The COO Show
The COO Show

Episode 11 · 8 months ago

The Unconventional Journey from Sales to COO w/ Mark Rosenthal


One thing has been made abundantly clear as I interview more COOs:

There is no “right” path to take to

Moving from revenue to operations may seem like a leap, but I did it…

And so did Mark Rosenthal, COO at HqO, who joins me today to share the insights he learned on his journey.

In this episode, we discuss:

- The transition from revenue to operations

- The role a COO plays in getting the alignment needed in order to scale

- How to ensure your M&A strategy doesn’t fail

Do you have ideas for or feedback about this show? Email your host Bill Reed at

Be sure to hear every conversation about innovative COO strategies at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and our website.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for The COO Show in your favorite podcast player.

The hardest thing about making the transition so far has actually been sort of that pullback and not really owning the number anymore and not really owning the customer relationships. Welcome to the CEO show, a podcast brought to you by sweet fish media that features conversations with leaders like you and shares the real life stories of the operations professionals laying the groundwork for the success of their teams. Let's get into the show. Hello and welcome back to the CEO show. I'm your host, Bill Reid, and today we have with US Mark Rosenthal. Mark is COO for a company called H Qo. Mark, welcome to the show. Thanks, Phil. Great to big here. Appreciate invitation you bat so let's get started. First of all, tell me just a little bit about who hqo is and what you do. Sure it shows a camer commercial real estate technology company. We have a SASS platform that we sell to commercial real estate owners, specifically in office to help them understand how people use their space so that they can make smart and more form data driven decisions. Interesting, well well said. Tell me a little bit about what got you there. Sure, so, I started my career a long time ago at CBS radio, selling radio spots like billy Crystalin citiesliquers. After about eleven years there, I got bit by the Digital Bug and move to my first start up, again in a sales roll. stood up our direct channel and international sales teams. We were acquired and also bought another company, so it is on both sides of the acquisition, the acquisition cycle. Before moving to Google, I did a variety of roles there, but the one that's probably most relevant for where I am now is a role leading the programmatic advertising business for North America, where we were trying to change the way that advertising was bought and sold by using data and technology to create intelligence and efficiency in the system, very similar to what we're doing a Hguo, arming landlords with more data and more technology to understand how people use their spaces so that they can make more informed Capex and OPEX decisions. So the common thread there's that I was in, you know, sales and marketing and sort of go to market rolls for my entire career and and now, as of July twenty one, I've transitioned into the COO role at Hquo, primarily through a number of conversations that are CEO, CEO Chase Barbarino and I have had about sort of the right seat on the bus and how to scale the business most effectively. Great, thanks for walking through that mark. I'm particularly interested in the fact that your background is sales, marketing, CX, but you sit in a operations typically an operations oriented role. That matches my story. Come from a that ground of sales and marketing and currently serve as as a coo. So tell me a little bit about that it. was there anything in particularly made that transition difficult and maybe, more more importantly, what have what has benefited you, with that kind of background, in the roll you're in today? So I've always been I've always been pretty operational and executional in my in my approach. I've always been pretty data driven in my approach, even thinking back to my you know, my first job in sales selling radio. You know, I keep a I would keep a log of ever was before crm was a thing, before way before sales force, right, and I would keep a log every single person, every single call I made, the person answer, not answer, or what was said, and I'd sort of mind that, that data, that log, and look at things like how many calls do I have to make to get a connect, how many connects do I have to make to get to get a meeting, and sort of that reverse pipeline math that we do in sales. So I've always been an operational sales leader as much as...

I've been out in the field of my with my you know, with my team's and trying to try and engage with customers. The hardest thing about making the transition so far has actually been sort of that pullback and not really owning the number anymore and not really owning the customer relationships. So that's been a big change for me. It's the first time in my entire career that I haven't outright owned a number, never mind the number right. So that's been a that's been a probably the biggest change for me. Otherwise, I'm doing a lot of sort of application of principles that I've established over, you know, twenty five years of, you know, of sales and go to market career, just at a different at a different scope, right, and trying to apply those same principles across the organization as opposed to vertically within one team or a couple of teams. Mark. What's your favorite tool when it comes to data management and analysis? That's a good question. I'm not sure I have a favorite tool because we're still playing around with with a lot of different tools and trying to find the right mix of text act. But I'll tell you that for US sales force is the center of the universe for our company and any technology that we look at using has to integrate with sales force and has to has to bolt on there. So if we look across the company, we've got a lot of great tools in our in our martext act like Marquetto and linkedin sales navigator and Zoom Info and and others. We got our finance connection with net suite plugging right into stales force. We've got on the product and engineering side, Jia and and in other project manage a tools sort of plugging right into stales force and customers support. We've got our our Zendesk instance, plug right into stales for. So that's the center of our universe. I would say it's my favorite tool, but it's it's certainly the one that we've met on for the for the company. Sounds like it's a set of tools. I didn't hear you mentioned Google sheets or excel in there, but we definitely use google sheets. Yeah, we're Geet, we're GI sueet shop. So so Google dogspital sheets and Google slides are, we find, just really efficient for us. We Are we are big on team and collaboration. That's within different business, business units of the company and certainly across the company. So having those, those great collaboration tools is really important for us. I think I've said on the show before that as my kids were growing up, I told them you need if you can master excel, you will rule the universe. So yeah, learn excel or Google sheets, whatever, and all three of them work in data analysis roles. Interestingly, and what I find is just said to one of my team members of the day. If you see US spreadsheet, grab it. We're going to shut it down one because we've got these sophisticated tools and it sounds like you know, you guys spent quite an effort on putting a tool set together that works and then a squadsheet can quickly defeat the purpose of a sophisticated multilayered system. Yeah, absolutely. I mean the problem with some of these tools sales forces a great example is that it doesn't have all the all the functionality that's built into it to get the views that you want to get. So I do find that sometimes we're having it like I'm having to export data out of sales force into a spreadsheets so that I can pivot the data and get the view that I want so that I can present it the right way in our board deck or to our team or or whatever. And that's where a lot of these other tools, the revenue intelligence platforms like clary and insight squared, come into play, because they're mining sales force and presenting a more comprehensive view that's going to be helpful for a revenue leader as an example. But yeah, spreadsheets are...

...spreadsheets are the death of your of your text act, for sure. Yeah, you got to know them, but you shouldn't use them. Something like that right. Well, Mark, when we've talked in the past you've talked about mergers and acquisitions, something that's a particular interest to you and something you have some experience in. So let's let's talk about that just a little bit. As you look at the MNA world, help me understand a little bit more of how the Coeos roll within an organization lines up with with the different areas that that are necessary when it comes to Ma. So I think it really depends on the organization and how you're structured. I've been part of now two organizations, the startup that I was at before going to Google and this one, where MNA was a big part of the of the business at the at the previous start up, which is called and Omedia, we were we were required and then so we were the we were the acquired and then we were the acquirer for for another company in I while I wasn't in the CEO role, I have the opportunity to see how the process unfolded and to be part of to be part of it, having a seat around the table, particularly when it came to integration. In that case, the the strategic decision around the acquisition was was made primarily by our our CEO, and then the in the execution was sort of rolled downhill to the to the various operating units right in in our case at Hto is we're looking out at the market. We're in a we're in a category generally called protect, and the protect category has exploded over the last few years and now starting to go through the first real cycle of MNA and consolidation. So we are actively we're actively looking at the market and trying to understand strategically how we grow our business, not just organically but inorganically as well. And so it was an executive team our CEO, myself, our CTEO, or had of finance and a few others. We're looking out at the mark, at landscape and trying to figure out where we can get the most bank for our bucking, where we can get the most acceleration on the business. So principally we've established the guidelines for how we would approach Ma. Right is it? Is it going to help accelerate our product roadmap? Is it going to help accelerate our footprint through market expansion, either geographic or or adjacent markets in real estate that we might want to play in, or is it going to help to accelerate our revenue? Right, those are sort of the three big buckets we we look at and we're always sort of keeping our eyes open for potential for potential partners or or targets. there. Our CEO Chase really leads on the on the strategy and the initial conversations along with our along with our SBP of finance, who's also one of our one of our co founders, Greg going Ber. The two of them sort of take the lead. Once we've established what the what the targets might be, they take the lead and on running with that. And then for me, is a CEO. My job is to make sure that we've lined up all of the right resources internally so that when we're ready to move forward, we have the playbook. We've the M playbook all done and the integration playbook all done. So do we have the do we have the due diligence playbook and the tracker that we're going to use to capture everything? Do we understand where documents are going to be shared and stored? Are we using a data room or using our data room or the the sellers data room? It's that turn. Than on the integration side, you know, huge lift. They're right. I think Harvard, Harvard Business School put out a put out a report. Seventy to ninety percent of MNA fails, right, and it's...

...for the reasons. But most, most Mana fails because of a lack of a lack of alignment, a lack of communication or a lack of a lack of fit, and so it's really important that in the due diligence process we assess for all those things and then in the integration process that were lining every team and every stakeholder up to to make sure we deliver on on those things. It's interesting I jotted down alignment, communication and fit, that those are three critical elements, especially the first two, and in any healthy business right. So sure they I'm sure are particularly relevant when it comes to MNA. It sounds to me like mark, in your situation, probably in most that as COO, you and your staff are really kind of on the on the executing and you're not. They're making the decision, doing the analysis. You're really receiving the taking the decision and executing a plan to prepare for the two businesses to connect. Is that accurate? I'd say more or less, if we want to simplify it that way. Yes, I mean if we if we zoom out from MNA for a second and talk about more generally how I engage with with chase, my CEO. He is incredibly visionary. He can see around the corner a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now. He's got a very clear sense of where he thinks the market is going and where he thinks we need to take the business. That is not my skill set at all. I think we were both I think we're both very strong on strategy. So as he lays out the vision for where we want to go, we work really closely together to establish what the what the strung with the strategy for the business is and how we want to sort of martial and align our resources. The next level down is sort of the practical plan, and he's very good at that as well as am i. and what is the you know, what's the execution plan that we that we want to put in place across all of our teams? He's got incredible depth of knowledge about every different aspect of the business, product engineering, sales, marketing, etc. And he's got really, really great thoughts on how we should be operating as a as a business. But then it's that last it's that last piece which is actually driving the execution and accountability, where he doesn't have the where I'm advantage from a skill set standpoint and from an interest standpoint. More importantly, I like doing that stuff and he really doesn't like doing that stuff. So that's where we kind of make the the the handoffs. He's got that that very top level vision. We work together strategy and strategy and planning and then execution is my as my wheelhouse. Yeah, that's great. Sounds like a very complementary kind of partnership. Marqus Coo, in the organization you're in today at Hqo, who are your other partners? Everybody. So I you know, I sort of look at I sort of get my job, as you know, the the customers or all of the other exact team members, right, and and all of the other teams and departments. We talked about alignment before, right. My job is to make sure we have clear organizational alignment, that we've clear ownership across, you know, across each team and across each project, and then we are and then we've got the right systems of accountability in place and then to make sure that we're marshaling all the right resources cross functionally to deliver what we need to deliver for customers. We're still a you know, we're still a relatively small company. We're grows it with not a relatively small company. We are a very small company, especially compared to places I've been like Google. You know, we're about a hundred. We're about a hundred seventy five people today, so we're not the fifteen or sixteen that we were when I joined, but, you...

...know, still relatively small. But as we continue to grow, you know the silos, the silos start to start to erect and people get more focused and specialized in their particular roles and function is but we're still one company with one mission and making sure that we have great communication and great alignment across the organization so that we can deliver for our customers, because that's the most important thing. It's really where I'm spending most of my time. So, mark as Coeo, in your current role, help us understand a little bit how that, how that rule is configured. Yeah, so I spent I spent a fair amount of time on like our systems and tools and processes. But we know one of the challenges we have Right now is we've gotten a little bit ahead of our skis, I think, in my you know my opinion, when it comes to our text act, for example. For a company our size, we have a lot of technology to manage and every time we on board a new piece of technology it requires more training and it requires integration, because I mentioned sales forces or the center of our universe. So so it's a big deal when we on board new technology. We have a lot of it and then we have to manage it all and maintain it all. And so I'm looking for places where we can simplify and streamline from a systems, tools and processes standpoint. I'm also looking for places where we can simplify and streamline from an organizational structure and people standpoint. Right we've hired a lot of folks who come from large companies, which is awesome because it sets a stuff well for, you know, for future growth, but it also comes with large company mentality, resources and or structures and specialization and so on. And we're at this really this really kind of cool point in the company's business where we're too small to higher like generalists. Were too small to hire the person who's great for the start up and the generalist will do everything in the Jack of all trades, but we're not yet quite big enough to get really specialized. So we're trying to thread that needle right now by hiring people who are functional experts but are are adaptable to to change. So that's the real profile and then design the York structure that's going to help us be best set up for success and organizational alignment within teams and across them well, and I would guess all of that becomes more important and more critical as you get into the subject, or get back to the subject of mergers and acquisitions, right systems process and in particular you mentioned simplicity. How how do you simplify structure within an organization? What's the key there? Well, I think first of all understanding what the you know what the desired and state is or what the goal is. So you have to have a North Star Vision, if you know where you're going, you know to know how to steer the ship. Then we have to figure out what the right roles and responsibilities are that need to be put in place in order to get in order to get us there, organizational gaps biggest opportunities. So that's some of the that's some of the vision and strategy work that you know, that that chase is so good at and and that I try to partner on along with other members of our of our really talented executive team. And you know. And then we look across our across our various teams and we just did this exercise actually of going through and trying to determine what are the most important roles that we need to hire for immediately, because everybody is resource constrained. You can't hire for every role and you can't solve problems with people there. That doesn't scale right. I mean we can't throw it, we can't just throw bodies at every problem. We have to build the right processes, we have to train our people the right way, we have to have the right tools to to solve problems at scale. And so that's where so that's where we really try to spend a lot of a lot of time. I spend time looking at our you know, looking at our systems and our tools and our men and our processes,...

...of course, but I spent a lot of time working with our teams to understand, you know, what are the blockers, what are the hurdles, what's holding the back? And we really focus both, you know, internally and as we look at M and a activity, we really focus on o our core values. We've got to I've never worked at a company where the company values are so integrated into every aspect of what the company does, whether it's recruiting, performance reviews, mergers and acquisitions, customer prospecting, like everything we do is built around our our our our six core vodies. Yeah, we feel the same way sweet fish. Of course, everybody talks about culture. In fact, I just had a discussion with a friend yesterday, I think it was, and you know, often times companies value culture so much that they that because they talk about it all the time and they think it's so important that they have a good one. And and that's not necessarily true. Everybody does have a culture, right, but not everybody has a culture that contributes to the success of the business. So it's awesome when you can say what you can say. I can absolutely say that about sweet fishes as well. We've got three core values and yeah, for us we filter every decision we make one way or another through one of those three core values. That's that's a guiding light for sure. Well, when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, just a little bit. You've been on, you've got experience in on both sides of that equation and I'm curious can you share with our listeners what what's the most common misconception, because I know there are a lot of folks out there who either want to or need to grow through acquisition, and certainly there are a lot of young businesses who who hope to be acquired. Talk to us a little bit about that experience. So I think the most common misconception probably is that they that they actually have value. Right. Everybody goes into everybody goes into m a with the with the excitement and the expectation that they're going to that they're going to have a lot of value with the business. You know, for us it's in those three areas I mentioned before of revenue growth or market expansion or product or product development. But MNA is really hard and I you know, I sort quoted the Harvard the Harvard stats seventy to ninety percent fail. I'm not sure most companies think they're going to be in the seventy to ninety percent. I think most people think they're going to, but they're going to be the one that bucks the trend ors. I came from I mentioned, I came from media. Google. Facebook of obviously done a lot of a lot of MNA over the time, over the years, and I can think of several examples of companies that we bought. While I was a google, none of which I was involved in in at all from an M and a standpoint. But you know, we bought the technology, we tried to integrate it, we just couldn't get the integration done. Ultimately wound up shutting the shutting the business down. Right. That have that is so common and happens so often. So really making sure that you've got a clear vision for where you want to go with the with the M and not getting emotionally invested in the deal. Gotta stay focused on making sure the deal is right all the way through the process. Because for us, what we found as we've gone through you know, we've gone through this a few times and looked at and gone through due diligence right, you know, we get to we get to a stage in the due diligence process where some people start scratching their heads and saying should we actually move this forward or not, and other folks are very attached to the deals. Really keeping the emotions out of it, looking at the you know, assessing the deal on its merits, not being afraid to pull you know, to pull back and say you don't what, this isn't right, even up until the very end...

...before signatures, because once it's signed it's yours. You own it and you have to find a way to bring the companies together and that is really, really hard, harder than it probably sounds. Right. So, so what I hear you say in there is, first of all, you got to understand the value of the business you're acquiring or or the the business that you're that you're selling. The second thing is to make sure the deal is a creative so that it's adding in one of the three ways, that adding value in one of the three ways that you mentioned. And then I heard you say that focusing on the integration and execution is key, because those first two and other items can line up, but if you don't execute well, as you suggested earlier, that often ends up just being a flat out failure. Absolutely, yeah, those are great. Well, listen, I'm looking at the clock. We could talk another ten, fifteen minutes. We've covered a lot of ground and it's been very interesting. Just you've got a breath and a depth of experience that is intriguing and so I appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us today. Mark, is there anything before we sign off that you'd like to share with the audience, anything that maybe we didn't get to talk about or that came to mind and you just didn't have a chance to share. You know, I think. Think for me, Bill, is I'm, as I said before, I'm relatively new in the CEO Chair. I started just as past July, having spent my entire career in primarily sales and marketing. So I'm still I'm still learning, and I'd bean the question back to you and say, what's one piece of advice that you give to other CEOS that I might be ablest deal from? Yeah, that that's that is a really good question mark. And I would say this. Identify and go to use your partners. Identify who the partners within the business are, the partners outside the business, those that can add value. Some of those will be valuable just because they're their mentor in a mentoring capacity. Some will be value from an informational standpoint and just an experience standpoint. But for me, you know, success at work is all about relationships, and that's true whether you're a CEO, CEO, you know, whatever the case. And so you know, my advice would be to surround yourself by other people who are smarter than you, who you'd like to model your career after, and for me, there been many that have invested in my career and of course, I'm for much further down the road than you are and looking consistently looking to invest back in others. So when somebody comes to me, my answers always yes, and there are lots of guys like me out there that would love to just lock arms and walk through this journey with you. Awesome. Well, mark, this has been great. Thanks for asking the question. I think it has been a long time since somebody asked me a question on the podcast, so that was fun. Thank thank you for letting me share and mark it. If someone would have an interest in in chatting or maybe an interest in the company and what you do, what would be the best way for them to get a hold of you? Emails Best Mark, Im Your K at hqo dot CEO. Okay, great again, Mark, thank you for being on the show today. Thanks Phil, thanks for having appreciate it. You Bet you've been listening to the CEO show, the home for operations professionals. Stay connected with the PODCAST and catch every episode by subscribing on your favorite podcast player. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate and review the show. Thank you for listening. Until next time,.

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