29. What is it like being COO of a private equity backed business?

In this episode we discuss what it's like being the COO of PE backed business with Pete Harris, COO of Pipedrive.


2/8/20245 min read

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Bethany and Brandon discuss:

  • When are we at our best? Our worst?

  • What are we passionate about in a business context?

  • What is our why?

We then discuss the following with Pete:

  • Why the title COO versus CRO or CCO?

  • How are you being evaluated by your PE investors?

  • How do you motivate employees given you are not founder led?

  • What does a board meeting look like in PE backed companies?

  • What is the approach to compensation in a PE backed company?

  • What is your why?



As Chief Operating Officer for Pipedrive I am responsible for a broad range of value creation activities, including business strategy, execution, and Pipedrive’s approach to global markets - determining which markets we are in, why and associated investments. I work closely with our Board from Vista Equity Partners and Bessemer Partners.

Previously I led Global Business Development and Global Partnership team at Intuit - supporting our customers across the US, UK, Australia, France, Brazil, Mexico and our expansion markets. I also spent 12 years at Deloitte with roles including risk consulting in Financial Services, UK Innovation Lead and UK Ventures Lead. The latter involved managing a £25m fund to invest in external start-ups but also internally in those ideas that might change Deloitte from within.

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  • Lung health and private equity CEO experience. 0:06

    • Bethany Ayers discusses her experience with chest X rays and doctors' appointments after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

    • Brandon shares a story from his time at SwiftKey about ignoring chest discomfort and eventually getting an X ray after realizing it wasn't going away.

    • Brandon experienced a spontaneous pneumothorax, where one of his lungs collapsed into his chest cavity, and was pumped back up with a tube inserted through his clavicle.

    • The medical team used a rudimentary method to insert the tube into Brandon's lung, and he was able to recover quickly.

    • Brandon and Bethany discuss the concept of "Y" or starting with why, as discussed by Simon Sinek, and how it relates to their discussion on the purpose of the company and its impact on the organization.

  • Leadership, passions, and personal growth. 5:53

    • Bethany: feeling inauthentic or unwilling to express views can be at worst, hating having to do that.

    • Brandon M: tiredness can make him less present and less effective in leadership roles.

    • Bethany passionately advocates for gender equality and personal growth, reflecting on death and regret.

  • Unlocking potential and creating a fulfilling life. 10:27

    • Brandon M recognizes immense potential in individuals, both personally and professionally, and finds it exciting to work with companies to unlock this potential.

    • He believes that exercising these muscles through activities like acting helps him understand the human experience and apply it to his work in companies.

    • Brandon M: Why? To help teams fulfill their potential.

    • Bethany: Why? To create a fun life and inspire others.

  • Leadership roles and AI initiatives at Pipedrive. 15:32

    • Pete Harris oversees sales, partner, customer success, and customer support teams at Pipedrive, while also leading AI initiatives.

    • Pete Harris discusses his role as CEO of Pipedrive, focusing on AI initiatives and commercial growth.

  • CEO role, value creation, and long-term growth. 18:45

    • Pete Harris, CEO of Pipedrive, focuses on value creation plan to deliver success, with key metrics including net revenue retention and churn numbers.

    • PE investors evaluate Pete's success through delivery of value creation plan outcomes, with specific focus on revenue and retention numbers.

    • Entrepreneurs often prioritize short-term growth over long-term sustainability in their business strategies.

  • Growth vs margin in private equity investing. 22:32

    • Panelists debate whether growth or margin is more valuable in today's private equity market.

    • Pete Harris emphasizes the importance of balancing growth rate and margin in business, citing the "rule of 40" as a benchmark for success.

    • Bethany asks Pete if he still follows the "rule of 40" in private equity, and Pete confirms that it is still relevant and important for their business strategy.

  • Leadership, culture, and motivation in a 1000-person business. 26:47

    • Pete Harris: Founder lead plays a role in a company's culture and values, even after they leave. Holding on to that legacy can attract top talent and be a unique selling point.

    • Bethany: Charismatic leaders, whether founders or not, can play a significant role in shaping a company's culture and values.

    • Pete Harris emphasizes the importance of understanding one's "why" and purpose in work, citing it as a key factor in motivation and job satisfaction.

    • Harris believes that founders can play a significant role in shaping a company's culture and values, but acknowledges that not all founders are equipped to lead a business through its entire lifecycle.

  • Leadership, purpose, and private equity involvement in a business. 32:36

    • Brandon M emphasizes the importance of purpose and charismatic leadership in a company, citing it as a motivating factor for himself and others.

    • Pete Harris agrees, highlighting the need for alignment between personal purpose, mission, and what the business is doing. He believes that being a charismatic leader without being the founder is crucial for scaling up a company.

    • Harris also stresses the importance of authenticity in conveying the company's purpose and mission to employees and stakeholders.

    • Pete Harris describes the experience of working with a private equity (PE) firm, emphasizing the importance of confidence and alignment on the company's goals.

    • The PE firm has a formal agenda for board meetings, which can go in unexpected directions, focusing on metrics and growth.

    • Bethany asks about the frequency and rehearsal process of these meetings, with Pete Harris highlighting the importance of preparation and alignment as a team.

  • Board meetings and investor dynamics in a startup. 38:45

    • Bethany highlights the value of board meetings for VC-backed startups, where investors provide strategic support and challenge.

  • Board dynamics, compensation, and talent attraction in a PE-backed company. 40:31

    • Brandon M. emphasizes the importance of confidence in the founder and leadership team for the board to effectively contribute to the business.

    • Pete Harris highlights the value of having operating partners and investment partners on the board, bringing different perspectives and expertise to the table.

    • Pete Harris emphasizes the importance of attracting the right talent in a PE firm, with compensation being a key factor in doing so.

    • Brandon M asks about the approach to compensation in a PE company, with options being a common incentive for top management.

  • Career development and personal purpose. 45:11

    • Pete Harris emphasizes the importance of understanding one's "why" and mapping it out to achieve success in their career.

    • Harris recommends using a blank sheet of paper to draw a "circle of why" to identify one's purpose and goals.

    • Pete Harris believes that understanding one's "why" can serve as a navigation system for both career and life decisions.

    • Harris encourages others to identify their "why" and use it as a guide for making decisions and setting goals, even in unrelated areas like volunteering or hobbies.

    • Pete Harris suggests asking "What's your why?" to uncover personal motivations and values, and using those insights to make decisions without regret.

    • Bethany struggles with understanding her "why" and seeks help from Pete, who encourages her to imagine her deathbed regrets and apply her values to decision-making.