A Day in the Life of Ryan Durkin

For a recent class assignment, I interviewed Ryan Durkin, the COO of CampusLive, a marketing company that focuses on engaging college students with brands through fun online games and challenges that give the students opportunities to win cool prizes. Ryan is a 2008 graduate of UMass Amherst and also serves as an Administrator for the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund. At CampusLive, Ryan is responsible for a 25 person team, overseeing spending of over $3.1M in venture capital funding and is passionate about being an operator.

Ryan’s days are busy to say the least. He gets to the office at 9am, fires off some emails and jumps right into finances. He checks in on cash flow, how much cash is in the bank, ensures receivables are paid off to keep CampusLive’s customers and vendors are happy. His focus on financials is not to do book keeping but more to quickly identify problems early as opposed to finding a cash shortage at the end of the month when closing the books. If he does detect something of concern, he can immediately alert the proper stakeholder so they can take action accordingly.

From there, Ryan moves to sending a daily email to the entire team updating them on key performance metrics for their product. It includes growth rates, user engagement and multiple internal stats for the business. Ryan considers that consistent communication and transparency a crucial aspect of his management style. He sees ensuring that KPIs are in check is a primary role for any operator.

Next, Ryan shifts focus to legal, accounting and general administration tasks. This includes creating offer letters for new hires, reviewing stock option grants, etc. While it isn’t the most glamorous of his responsibilities, he is confident that one can learn a ton from dealing with these administrative tasks. Once he finishes those up, Ryan spends the rest of his day in random meetings with his team. He might get pulled in to advise the marketing folks or sit in on usability studies with customers. He also spends time speaking to potential new teammates at networking events in Boston: he is constantly recruiting.

Management Challenges

While Ryan’s job is fun and fulfilling, it isn’t always easy. He faces constant challenges that he must overcome in order to continue to be a successful manager and learn and grow.

1. Getting the product right

In order for CampusLive to sustain its growth and continue to expand its revenue, the product must appeal to each unique consumer group based on their interests (men interested in sports, women interested in music, etc). This provides an exciting challenge to the company’s engineering team that keeps them motivated and passionate about coming to the office everyday – they know they will be faced with challenging problems to solve.

2. Hiring technical talent

As a technology-driven company with a web-based product, Ryan is constantly on the hunt for top-notch developers to join the team. He is tasked with creating a world class company culture that is a prime environment for developers to be happy. He recommends making that environment be focused on problem solving and seeking developers that also have strong business acumen and comfort speaking. Ultimately, Ryan looks for developers that he can sit down and have a conversation with and be comfortable talking to.

3. Finding the right mentors and board of directors

Ryan relies on a network of mentors and advisors to get advice, introductions and assistance from for his business. Finding great mentors, appointing investors to the company’s Board of directors and appropriately engaging with all of them can be challenging but rewarding when done successfully.

4. Figuring out when to communicate with team members

When a company is small, it might be feasible for the COO to sit down with every member of the team once a week and check in, ensure they have everything they need to succeed and that they are happy in their role. As a company gets larger, it becomes much more difficult to do that. Additionally, a management structure and hierarchy starts to form where marketing associates might take detailed questions to the VP of Marketing instead of Ryan as the COO.

Putting faith in VP level management and consulting with them as opposed to everyone in the team directly can be challenging, but a necessity as the venture grows. Being willing to encourage teammates to speak to their managers directly and not handling every detail is a tough call for a manager like Ryan. He consistently delegates responsibilities to his VPs so he can focus on more of the big picture operations responsibilities.

Characteristics of Great Managers from Ryan’s Perspective

  • Finding success and drive in productivity – passionate about building and executing
  • Good managers live for other people – they want to see their team succeed
  • Ability to look at their team’s skills and match them with mentors to build up those skills
  • Communicating clearly and transparently
  • Providing feedback in the form of appreciation, praise and suggestions for improvement
  • Setting specific goals that are measurable and realistic
  • Introducing teammates to the right people to advance their lives
  • Keep people happy and reduce turnover… making a new hire can cost $20,000+

Key Abilities to focus on to be a great manager and COO

Ryan recommends that an operator should have a solid understanding of numbers and business models. They need to understand implications of adjustments in the business cycle – if we increase our marketing spend, how does that affect the month’s cash flow?

He also stressed the importance of someone’s likability. One can be good at managing, but if people don’t like them or they are simply an asshole, others will not be interested in being led by that manager. Managers must have their people gravitate towards them and give off a constant vibe that they truly care about their people, following the mantra that “if I can help you, the rest of it will work out.” This means that Ryan meets many candidates that might not be the right fit for CampusLive, he will still introduce them to another start-up.

Finally, Ryan is a big believer in having a deep understanding of each of the people on his team and their needs. Some might need to be checked in with once a month, versus others who need help daily. Understanding the right allocation of time and resources for each of his teammates keeps everyone on the team happy, motivated and working hard to build something great at CampusLive. 

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