While an entrepreneur is usually considered the face of his startup, what establishes his success is the guarantee of him being backed by a very strong second layer of management.
It’s very important for an entrepreneur to have a team or rather a second layer of executives like a COO, who can provide a much needed support and guidance. This also ensures that the entrepreneur never feels lonely at the top.
Nishant Rao, Global COO at Indian-SaaS company Freshdesk does exactly that! Rao joined Chennai-based Freshdesk in November last year from LinkedIn. Nishant was having a pretty good time at the social media firm and believes that it was more of serendipity that made him opt for Freshdesk.
Rao and Girish Mathrubootham met at an industry event and hit it off instantly, post which they met a couple of times. One thing lead to another and eventually Rao was welcomed by Freshdesk. The opportunity of taking an Indian company global was one of the factors which got Rao interested with the opportunity.
Working with an entrepreneur
For an entrepreneur, a startup is more like this baby who he has nurtured over the years. Joining the journey mid-way could get tricky for an outsider.
In Rao’s case, he feels that Girish and he have very similar qualities. “In terms of roles, it’s good to have some kind of clarity. COO is a very confusing role inside a startup. I think you’ll see very different models of COOs around,” he adds.
“The simplest way I can think of this concept would be to complement a CEO and thereby facilitate a good business... I think a COO can take different forms but basically he/she helps a CEO focus on what they really want to focus on,” Rao said.
The startup ecosystem has witnessed several high-level executive exits at companies like Flipkart and Snapdeal during Rao’s tenure at Freshdesk. Indian unicorns have been blamed for not being able to retain high-quality executive-level talent in their organizations.
“Don’t copy-paste from before, a lot of folks are brought in because they have prior experience and they are bringing with them a lot of expertise. The mistake most people do is copy-paste what had worked before in another organization,”
Rao consciously decided not to copy-paste stuff that he had done at LinkedIn. He decided to stay in a listening mode initially and figure out how things worked at Freshdesk, post which he figured out which of those ideas made sense and whether a variance of some other ideas would work better.
Rao also insisted that an outsider should also be respectful of what has happened in the past. “Sometimes the hype that surrounds a high-profile entry into the company, especially when one comes from a bigger brand and has more experience that the people working at the startup. .. it’s important as leaders to stay humble in general,” Rao adds.
Rao further added that one should not let a title or a role get into their head and beleives that one’s job is solely to facilitate the organization and let it strive.
Rao claims that his learning from Freshdesk is a reaffirmation of something he had always believed in; India as a country has a very good talent pool of young, energetic people. And if one manages to engage them in the right manner, really cool things are possible.
Prior to LinkedIn, Rao had previously worked at companies like Microsoft and National Instruments. Rao is also an Advisory Board Member at CII's National Committee on Skill Development.