two: the first is “rhythm of business work,” which refers to the organizational cadence of performance monitoring (think weekly updates, monthly check-ins, QBRs, etc). And the second is “strategic projects,” which describes the projects being worked on (think “big rocks” including pricing/packaging change, churn reduction strategy, new product launch, etc).

A general rule of thumb is that each individual should split their time evenly between the two types of work: rhythm of business work and strategic projects. At large companies, the BizOps team is large enough for any one individual to spend all their time on one particular function. In this case, they would work directly with their functional business partner—the head of product, sales, or marketing. 

Many people ask: “if there is a BizOps team supporting sales, what does sales ops do”? The key difference between “BizOps for x” vs. “x ops” is that BizOps is more of a high-level strategic function that advises the functional leader, while the X Ops team is focused on the day-to-day operations for that functional group (e.g., for sales ops, it is setting plan, managing individual rep-level quotas, etc).

For example, when I worked at LinkedIn in BizOps for the Talent Solutions sales team, my business partner was David Cohen, the regional head of sales for that business line. My team delivered quarterly business reviews (QBRs) to David and his team, while also deep diving into areas of strategic priority for the business. The QBRs gave the exec team a consistent pulse on how the business was performing against its most important KPIs. In one instance, enterprise churn was higher than the plan for a handful of consecutive quarters. To help, BizOps led a strategic initiative to diagnose the root causes for churn in the business and provided recommendations to the exec team on how to address it. 

Smaller companies, though, typically just have one BizOps person. That means they are often assigned to paratroop into whichever functional area needs the most help. Instead of having a dotted line to their functional business partner, this BizOps lead should report directly into the C-suite, most commonly the CEO (or COO or CFO depending on if those roles are in place). 

The CEO (or other C-suite exec) will have visibility across the org into where their BizOps resource will have the most impact, and can help them prioritize across each function. The BizOps lead can also help the C-suite improve their purview on the org, and serve as the connective tissue that helps drive unbiased decision-making between functions. Given their data-driven nature, the equivalent “rhythm of business” work at a startup includes preparing quarterly board-level materials, and helping with upcoming financings. 

Closing thoughts

There are many different flavors of BizOps, and teams are experimenting how to best structure these teams for success. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building out an early BizOps team. Regardless of approach, many companies are starting to hire for this persona earlier on in their company journeys and are realizing significant improvements in their data-driven decision-making velocity. In my next piece, I’ll discuss when it’s best to hire for a BizOps lead, where to find good candidates and how to set them up for success. 

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