Startups now chasing chief business officers to scale up


BENGALURU: There is a new leadership profile in demand: chief business officers. If headhunters and venture capitalists are to be believed, startups are now hiring more CBOs than chief operating officers and chief marketing officers, and they predict 40-50% increase in hiring for this relatively new role across startups.

So, what does a CBO do? In the case of a new-age company that has reached a critical mass in terms of users or customers and has raised funds for future expansion, a CBO helps it to scale up to the next level and boost revenue growth alongside the COO and CMO, experts said. Essentially, the role denotes a growth hacker who works towards profitability and ensures a startup realises its full potential and committed projections.

“A CBO’s role is to make the business more successful,” said Sanjay Swamy, managing partner of early-stage venture fund Prime Venture Partners.

Leadership hiring firms like Michael Page, Catenon, and Fidius Advisory report an increase in mandates for CBOs, with compensation for this role ranging from Rs 1-2 crore plus stock options.

Companies that have recently appointed chief business officers include Nykaa and Shuttl. Last week, skincare brand Bombay Shaving Company announced the appointment of Deepak Gupta, who was with Colgate-Palmolive, as its CBO.

A CBO is also responsible for formulating go-to market strategy, improving key metrics, and acquiring new customers, experts told ET. They often work alongside COOs and CMOs in assisting marketing and sales initiatives.

“On the B2C side, the expectation from potential candidates is to have the ability to lead teams across sales, offline marketing and digital marketing teams with some familiarity of underlying business domain,” said Anuj Roy, managing partner at Fidius Advisory.

Fidius has seen 30-40% uptick in CBO mandates since last year, and is working with fintech, edtech and SaaS companies for these roles, he said.

K Sudarshan, managing director at EMA Partners, said, “It is just the nomenclature and typically the CBOs are senior executives who can prepare the startups for quick growth and scale-up with a clear focus on revenues as more investors come onboard.” He pointed out that startup founders typically have a technology background; hence they bring in people with sales and distribution experience to help scale up.

So, where do they find CBOs? Online companies in a similar or adjacent space have become hunting grounds for this talent, people familiar with the matter said. Business heads are also being sourced from companies in the offline space operating in the same domain.

Many experienced professionals at established companies and MNCs are now open to evaluating opportunities with startups as they offer an accelerated career path, good financial upside, intellectually stimulating work and a fast-paced environment, said Shivani Desai, associate director at Michael Page India.

“While at a growth stage, startups can afford to experiment, learn from mistakes and pivot their strategies if required, once they grow in size and scale, such experimentation may prove costly for them; they want to lean on someone who has been through the experience themselves,” she told ET.

Michael Page is working on 6-7 mandates for the role of CBO, almost double the number it was working on a year ago. The interest is mainly coming from well-funded startups with an employee headcount of more than 1,000, Desai said.

Catenon, too, has seen the number of mandates for CBOs double year on year to six now. “A massive uptick in funding through the last year and this year has primed many startups for the next wave of growth,” said Gaurav Chattur, managing director at Catenon. “They are looking for leaders who have experience in rapid scaling in B2B/B2C scenarios, and bringing in substantial revenue from international markets, especially the US, in case of B2B startups.”