Companies that are engineered for growth know the importance of teamwork. One of the most critical teams is the CEO and COO. Today, we look at how to optimize working with your COO. Our guest is Erik Huberman, Founder, and CEO of Hawke Media. His company ranked #110 in 2017 and #1508 in 2020 on the Inc 5000 list. Eric shares his insights about working with your COO during times of fast-growth. Sometimes this relationship is a division of work, but other times you have to find ways to make committed decisions when working with your COO even when you don’t entirely agree. Improve your working relationship and prepare the company for next-level growth.
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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Having each other’s backs being aligned coming to each other when you do our problem, because what’s cool is because of how often we communicate, and like, I don’t see him that often I’m on the road all the time, we’re both busy. But we make sure that we’re keeping each other in the loop so that we’re on the same page. So it’s very, very, very, very rare that, first off, we’re not aware of things we need to be and sec on both sides. And second off that we’re on different pages, we make sure we’re always on the same page. And then again, we want the same mission we, we do think differently, and we respect we respect each other. So even if he might do something that I wouldn’t have done it the same way. Generally, I have a level of trust and I’m like, well, you probably know something I don’t and a lot of times that is the case. So having that high level of trust and benefit of the doubt and then constant communication is really what it takes.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Jean and I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moment. Moments of their growth, are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:03]
There’s a special bond between the CEO and the COO. These two work together, Yin and Yang, they work together so that they can drive the company forward. They probably have different skill sets, they probably see the world a little bit differently. But they also have to align together around the core principles of the business. Now, that relationship is very powerful when you get it right. And it’s very stressful when it doesn’t quite work. And when you find the right person, then you want to hold on to them, you want to make sure you take care of them, you want to make sure you reward them, you really recognize them for what they’re doing inside the business. Now, I’m not going to talk much about the reward and recognition part. But I am going to talk about the alignment and communication that it takes to create the kind of relationship between a CEO and a COO that drives a company fast. So I went back into my research to find a company that I felt like was doing this really well. And I found Hawke Media. I talked to Erik Huberman, the founder there and he talked about how Tony and Tony is something that a lot of people respect and admire. And so I’m going to share with you a little bit about Tony, Tony has the ability to really balance the visionary skills that Eric has with operations and really getting things done. And it really is a great conversation I have today, just a little bit about Erik Huberman. They were number 110 on the Inc list in 2017. So they’re a fast-growing company that continues that level of growth the last few years, and I really am excited to share that with you. When you think about your role as a CEO in your key relationship with the COO, this is the episode that you guys want to listen to, even together if you can, and have a conversation about it. That’s my challenge to you. All right. Here’s the interview with Erik.
Gene Hammett [2:48]
Hi, Erik. How are you?
Erik Huberman [2:49]
Good. How are you doing?
Gene Hammett [2:50]
I’m fantastic. excited to have you here at Growth Think Tank.
Erik Huberman [2:54]
Yeah, thank you for having me.
Gene Hammett [2:56]
I wanted to give you a chance to talk about the company a little bit about already shared with our audience about you, and kind of your principles of leadership and really what this is about. But tell me about the company and why I got started.
Erik Huberman [3:08]
Yeah, basically got started because after building and selling to DTC brands and working in consulting for a lot of different brands on the marketing side, I just found that it is really hard for companies to find good marketing. It’s basically if you’re not a really sexy startup that’s high funded, or fortune 1000, the chances of getting access to really good marketers is slim to none. And I thought that was just a broken model. So tried to create an environment where I could attract really good marketers and make it accessible for companies to get top jet marketing. And so through that pain point, we started with seven people with a SWAT team of marketers, each with their own expertise, like a Facebook marketer, an email marketer, web designer, etc, and went back to companies and said, everything’s our current month to month cheaper than hiring in house. The idea is you can spin up a team that fits your needs based on like a menu of services. And so that’s how we started It’s been five and a half years, we’ve got about 175 people full time. And yeah, that’s in a nutshell.
Gene Hammett [4:06]
And all that. And you’ve had tremendous growth. And you just talked about you have 400 or so clients now that were thrilled with you, which is difficult to do to have 400 clients thrilled at one.
Erik Huberman [4:17]
Yeah. You know, it’s fun. We, you know, we had a month where like, we really didn’t lose any business, we didn’t have any problems. And again, at scale, there’s always something going on. And it’s like one of those like, I even I actually was concerned in a weird way, I shot a note to some of my team, like, we double check all this because this, this is actually kind of surprising, but seems, you know, we’ve spent five and a half years honing in on how we service clients what we do doing good work, you know, attracting really good talent, and it’s getting to that point where it really is objectively good and affordable. So we’ve been able to start to get to a point where it just makes sense.
Gene Hammett [4:53]
Now, I don’t know at what point do you remember when you actually how many employees you had total when you actually formed a formal executive?
Erik Huberman [5:02]
Well, so my one of my first hires, was originally hired as like our head of client communications and like strategy, which again, were seven people who’s the guy talking to our clients. And he became my director of operations and then CEO pretty quickly. So right away, I had a counterpart there. And then basically, we had five different service lines, so to speak, or five different departments, whether it was advertising, lifecycle marketing, content, marketing, creative and strategy. And as those teams built as we needed to hire 2,3,4, we ended up putting someone in charge of that team and so it was organic. And it was just as we had a team of multiple people serving a similar department. We needed someone to oversee it, in terms of senior executives that really started mid last year to this year that we started hiring like true VPS of departments. And we’re trying to, you know, soon finish out basically a five person executive team that can run the company under my partner and And we have three of five of those right now.
Gene Hammett [6:04]
That’s pretty cool. Because you what I heard and all that is that you really valued having leaders at the right places as a company has grown. Yeah, hundred percent. When you think about your team as it is right now, how would you describe your communication level and alignment?
Erik Huberman [6:24]
I guess in what is way communicating with my team?
Gene Hammett [6:27]
Well, just the fact that you know how you guys are communicating with each other? And how aligned Are you toward the big goals that the company has?
Erik Huberman [6:35]
Yeah, I think we’re pretty open about the goals and what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it. And we talk about it a lot. So I don’t think there’s any misconception or doubt as to where we’re trying to take this. I’m very vocal about it and talk to the whole team about it regularly. I think the details and the articulation we can always be better at and developing true okrs per person per department per the company are not necessarily as articulated like the where we want to go is articulated how a lot of people know and a lot of people don’t.
Gene Hammett [7:06]
Okay. And you had mentioned the relationship of the CEO and I think of that is a really critical hire inside of it not that they’re not critical hires but just such an important role for you as you’ve grown the company. Tell us a little bit about what you were looking for before you hired that CEO.
Erik Huberman [7:23]
Oh, yeah, so he built into that he took the role of COO before I gave it to him so to speak, so I wouldn’t say that I went out and sought out a COO and it’s fine so his name’s Tony and people that know how our business runs and know me well continue like all my business under friends always asked me if I can help them find a Tony. Because what he is it’s like we call ourselves union Yang you know, his favorite line is I go make promises he delivers on them. So which is fair in a lot of ways, but I’m basically been able to focus and you know, he’ll say this, like I have a talent for networking, sales, expansion vision, like that side of it, like running through walls. I like to do and I can push the company to grow faster than unnecessarily what under someone else, but he’s the good guy that comes and picks up the scraps that the collateral damage along the way, where it’s like, okay, we’re gonna open New York and I go open New York, but put an office there, hire someone and start sending people out there and he’s the guy that’s like, Okay, how are we communicating and managing these people?
Erik Huberman [8:20]
Like how are we doing with the time difference? How are we doing with like the operation out there, all the details that come in once we’re we actually have it set up, frankly, goes on to his plate, and then he puts it together. That doesn’t mean that we just like separate it and I go, Okay, I’m out later. Thank you. It’s we collaborate on it, but he really takes responsibility on seeing things through and I take responsibility, I’m pushing us forward. And that’s been since the beginning. So I’ve had the ability to continue to work forward and keep pushing. And knowing that I have someone with me that is constantly making sure that once we start something, it’s executed properly, it’s you know, put together properly and then process driven and set up so that it has long term success.
Gene Hammett [9:00]
I want to go into the details of this because I think a lot of companies are still that maybe they haven’t COO, but they haven’t found the alignment that you have with Tony. Yes, people aren’t coming to them going, can I? Can you help me find another Tony? So how did you develop that relationship so that it really did pay off for the company as a whole?
Erik Huberman [9:19]
Yeah, so there’s a few things. One, I had a history with him. I started a music company in 2009, built it for two years. And then he took over for three. So I had left the music company, but he had started something he had continued, and we had stayed in touch the entire time, when I started this and saw the opportunity and invite and asked him to come over. We already had a relationship and a trust that had been built. And then from there it was, you know, every day it’s about being super transparent, open, candid. Having each other’s backs being aligned coming to each other when you do have a problem because I what’s cool is because of how often we communicate, and like I don’t see him that often I’m on the road all the time.
Erik Huberman [9:58]
We’re both busy, but we make sure that We’re keeping each other in the loop so that we’re on the same page. So it’s very, very very very rare that first off we’re not aware of things we need to be and second on both sides and second off that we’re on different pages, we make sure we’re always on the same page and then again, we want the same mission we do think differently and we respect each other. So even if he might do something that I wouldn’t have done it the same way generally, I have a level of trust and I’m like well you probably know something I don’t and a lot of times that is the case so having that high level of trust and benefit of the doubt and then constant communication is really what it takes it’s you know, I would we I had to turn it back because I would just burst into his door like six times a day for three minutes to just let him know what’s going on with some do or something we’re doing and jumped out and he was like okay like there’s a lot of things I’m doing like you got to stop being my Kramer like you got to let me know when you want to give me a quick way before he just burst in on like a one more someone’s pouring their heart out about how they feel about their job.
Erik Huberman [10:57]
So that’s fair because he also kind of acts as Are you House therapist. So, we but it’s a constant, constant constant communications thing. And again, it’s like any relationship where, you know, communication is gonna break down. But if you have mutual respect and trust in each other, then you’re just gonna assume there was a communication breakdown. So, you know, double-checking those things, again, having radical candor calling each other out on their shit, being ready to receive that criticism to like, all those things. And then I’d say the last piece is just like, Tony’s a really sharp guy, and I know he feels the same about me. So aside from just being respectful for the sake of respect, I know we both find each other to be interchangeable in a lot of ways where I don’t think I’m better than him and a lot of things and vice versa.
Erik Huberman [11:40]
We have our pluses and minuses on both sides. But we’re, again, pretty Yin and Yang. So when he does have a different opinion, we talk it out, feel out the Same deal. Like we’re really open to having those conversations and solutions and things that he brings up to me that I would never know based on the way I’ve put me into my own company. problems that we’re dealing with and things that I don’t want to deal with on a daily basis that he has a view on, we can discuss and try to solve together because he also respects my input on it.
Now, hold on for a second, Do you truly want a COO that’s interchangeable with you from a skill set? The answer is probably not. But I think when you really look at it goes beyond just you being able to cover for them while they’re on vacation and vice versa. That the way that the CEO works and the COO works is they have different skill sets, they have a different way of connecting with people. Most of the time, the CEO is the visionary. They’re also the one that is out there, driving revenue and growth. And that’s true with Erik. But your COO will be the one that’s more process-centric, and really tries to organize things and put structure to it puts boundaries. And those are different kinds of skill sets. they approach the problems differently. So there can be some conflict, but it sounds like Erik and Tony have a great working relationship. You want to think about how you and your CEO are working together if you are looking to improve that relationship, get more out of it, and create alignment. I work with teams like that all the time to help them grow as leaders together and help them individually in their roles. So that’s what I do. And I’d love to help you if I can. Back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [13:20]
Let me let me ask you a question on this. Are there any mistakes that you could share with us about how working together with that COO that we could all learn from?
Erik Huberman [13:31]
I’ll call him out on one because I still like to poke fun at it about a year and a half into working together. He sent me an email at about 10 o’clock at night with a list of I think was about 75 things that he thought was wrong with me. And it was just as massive list of everything I was doing wrong as a business partner, as a friend as an employer as whatever and I read it wanted to hit them and then call them and the root of it was actually just a smaller problem, which was like he didn’t feel it.
Erik Huberman [13:58]
Originally. Our deal was actually And we changed it. But instead of coming to me with that, or being candid with me about these things on an ongoing basis, I just got a list of in the past year, here’s all the things you did wrong, like, well, this is fucking helpful. I’ve never heard of this before, like, not what I’m supposed to do with this other than get angry. And so that’s never happened again, because like, Yeah, no problem, we can fix this, like, you gotta like, do something, you got to call me out then. And they’re not like you holding shift. And it’s crazy, I guess. And it doesn’t serve either of us. Like if I don’t know, I’m not going to change, you’re just gonna get more pissed off, like, what’s the point here? So it hasn’t happened again, that was four years ago.
Erik Huberman [14:32]
So I think we’ve been on a pretty good track since but I know that sometimes like I’m a very, I’m the opposite of passive-aggressive, if I have a problem, I go right at the person or right at the problem. And he is a little bit more of a contextual communicator where it’s not just about this is the thing, let’s go. And so still sometimes I know he even tells me he has to remind himself to like when he’s when something triggers him to come to talk to me about it because we are very different people we do still operate differently. And so I will We’ll do things that come off and vice versa. nature of a relationship.
Gene Hammett [15:05]
Are there any uncommon approaches that you guys have taken to create the kind of balance and structure you need to drive the business forward?
Erik Huberman [15:13]
I guess part of the problem is I don’t know what conventional looks like. So I’ve always done this startup thing. But we I mean, I really truly feel like we’ve created each we build each other as interchangeable. So that create I’d say, the one problem that creates it, sometimes people will come to us with the same thing will give different answers, because, you know, there could be two decent answers that are different, and that confuses our employees, but I kind of throw it back at them and go, Why the hell are you asking me if he already gave you an answer, but that’s the one criticism that I we get. Other than that, like, I can jump in and help like we basically get to a roleplay were like right now perfect example. I’m more responsible for the growth of a company and he is he’s more responsible for the service.
Erik Huberman [15:55]
We provide the accounting, HR, we go that side of the office Like the operational side, I tried to take more of a hands-on approach with sales and marketing. But he was as a process-oriented guy, he really doesn’t like that we don’t have a very right traditional book bound sales manual for our salespeople. So he’s creating it over the next two weeks, we have a lot of the data and other content we need for that, but he doesn’t, we don’t actually have the binders. He’s like, I’m gonna go get a binder for our salespeople like great.
Erik Huberman [16:22]
So he’s jumping in and doing that. So it’s that where is the most well, here’s the low hanging fruit of our business at this current point, either of us can jump in and take that on. And a lot of times, I’ll go to him about an operation problem. They’ll be like, Hey, I can funnel this through you or I can just go handle it with the team. He’s like that just go like, you know, one of our teams is operating at a model and we need to like, you know, either increase on sales or sure something’s up and I can go through him and let him go talk to him or I can just go handle it myself. So that interchangeability also I, I want to go on vacation. Totally fine. He wants to go on vacation totally fine because we can cover for each other really well as well.
Gene Hammett [16:57]
But you also say as much as you’ve talked about being interchangeable that he’s probably more process-driven than you are. You’re more kind of fly by the seat of your pants.
Erik Huberman [17:05]
Yeah. I’m very data-driven but not process-driven I hate tedium and mundane. So like, I don’t do a good job of like, Okay, I’m gonna sit down and write a process out I like I’m very, I respect process I like the process for our team like I understand the scalability of it. But if you’re asking me to be the one to create it, that’s a bad idea.
Gene Hammett [17:22]
That’s the reason we have Tony right?
Erik Huberman [17:25]
Right. Hundred percent. He loves it. Like his whole, like, he loves building a great culture, working with people, you know, like his real like satisfaction is working with great people and building something cool. My satisfaction comes from growth and new experiences and ever-changing. So like, I don’t like day today I don’t. And I mean, like the general sense of the word like my job changes all the time. And I love that, you know, he likes seeing like internal improvement and relationship building, which is why it’s such a good complement for our type of business because like when we first started, like when we were dating to basically be more partners, he’s talked a lot about the culture, like cold again, there’s a lot about culture. Now, six years ago, culture was a little bit more like a new buzzword. And we talked about company culture. And I was like, yeah, we have a ping pong table. We’re good, right? He’s like, so here are the core values that we live by. He wrote, not me like there’s been a, like he’s really helped build the way we do things and how we do things. I felt, though, why we do it, I guess is the point.
Let’s pause here for a second. Living that core values, hopefully to you, means that you actually are driving the business forward by keenly looking at those core values in everything you do. And if your employees can make decisions, without you being in the room based on what the core values are, you have a solid set of values that guide the company, and they really provide structure and framework for you to grow the company without you having to make all the decisions. Because everything that you do in business comes down to the key decisions, what clients to say What client? What to charge them? How to serve them? What do we go extra above and beyond? Or do we hold back, all of these big decisions are happening day in and day out? without your knowledge as the CEO or the founders of the company, you want to make sure your people understand the values and they’re living by it, one of the exercises I do is they sit them all down in a room, and we talk about what each of the core values means to them. And if we can get alignment around what those words are really powerful things happen, and allows them to sink together not just take for granted what the core value means. That’s my take here. And now back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [19:40]
You know, you mentioned core values I want to ask you, you know, as a team putting them together, how do you make sure that you’re living by the core values, not just know you put them up on the wall or you had an exercise that you did it, you know, over a week or something? How do you live by it?
Erik Huberman [19:56]
Yeah, great question. And this is taking this straight from him. I give credit where Credits do you create core values you can actually manage to, like we’ve been actually reworking our core values recently and trying to like update them. But the argument, the pushback we constantly get is can you actually hire fire and manage to these core values because if you can, then these are real. And we he especially is very adamant about like, This better not just be shit written on a wall, this has to be stuff that we actually managed to and hold to, and hopefully manages ourselves to hold everyone accountable here and let our people hold each other accountable to these values. If they’re legitimate, we our core values and so the way they’re set up you have to be able to do that if it’s things like we see it all the time because we’ve been using looking at a lot of examples of core values. There’s general statements like we have fun. That’s part of our core value.
Erik Huberman [20:44]
How do you hire someone or manage someone or fire someone because they’re not you’re not having fun that’s it get out like that doesn’t it doesn’t make any sense like and it’s something that actually resonates with me as a principle as something that you want your company like. We have we had a nerf wars The other day where we have all these ridiculous things like this is a fun place to work, you know, see everyone laughing and joking around all the time. But I want it to be fun. But to have that as a core value, you have to find a different way to articulate it that actually allows you to manage through it.
Gene Hammett [21:15]
Yeah, I’m smiling when I say that because the culture is so much more than ping pong tables, right?
Erik Huberman [21:19]
Yeah. No, that’s why I use that example. Because it sincerely I was like, are we gonna startup you have a ping pong table whereby the beach like, there’s a culture, it’s like, No, no, that’s not how this works? Like from him. He was like, he’s gonna run a 10,000 person organization. Like he’s like, no, no. Hold on.
Gene Hammett [21:35]
Well, Eric, I want to go into a little bit of a hard question for you. And I don’t want to surprise you too much. But you know, can you tell me one defining moment that you have had to endure as a leader that really kind of shaped who you are today?
Erik Huberman [21:48]
Yeah, have an easy one actually. So it’s not that hard of a question, because this was a huge lesson for me that will always stick with me and yeah, it’s it’s one that I repeat a lot because It was a good lesson from actually my dad. So it’s a crazy story. But when I first started, we had, you know, five, seven people here at Hawk media and like the main guy that was managing half my clients email me like 3 am on a Monday. So I get in the office, I’m like, wait, what’s this? And it’s like, hey, Eric, long story short, I met a girl on Saturday fell in love asked her where she wanted to grow. She said, why we’re working remotely this week. But okay, so knew the guy was a little emotional when we going in and wasn’t gonna do anything. So I just like I called him a bunch of times, but he’s in Hawaii. So it’s three hours earlier. You’re gonna hold him around noon on Monday. He’s like, Hey, what’s up buddy? Like, Hey, man, like how often in Hawaii but like make sure you handle your stuff like you’re managing for clients, which again was half the business is a month into our business. Like make sure no is it? Yeah, of course. I got it. Don’t worry about everything. Like Okay, great. It was like roll my eyes like Jesus people hung up.
Erik Huberman [22:50]
The next day comes around. All four clients call me furious. They blew off all other calls, how quickly we’re all like, what the hell is your team doing? Again? We’re brand new. So it wasn’t like we had a history with all these people. And they’re freaking out on me because it just paid us and this guy’s blowing them off. He’s not doing their job. So I’m trying to get ahold of them finally do and like, Brian, what the hell like you all your clients are calling me freaking out like what are we going to do like you need to get on top this is going to stop you right there right now the half this is the happiest day of my life. I’m getting married tomorrow, I just need to back off. And on Saturday narrator on Wednesday, will office rocker but I look at who’s now my business partner, Tony and go I don’t really know what we’re gonna do here is like, I’m gonna go find a bunch of tutorials on how to run email marketing because that’s what he was doing for these four people.
Erik Huberman [23:32]
And I’m gonna fix it because Tony’s the guy that likes aced calculus in third grade, so he wouldn’t email marketing over the weekend and was able to build out all these workflows and looked at best practices and did the work so he saved that part. But anyway, I get out of work. I call my dad to tell him the story of like, this guy completely bought off that add on I tell him this whole story that I just told you. And he goes, Oh, yeah, that shit happens all the time. Anyways, I gotta go talk to you later quickly. And I was like, To me, it was like I might lose half my day. As opposed to a guy, he’s an entrepreneur, too that’s been doing this for 45 years. He’s like, yeah, that’s fucking normal. It’s always a fire, right? Talk to you later. And so it’s the biggest lesson, the biggest thing that I continue to have to overcome is understanding that like, every single day, as a business owner, you’re going to be dealing with bullshit or some sort of fire. That’s your job. If it wasn’t a problem, it wouldn’t come to you. If everything’s handled and everything status quo and everything’s good and doing exactly what it should, you can go retire, you can go chill on a beach, that’s not how your job works. There’s always a problem, assuming you’re pushing, there are businesses out there that they just want to maintain and they just want to hang out every day and like that exists.
Erik Huberman [24:35]
But if you’re trying to build something and create something and push and break boundaries, it is always going to be on fire and getting used to that and understanding that that’s what you signed up for has been like the biggest thing that we continue my partner and I Tony to talk about and remind ourselves as I went to all the trade wars started happening with China when I walked in and I think about Tim Cook and dealing with geopolitical climates as part of your day to day running a business like the biggest company in the world. He’s dealing with crap every day that has nothing to do with what he did. It’s all to do with politics. And he has to deal with it though and that it just never goes away and understanding that was important.
Gene Hammett [25:10]
Well, I appreciate you being here at grow think tank and sharing your wisdom. Tell us where the audience can find more about Hawke Media.
Erik Huberman [25:17]
Yeah, HawkeMedia.com. And I’m easy to contact here. It’s just out or slashes Erik Huberman on every social media channel.
Gene Hammett [25:27]
Fantastic. Thanks for being here.
Erik Huberman [25:29]
Thanks for having me.
Gene Hammett [25:30]
Wow, what a powerful interview, I really appreciate some that the depth that we were able to get to, you know, he’s so excited about this relationship with a CEO, Tony, that he just goes on and on and on. So hopefully you find that valuable. I really love the fact that he talks about the importance of transparency and radical candor, and the mistake that he shared about, you know, where he had missed this opportunity to really build that relationship, but he was able to correct that. So that was a really great piece of this interview. Well, hopefully, you’re enjoying this as much as I’m enjoying creating it for you and you’re getting as much as it is, I think you should be. Hopefully, you’re applying the messages. And if you could really take a moment to find and think of one person that would appreciate these messages about growth, then make sure you refer them to grow Think Tank comm you can pick a specific episode and tell them exactly what you like about it. But we’re not looking to get to grow for vanity’s sake. But we want the right people tuning in so that they can become better leaders and they can grow the companies fast like they want to. All right, that’s my take here on the show. As always lead with courage and I’ll see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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