Jack Rode

Scaling Mr Yum as hospitality’s #1 growth engine.
Chief of Staff, CEO
@
Mr Yum

How did you get here?

My interest in business and entrepreneurship started well before my time at Mr Yum. Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I was always curious about creating something out of nothing. I would always follow my cousins around to their sales and business meetings to get a taste of what it was like. During uni I became involved in the startup ecosystem in Melbourne and ended up interning at a VC firm and a startup which gave me great exposure to the industry.

In my first year of work I wanted to optimise for learning. I felt that larger corporates would give me a more structured path to develop my core skills. That’s what led me to join PwC, where I stayed for almost 2 years in the Technology Consulting team.

I had a great stint at PwC, learnt a tonne and met some lifelong friends and mentors. My time there set me up perfectly for my role at Mr Yum.

Whilst working at PwC, I couldn’t shake the entrepreneurship itch. My best mate from work and I would always be trying to launch side hustle projects, but I found it really difficult due to the long hours. I was keen to take a 6 month leave of absence to try and start something with an empty calendar, but COVID hit and everything became a bit more uncertain. Instead I decided to look for a startup job.

What options were you considering?

What I realised at this time in my life was that technical skills and IQ aren’t great predictors of success in entrepreneurship. The ingredients to success lean more towards boldness, grit and other behavioural attributes. I wanted more exposure to leaders that have carved their own path, so I could figure out how they think and run their businesses. I explored roles in strategy and product management, but ultimately I found the Chief of Staff role would give me the best exposure to founders.

After chatting with different founders and operators in the startup community, I ended up taking a role with Mr Yum. I had pitched the role of a Chief of Staff to Kim (CEO), however the business wasn’t quite ready yet - so I joined as our first Strategy analyst for a year before making the transition.

How did you make the decision to take your current role?

In the end it was actually pretty easy. The opportunity just felt right.

I had a couple of criteria which this role at Mr Yum hit –

  1. Great people
  2. A consumer facing product
  3. A seed stage company so that I could learn and grow fast

What are you doing now?

I’m currently the Chief of Staff to the CEO at Mr Yum. Given the business had ~30 people when I joined and is now at 220+, my role has completely evolved.

I view the role of the CEO in 3 parts:

  1. Set and evangelise the vision of the company
  2. Mobilise resources to deliver on this vision (money, people etc.)
  3. Empower the team to deliver the vision.

My role as Chief of Staff to Kim (our CEO), is basically to support her in achieving the three responsibilities above.

This manifests in a few key areas:

  1. Scoping and delivering projects
    I try to maintain a lot of focus on what Kim needs to deliver as a CEO, usually from a commercial perspective. With this in mind, I work closely with our strategy and ops team to scope projects, ensure they are aligned to our company objectives and are on track for success.

  2. Acting as a conduit between the team and CEO.
    A difference in opinion is always down to a difference in perspective. My job here is to broaden perspectives across teams and allow information to flow up and down with the least amount of friction. The result is more buy-in to our direction as a team and higher quality/faster decision-making.

  3. Acting as a confidant and advisor for our CEO.
    The job of CEO is extremely draining both emotionally and mentally. You are the last port of call for the toughest decisions, and there is a constant principal-agent problem that manifests. One value add of having a chief of staff is being able to talk through challenges, thoughts, decisions etc. in a safe space. My job here is to help Kim cut through the noise in decision making and reduce cognitive load.

What does your day to day look like?

At the start of the week, Kim and I will have a one-on-one in which she gives me a download of what is on her mind, and I’ll do the same. From this I often scope new ideas and projects, which we then fit into our backlog if it’s important enough.

Day to day after that, my role is to work through the projects, as well as some BAU (such as running executive meetings). For some, I’ll scope up the project and hand it over to the relevant team; others I’ll run end-to-end.

A cool part of my role is being able to take on some of Kim’s moonshot ideas, when the rest of the team are at capacity. I have very little BAU so I can make time for this.

On top of these daily activities, we run executive and team events once every few months. I use these as an opportunity to create better alignment and connection across the company so that we are moving in the same direction together.

What do you love about your job?

  1. The team
    The best part about my job is the team at Mr Yum. We have a lot of fun working together and hanging out generally. The team culture and connection is second to none. Working closely with the founders is also a major plus, it’s inspiring to be in the room bashing around big ideas to take us to the next level.

  2. Broad scope
    Chief of staff has probably the broadest role scope, second to the founders. I am across multiple functions and regions which gives me a tonne of variety. I get bored very easily working on the same thing, this broad scope keeps me engaged.

  3. Autonomy and flexibility
    At Mr Yum we take the approach of ‘hire great people and get out of their way’. This gives me a huge amount of autonomy in what I work on and flexibility in how/when I deliver it. Kim usually asks me to work on a couple of things but I’d say that I end up scoping 80% of my own workload. No one cares when you log on / off, as long as the job gets done.

What do you not love about your job?

If we’re looking at the regular profile of a Chief of Staff role, it typically comes with a lot of “organisational” responsibility in terms of managing emails, calendars, organising offsites and facilitating workshops. There is also a bunch of work relating to internal comms / people and culture. This year I’ve realised that this kind of work does not excite me and I’m not the best person to deliver it. We’re a big believer in pushing people towards their ‘Zone of Genius’ at Mr Yum. Taking this principle on, Kim and I have worked together this year to distribute a lot of these responsibilities to others so that I can focus on what excites me and can make the most impact to the business.

What advice would you give someone deciding what they should do?

If you’re thinking about transitioning to a startup and don’t know if it’s the right time to leave consulting, I can tell you that the levelling in consulting doesn’t matter too much. The difference between Consultant, Senior Consultant, Manager etc. is negligible because it’s not transferable to a 30-50 person company that likely only has a handful of people in each department. Don’t wait for your next promotion, just make the leap.

If you have no idea on your next step, I’d do a pretty serious audit into what really excites you. What do you spend time doing on the weekends? How can you bring more of this into your work?

Second step would be to speak to a bunch of people in roles that you are interested in. The startup community is very open to having a chat and the best way to get in is through building your network. One hack here is to chat to people that are in the role, but also people who have transitioned out of the role. People often don’t like to admit they hate their jobs, until they have moved on - so you can get some real insights here into the pros and cons.

When going for new roles I have this rule to send 1 Linkedin message to a new person per day. Assuming a hit rate of 10%, that would mean you’ve gotten to know ten people over 100 days. Those 10 help connect you with more people and it avalanches from there! Some of the best startup roles aren’t even advertised (including mine), connecting with the community can lead you to so many opportunities - there is a lot of upside in doing this. Before engaging in any of these catch ups, I would also have a clear hypothesis/question and reason for reaching out e.g. “I am looking to transition into a Chief of Staff Role. I have read that the day-to-day looks like X (hypothesis), and would like to chat to you about how this matches up with your current role (reason for reaching out)”.

Last piece of advice is to not pick another stepping stone as your next job. Lots of us who start in consulting do so to optimise for optionality. It’s liberating to move into a role because you actually want to do it, instead of trying to set you up for the ‘next thing’.

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