We really enjoyed speaking with Paul Herdemian, CEO & Founder of Nine16 that provides coaching, advisory & consulting services.
Formerly, Paul was CFO/CCO at JustPark, SVP Revenue & Operations at Songkick, VP Finance & Operations at Crowdsurge, and a Director of Finance & Operations at Pure Growth Partners.
We'll be exploring what his operations career path was like and get very inspired by his lessons learnt along the way.
Paul, tell us about your career path - how did you get to be where you are today?
I started my career in public accounting as an auditor with PwC working closely with middle-market growth companies across various industries, spanning retail, wholesale, and manufacturing. I was fortunate to work with a wide range of clients across the US over a short period, drilling into the inner workings of each business and taking on increasing levels of responsibility.
I loved it. The clients, the competitive culture working alongside incredibly intelligent colleagues, and having access to an incredible amount of resources. However, after receiving a promotion, I took a solo road trip around the Southwest US. Upon reflection, I realised that the career path I envisioned as a fresh college graduate with a specific destination was no longer attractive. My definition of fulfilment had changed. I wanted a career journey that allowed for many different types of experiences.
"Upon reflection, I realised that the career path I envisioned as a fresh college graduate with a specific destination was no longer attractive. My definition of fulfilment had changed. I wanted a career journey that allowed for many different types of experiences."
A few months later, I joined a mid-size financial service firm, Jefferies Financial Group. I chose a mid-size firm because I liked the picture that was painted for me that included ideas of a flat structure with exposure to the C-suite and lots of opportunities to add value in building processes and controls to facilitate scale. Thinking back...wow. What a mess. It was great and exactly what I needed. It was a sink-or-swim environment that contrasted everything I had known so far in my career. I got stuck in, adapted, and put in the work. The next six years were spent between London and New York, supporting Jefferies scale to become a leading financial services Company.
I learned the industry and what it takes to scale a global business across a variety of functions. One of my proudest accomplishments was playing an instrumental role in building the infrastructure to scale the Company’s international footprint from 0.05% to 15% of the Firm’s revenues over a three year period that coincided with the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Towards the end of 2011, the rate of change began to slow, and my interest started fading. I reflected on my career and decided it was time to go. I wanted to leverage my experiences and invest my energy into the world of startups, building and scaling something from the ground up.
The journey began with a startup VC’s first portfolio company, a consumer product business. It was my first taste of the power that you can find in failure. Rising from the Head of Finance to General Manager over the year that the business spiralled. Looking back, I learned so much in a short period, but it nearly destroyed me.
"It was my first taste of the power that you can find in failure. Rising from the Head of Finance to General Manager over the year that the business spiralled. Looking back, I learned so much in a short period, but it nearly destroyed me."
After taking some time off to travel, I set off on my next project. It was an artist presale ticketing company called CrowdSurge as they were closing their Series A funding round just after a management restructure. I spent the following two years helping scale the business infrastructure globally across finance and operations to support 10x sales growth.
A merger with Songkick followed, where as an executive team member, I spent significant effort helping the business navigate the merger. I continued to work with the company through an exit, which was via the settlement of a lawsuit with Ticketmaster and the sale of one of its main businesses to Warner Music. This was another great experience. It was a lot of hard work with loads of complex challenges to overcome, but I learned loads about the music industry, worked with great people, developed my leadership skills, and had some fun.
But after all this, I found myself mentally exhausted and felt I had lost control of who I was and what I wanted in my career. Upon reflection, I identified that some of the most rewarding moments in my career were in helping others achieve unthinkable results. I didn’t know what that was but had heard a lot about coaching and was curious. I decided to invest in myself and enrolled in a coaching training program with the Co-active Training Institute. It exceeded my expectations and transformed my outlook on many things, not just in work but in life. I didn’t want to become a life coach, but I felt there was a way to leverage my learnings to help businesses grow and started providing executing coaching services.
"...some of the most rewarding moments in my career were in helping others achieve unthinkable results."
During this time, I also set up a company to explore a portfolio career. I started by tapping my network to find projects and put the rest of my energy into networking. It was slow to start, but it’s been four years now. I’ve had the opportunity to advise, consult, and coach growth companies on business transformation, organisational development, fundraising, strategy, commercial decision-making, and bridging the gap between people and process, and technology. I’ve worked with some great companies and even jumped back into an operational role with JustPark for about a year and a half, serving as CFO and Chief Commercial Officer.
The journey continues...
"I’ve had the opportunity to advise, consult, and coach growth companies on business transformation, organisational development, fundraising, strategy, commercial decision-making, and bridging the gap between people and process, and technology."
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned in your operations career?
So...when I first started my company, I decided it would be a good idea to put together some content that I could post online and get myself out there. I filmed some videos and am cringing watching this right now, but I believe these lessons are relevant. The video was my top 10 tips for succeeding in a startup but can be helpful to succeed in any size business. You can watch it here.
1. Sense of urgency.
The status quo is not acceptable. That doesn't mean you need to run around like a maniac with your hair on fire. You need to accomplish the most important things NOW. Delivery is everything, and certain things will not be able to wait a day or two.
2. Treat the business like it's your own.
- Show passion and enthusiasm.
- Treat your customers and clients like gold.
- Take care of your people - treat them like family.
- Deliver more than expected.
- Roll up your sleeves whenever necessary.
- Get focused on cash flow and spend like it’s your own money.
- Think ahead, see the big picture.
- You need to believe in the company and embrace the culture 110%.
Nobody likes being ignored. Be proactive rather than reactive. It defines your personal brand.
4. The ability to stand up and be heard.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and communicate with anyone across the organisation. You’ll have the luxury of working in a small environment. There is no time for silos or the chance of things getting lost in translation.
5. Winning attitude.
- Believe in yourself and the company.
- See every challenge as an opportunity.
- Bring your best self every day.
- Refuse to lose - celebrate the wins and learn from the failures.
6. Keep it simple.
It’s smart to keep things simple, but it’s easy to overcomplicate. Find time for what matters.
Things will never be perfect. The business environment and plan will constantly be in flux. You need to be able to adapt quickly.
8. Take a deep breath.
It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos. Take a step back from time to time.
Get better and better. Continuously improve.
10. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
Everyone makes mistakes. It will happen. Learn from them and move on.
What resources have inspired you and helped you to develop professionally during your operations career?
There are many but I’d say the most impactful would be:
Networking. I think many people undervalue this. It’s helped me in many ways beyond just meeting interesting people that I can help or help me somehow. I use it as a tool to learn about different industries and professions. I also use it to develop my active listening and storytelling skills.
Audible membership. This is by far one of my best investments in personal development. I find that listening to books while I’m on the move helps with retention and there is some accountability in receiving a free credit each month.
Podcasts. There are so many good ones out there. I enjoy listening to interviews. I’m always discovering new ways to think about challenges or learning about industries or trends.
Coaching and mentoring. These are two different things from my perspective, but I find both have high impact and reward. I can learn a lot about myself and bring value to others.
Family. It’s my backbone and compass that has continuously helped shape my perspective on so many different levels.
What do you think are some of the most useful skills to have as a Business Operations professional?
Some of the most valuable skills would include:
Communication. You’ll need to clarify what you want to accomplish, express the why behind an initiative and provide the necessary support to individual stakeholders. This also includes taking the time to understand people involved at all levels of the organisation. You can’t just create one message for the entire organisation. Different messages at different frequencies will be essential.
Strategic thinking. You’ve got to have the ability to understand how the dots connect across an organisation and turn strategy into practice.
Active listening. Communication is a two-way process. To make sure any initiative takes effect and meets your goals, employees will need the chance to weigh in and be heard.
Research. If you don’t have direct experience, you’ll need to learn from the knowledge and experience of others. You’ll also need the ability to dive into your company’s data to fully understand the current state of play and ensure you are focusing on the right things.
Leadership. You’ve got to be great at managing and motivating people effectively that don’t report directly to you. It will require building trust and showing you care what they’re thinking and feeling. Every team member involved needs to feel a part of the project.
Measurement and analysis. You need to make sure you can measure progress and that any initiative you’ve invested in has accomplished the intended result.
If someone wanted to learn how to be a great Business Operations professional, what advice would you give them?
See above and...
You’ve got to be teachable. Even if you think others are wrong you need to make an effort to listen and try to learn something.
You need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You need obstacles to grow. Continuously seek out these types of opportunities.
What's next for you?
I plan to continue executive coaching and project work with growing businesses whilst settling into life with my family in Lyon, France. I’m also exploring opportunities in education, investing and the caregiving industry.