"We built the company around the folks we knew we'd need to make it scale. My COO was one of those guys. It wasn't, for us, like we reached a threshold and said, 'We've done $2 million this year--let's go get a COO.' There always had to be somebody running the operations side of the business because it's so integral to what we do."

Bret Biggart, CEO, Freedom Solar Power (energy)
2016 Inc. 5000 rank: No. 338
3-year growth: 1,134%
2015 revenue: $16m

 

"In 2015, when we hit $3.5 million in sales, we started to sell more in a particular market: the promotional products industry. While my co-founder and I were both very spunky and hardworking, we didn't understand the industry well. That necessitated our bringing on a COO. Our COO has been in the business for 30 years."

Sterling Wilson, co-founder and president, Pop! Promos (advertising and marketing)
2016 Inc. 5000 rank: No. 135
3-year growth: 2,608%
2015 revenue: $3.5m

 

"The decision should be based on a couple of factors: the amount of money raised and how the company is scaling. My recommendation, after a large raise, is that you need an operational expert to grow smarter and not waste money. With an organic company, you have your finger on the pulse of the day-to-day and there's no push from outside investors to scale quickly. You're not on the clock, so you may not need a COO. Another factor to think about is bandwidth: Are you spending more time on operational issues than on strategic issues? When bandwidth becomes an issue, that gets in the way of growth."

Terry Williams, CEO and chairman of the board, ORS Partners (human resources)
2016 Inc. 5000 rank: No. 563
3-year growth: 699%
2015 revenue: $5.7m

 

"I selfishly wanted to spend more time working on product, which is my passion, and I found myself increasingly spending time talking to lawyers and accountants. I started searching for the COO while I was raising our A round, which was $8 million. He came on board immediately after I closed the round. I knew if I was struggling before that, afterward it would be way too much of a struggle."

Emerson Spartz, co-founder and CEO, Dose (media)
2016 Inc. 5000 rank: No. 599
3-year growth: 655%
2015 revenue: $8.2

FROM THE MARCH 2017 ISSUE OF INC. MAGAZINE