Ep. 29 – Fatherly COO, Michael Wertheim

Today we live in an environment where a being a mom is given the importance in our society. How about dad? Doesn’t being a dad need to be empowered just because he is a man? Nowadays, gen X and millennial dads are increasingly involved in their kids’ lives, if not equal partners with moms in raising their children. Michael Wertheim, COO of Fatherly, shares how they have created the concept behind Fatherly and how they have dramatically grown their audience and digital platform. Fatherly is a media company for dads that provides parenting advice covering a wide range of topics about raising children – from mindset to gear, and more.


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Fatherly COO, Michael Wertheim

Michael Wertheim is a leader in the digital media with more than fifteen years of experience driving rapid growth and monetization at digital media businesses. Wertheim is the COO of Fatherly, a media company for dads. Michael’s previous experience includes being the general manager of Entertainment Weekly, digital and head of audience development and business development and strategy for Upworthy. Prior to joining Fatherly, he was a consultant for dozens of media companies including National Geographic, New York Media and the New York Times. Michael has a BA from Harvard University and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Michael, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me.

Was school easy for you or did you have to work at it?

I had to work at it. I definitely was one of those people who have to work at it, in business schools especially. A lot of people say business school is easy, but a lot of those people are people who came from consulting or investment banking backgrounds. I came from an entrepreneurial background and hadn’t had any experience in finance or accounting or all of that. It was a lot of hard work for me.

You went to two spectacular schools as well. What do you think you pulled with you not only from the business learnings and the scholastic side? Was there anything culturally that you pulled from either of those two schools that you bring with you into the business world?

With Harvard, it was the first time that I was ever exposed to the business world. My father was a city employee. He worked for the Board of Elections. My mother was a school nurse. Being clenched into this world whereby a lot of people came from backgrounds where their parents were in business. All of the recruiting was either business-focused or going to law school or going to med school, everything was very professionally focused. That changed the way I looked at things and I have no idea that business was even an option until I went to Harvard. When I was there, I worked at Harvard Business School as an undergrad in their alumni office.

I learned a lot about business school at that point in time and thought, “Maybe this is something I want to do.” Going to Harvard whet the appetite. Stanford was a very different experience. Despite the fact that it was the business school, it was a very touchy-feely experience in a lot of ways. It was a smaller class of 365 people. Everyone got to know each other very well. It was very focused on organizational behavior and learning about yourself and the social side of things on top of the rigorous analytical side of things. I learned the value of developing relationships and learning about how to take feedback from people, how to give feedback to people and how you come across differently to different people. A lot of the very introspective experience.

Did it raise your bar at all? I went to a university that accepted me. I applied to three and I got into two. I barely went to the one that seemed fun. I went to a very average school and average university in Canada and I was surrounded by a lot of very average students. I would imagine that being at Harvard and being at Stanford, everybody was top of the class. There was nobody that was average there. Did that raise your bar at all? Did that change your perspective at all on what was available to hire, to work with, to surround yourself with?

It had to. I love being around smart people. I love being around creative, entrepreneurial, intelligent people. That being said, I’ve found since graduation, especially graduating from business school, that doesn’t necessarily correlate with where you went to school. I’ve met plenty of the most challenging and most intelligent people who didn’t go to college or did what you say you did in the college you’re accepted to. It definitely raises my bar for wanting to work with smart people and being able to sniff that out very quickly. It didn’t make me look to work with the kinds of people that I necessarily went to school with. Working with all people like that would not be conducive to running most organizations. A lot of chiefs are not as many Indians.

There seems to have been people commenting outwardly that they may be or almost discriminating against MBAs. They’re almost turning against the classic educational background versus the experience of hard knocks. Any thoughts around that at all?

I understand it. I look skeptically at MBAs when they apply for positions. If I were a consultant, if I were an investment banker or private equity, certain fields where MBAs thrive and are necessary is one thing. Being in the industry, being in media, being in a startup, I always think, “Is this somebody who’s going to roll their sleeves up and get dirty?” I don’t know that all of my classmates were like that. I wouldn’t necessarily always look at an MBA as the best thing in the world if you want to go into certain fields. I think you need to have a certain personality that accompanies your experience. If you can put both together, then that’s phenomenal. I’ve hired some amazing MBAs. I’m usually skeptical when I’m actually interviewing an MBA.

I haven’t hired that many over the years, I don’t even know if I’m skeptical other than guarded a little bit. I want to go into what you talked about with rolling up your sleeves. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what Fatherly is, how the brand has been built and what the company exists for so we actually understand that?

Fatherly’s mission is to empower men to raise great kids and lead fulfilling adult lives. There are tons of media companies for moms. There’s Scary Mommy, CafeMom, The Bump and What to Expect. There are dozens and our founders recognize that there was nothing out there specifically for dads. That the content spoke directly at moms, yet in Gen X and Millennial generations, fathers were increasingly involved in their kids’ lives, if not as equal partners in raising their children. The founders thought let’s found something for them that there’s a white space in the marketplace. It was interesting. There were a lot of investors who said no when they went and to raise money because they didn’t think that men were going to be interested in parenting content. A lot of people thinking about the way children used to be raised. That dad was dragged along, but he didn’t care that much. There were a lot of skeptical investors. Luckily, a few you saw the possibilities and said yes. The company was founded a few years ago and we’ve grown pretty dramatically. We were about five and a half million unique visitors per month at this point and reaching even more than that through social media.

It is absolutely on trend. I remember my first child was born a few years ago. I wanted to be involved, but I didn’t understand how to be involved. I didn’t have a peer group of other dads who were actively involved. We were walking our kid to the park and changing diapers, but we were confused. All we had was What To Expect When You’re Expecting and that whole series of books and some random stuff that our wives would have handed to us that didn’t seem targeted at all. How did you get involved in the business? What did you see that grabbed you to not only get involved in the movement but in the business itself?

I got involved early on when it was a concept. I got involved about a few years ago. I knew both of the founders and they asked me to be an advisor and help them with this idea that they had at that time. I remember they were smart. They found an organization called the 92nd Street Y, which is on the upper east side of Manhattan. They asked them if they could access and send emails out to their list of parents to try this out and see if they were responsive to it. I watched and advised them every step of the way and saw the early successes and believed in the potential of this business. I was jealous because I wanted to be a part of the business, but they were two founders at the time and I needed to take a salary. They didn’t need someone of my level. I watched from afar. I met with them on a monthly basis and watched the company grow. I joined on a consulting basis helping them to start building more of the team when they realized we need a COO. I was fortunate enough to be very familiar with the business when I joined it full time and knew how well it was doing and believed in the CEO specifically.

That’s very similar to how I ended up joining 1-800-GOT-JUNK? years ago. Brian, the founder, had asked me to coach him and help him out a little bit. I started giving them some free advice and hang out with him and giving him more free advice. He asked if I would do some consulting and I was billing him by the hour. I remember flying all over the place and I was working and he got a couple of invoices. He’s like, “This is insane. You’re billing me 100 hours a week. Can you prove it?” I started showing him the hours. He goes, “You’re a workaholic.” I’m like, “Yes, I like this and it’s fun and you need me.” He goes, “I can’t afford to pay by the hour anymore. Let’s bring you on this full time.” That was the beginning of the end where we started to scale it up. Brian saw because of the time that I invested in the relationship that we have, there was a huge amount of trust built. Is that what the founders saw and you as well, the trust was already there. Was it implicit?

The trust was there and the working styles were complimentary. They knew that I got it. Also, they were able to test me with the early employees. I work closely with fifteen or so employees who were here. They got very positive reactions from them and knew that bringing me on would be a good cultural fit.

SIC 29 | Fatherly

Fatherly: Fatherly’s mission is to empower men to raise great kids and lead fulfilling adult lives.


The early employees were around you as well then. They almost got to interview you just because you were around the business before you even started. I was reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It talked about how hard it is to often bring in senior talent into an early stage company. That’s one of the core things they talk about is how to get the employees indoctrinated or warmed up to you. What skills did you bring into the business then? You’d been around the digital space for a long time. What parts of the business do you run and what parts do the two founders run now?

I would say number one would be audience growth. I worked with all the companies that you sighted and more on audience growth strategies. I took Entertainment Weekly from two million unique visitors a month to eleven million. I took Upworthy up to about 85 million uniques. My biggest strength spikes on marketing. My second biggest strength spikes in people management and people development. Those are the two things that I brought to the table the most. I had been a general manager in the past, I had purview over all the different functions in the past. Those are the skills I would say.

What parts of the business did they run and what parts do you oversee then? It’s interesting when you’re the second in command, Harvard wrote an article many years ago called The Misunderstood Role of the COO. It talked about the seven distinct types of chief operating officers. Some COOs operate and they oversee engineering. Others oversee IT while others run away from IT or run away from finance. What areas are reporting to you and what areas are still reporting to the founders?

I was thrilled when I found that article. I thought that was a great article. I shared it with our CEO. It made me feel better about myself. I’m playing an interesting role here, which would be very different if I went to a different organization because of the strengths of the founders. I’ve managed sales in multiple places before, but the CEO is a sales-person through and through. He’s one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met in my life. He headed up sales for Thrillist, which is a men’s publication and is now a part of Group Nine for years before he came here. He heads up sales and sales marketing and PR. Those are his core functions. He also likes the finance side of things. He heads the finance. His co-founder was overseeing the editorial functions, but I had a lot more experience with editorial. I took over editorial and video, in addition to audience development, which is what we call marketing and the media space, products, technology, and human resources.

What are they left with now then?

The CEO is left with sales, marketing, finance, and PR. The other founder left the company, which was partially his desire to do new things and partially the fact that the roles got very crowded at the top. A lot of the things that he was doing initially were things that I came in to take over, which he knew was going to happen.

A lot of your strength and background is in the marketing space as well. The CEO oversees marketing, but you’ve got some huge subject matter expertise there. Is there any friction caused there at all?

He oversees sales marketing, coming up with ideas for salespeople. I oversee consumer marketing. While I am strong in both areas, it’s the consumer marketing that gets me going.

One of the things I try to understand, and we talk about this a lot at the COO Alliance, is we started the only network of its kind in the world for the second in command and a place for the COOs to learn from each other. One of the things we try to figure out there is how do we get the COO to get on the same page as the CEO when it comes to vision and strategy? How do we get the CEO to sign off on the plans and the way that we’re going to grow the company that the COO puts in place? How do you guys get on the same page when it comes to vision and planning?

Constant communication. We do a daily stand-up for half hour. It’s not so much of a stand-up if you’ve got a half hour and reduce it. Once a week we have a more in-depth meeting on planning. Once a quarter we take a weekend and spend a bunch of time together and talk about more strategic issues and strategic planning. The best way I would say is constant communication.

You and he are doing the daily stand-up or is that you with the team as well?

I do the stand-ups with certain parts of my team, but he and I do one-on-one daily stand up for half hour.

Can you walk us through that? That’s powerful. Is it you that wants that or him or both? Tell us how it works. What’s the agenda look like?

I would say it’s both. It’s very much in his nature to do a daily stand-up, but very quickly it was something that I wanted. I wanted to get as knowledgeable about the business as quickly as possible. We’re also going in different directions on this the entire day and we need to catch up and then sync up about what’s going on. We put together an agenda over the course of the day. We have a Google Doc that we throw ideas into. Things that we’re thinking about, things that have happened, meetings that we’ve had, and then we usually go through that agenda.

Instead of pinging each other constantly on Slack and email and messaging, you’re dropping it into the agenda and talking face-to-face about it?

We do Slack each other quite often for anything that needs to get resolved immediately and little things.

Can you talk to me about how you built out your team and maybe give us some scope as to what the size of your team is right now and what it looks like operationally, so people know what we’re talking about.

SIC 29 | Fatherly

Fatherly: When it comes to vision and planning, getting on the same page is all about constant communication.


My team in total is about 30 people. When I came to Fatherly, there were about six people on that team. In the few years, I’ve built it out dramatically.

I wanted to get the scope of what it looked like. Where are you? Are you all operating under the same offices? Are you remote? Is it a bit of both?

It’s a bit of both. We are mostly out of the same offices in New York City. Editorial is under me and there are about four editors who are remote. We have salespeople around the country as well.

How do you find them? How do you onboard them and how do you keep them aligned?

In terms of finding them, we have used a variety of tactics and none have been as effective as personal networking at this stage of the company. One of the things about Mike, our CEO, is that he’s an inveterate networker. That’s one of the things that he and I share. One of the reasons he wanted to bring me on was he thought it would multiply our network. We spent a lot of time reaching out to our networks to find the right people. All of our senior management had come through networking connection, if not most of the team. We’ve used job boards. We’ve used certain tools that help scan LinkedIn, but those have been low net results for us. It’s been a lot of networking to bring people on board, which is exhausting and harder on the more entry-level jobs than it is on some of the higher up jobs because at this point, my network isn’t when you’re two years out of college. We’ve found some of those people as well through networking.

How are you onboarding people? Do you have any process that helps you onboard them culturally and then also the skill side?

We have a very involved welcome email where we send a bunch of different links to different documents including an org structure, our mission, and vision, our product roadmap for the year. We give them as much as possible to read up on in advance. We also say, “You don’t need to read up on this before you start. You have this to refer to over time.” We do that and then we make sure that when each new employee starts, they’re set up meetings with anyone who would be appropriate for them who they’re going to work with closely. Because we’re a smaller company, we’re 51 people in total at the moment, we made sure that they meet with the head of each department at some point.

We do as much as we can to onboard people. We also do what we call a Tour of Duty which we’ve ripped off from several other companies, which is asking the employee what their goals are for the next year or two. That we can get to know them a little bit better and then help them achieve their goals. That’s proven to be successful in keeping employees. We’ve got a sales planner who we found out through this process wants to learn coding and takes computer coding courses at night. Our tech team has given her little projects to work on.

Have you read a book called The Dream Manager? I encourage you to read it. It’s written by a guy named Matthew Kelly. It’s a short read. It’ll take you about three hours to read it. It’s a true story about a woman who I’ve since met, we’re in a mastermind together. A woman named Mary Miller. We’re in the strategic coach together. She runs a janitorial business out of Cincinnati. A janitorial business is a crappy business. You’re cleaning toilets and it’s hard to keep employees and it’s hard to get them motivated to a greater purpose. You’re cleaning toilets and you’re cleaning people’s mess at work. 

They realized that if they cared more about their employees than they cared about the company, their employees would start to care about the company as much as the owners did. They created this program called The Dream Manager to help employees cross items off their bucket list without attaching them to company goals. They got every employee to write down 101 things they wanted to do or achieve or try or experience or get better at or whatever. When they understood all those goals, they then worked with employees to help them get through it. By caring about your employee, it sounds like you are doing it intuitively, but I think you’d love the book. It might help you codify some of it a little bit as you scale as well.

Another thing we tried to do is we offer $1,000 reimbursement for any courses that each employee wants to take, which I think is a big thing for a startup to be able to offer that. We have only had three or four people take advantage of it, we probably need to do a better job of institutionalizing it and making sure people do take advantage of it. I know that people appreciate that it’s there.

We institutionalized it by making it a requirement for any pay raise or any promotion that they had to have taken two courses in the prior twelve months. They could have taken a course in Excel or time management or people management or conflict management or situational leadership, it didn’t matter. Whatever the course was that they take, we would pay for the course, but they had to have taken two or they were not eligible for any pay raise or any promotion in the company. I’ll tell you what, as soon as you put that in place, all of a sudden everybody’s caring about their own education quickly. It’s sell them, don’t tell them. Can you share with us some of the key strategies and what you’ve done to grow your audience in digital platforms? I’m selfishly curious because what I’m building out with the COO Alliance and also with the podcast, I’ve got the Second In Command podcast. I’m curious what you’ve done that maybe has helped you scale.

It’s been a hard time to grow. The first couple of years of Fatherly, Facebook was still being kind to publishers and we grew a lot on Facebook. When I got here about 90% of our traffic came from Facebook which scared me. I had that experience before both on Facebook and also with other sources. Anytime your business depends on one source, it’s not a good thing. Diversification was my number one priority. Immediately, we started focusing on search engine optimization and making sure that the site was programmed properly and training the editorial team on search engine optimization best practices.

We started developing a suite of partnerships with other organizations, both media organizations and non-media organizations that drove traffic to us or shared our videos. We would often do the same for them. We developed a relationship with Flipboard, with Apple News, with as many sources as possible and then focus heavily on building our email newsletter. I’ve always been a huge believer in email. Every time somebody says email is dead, it never ends up being dead and we keep coming back to it. We’ve built a subscriber base of about 500,000 subscribers.

Do you charge for that at all or is that a free list that you’re sending out too?

That is a free list. We are thinking about some specific content that we do charge for, but that was a free list.

SIC 29 | Fatherly

Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from You Small Business

Do you know the name Jay Conrad Levinson? He was the author of Guerrilla Marketing. I didn’t know how strong he was outside of being an author. It’s related to faxes. He died few years ago. When he passed away, he had a fax list of 180,000 people. He was sending out a fax once a week to 180,000 people. Obviously, digital. It comes out from one and goes out to all the list, but it was $2 a month for people to be on his fax list. That would be an email list now. You’d get a weekly email with all of the tips or ideas or strategies or whatever, but people were paying $2 a month. 

His whole thing was regardless of who he touched, you had to have something that it was almost irresponsible of them not to sign up for. $2 a month seems to be the number back then. Maybe it’s $5 a month. It was a number that people were like, “$2 a month, it’s throw away.” It was $360,000 a month. It was a $4 million business that he had one person pulling together the facts and sending it out the door. It’s crazy. Other people are talking about, you monetize it, you email it to me, you’re putting them into your funnel. What about also monetizing to the 500,000 people that want to pay you $2 a month.

We talk a lot about paywalls and charging people for content. It’d be very difficult to charge for our generalized parenting advice and our general content because you can find it elsewhere. We’re focusing on a couple of areas where you can’t get it elsewhere, one of those areas is in the post-puberty years and the teen years.

You’re also selling to a group of people that were so used to getting magazines delivered to their door that they can’t find anywhere too.

We’ve identified this area of folks that are raising teenagers who are pulling out their hair and would do anything for one or two good pieces of advice. That’s something we are going to test out on a paid basis. A lot of media is looking to things that they can charge consumers for now since everything has been ad-supported in many years since the internet came out. Not everything but a lot has been ad-supported. You have to have something clearly differentiated at this point to be able to charge for content.

You have a tribe that’s so strong that people are willing to continue to pay. Where have you guys struggled over the years? Any areas that you’ve learned from or struggled lessons from the edge that we can learn from? Anything that you failed at or struggled with?

We struggle with biting off more than we can chew at times. We have a franchise called Father of the Year. It was originally called the Father of the Year Awards. We were going to profile all these amazing dads, both famous dads and non-famous dads. We’re going to do a big award show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We put down a deposit for it and we were going to host this big award show and we were going to hope to get televised. This was in year three of the business. The founders were bullish on this and thought, “This is good. Something that’s going to put us on the map.”

After a few months of watching our head of communications who wasn’t even an events person work on planning this event, seeing that it was something that was not as easy to sell in the marketplace to advertisers because we weren’t a known commodity, I had to pull the plug on it. It was hard when I pulled the plug. People within the organization were disappointed and it was one of those big swings that you were going for that could make you or break you. I’ve weighed the pros and cons and I thought, “This is going to break us if we continue with it.” Having to be very laser-focused on what your core competencies are at the beginning and where you are in your lifecycle.

Good for you to know when to kill it as well, especially if it was an idea that was a founder’s idea. In the earlier days of building a company, maybe in the ten to 200 employee phase, the owners are still very much not in charge of strategy, but a lot of their ideas get put into action either because they quick start them in or we say yes to them, but we haven’t developed the matrix decision making to allow some of the ideas to get shelves. One of the roles of the COO is to almost say the emperor has no clothes at times. How do you say no to the founder’s ideas and still say yes to the right ones? Also, how do you say no and keep the relationship strong?

That is such a huge part of what my job is. Something I’d even forgotten became part of my job. When I came here, the answer to everything was yes and by when do you need it? I walked in, I was like, “This is incredible. How do you guys get anything done?” I would talk to employees and hear that they would disagree at times or they would think and things shouldn’t be done. I started talking to the employees and empowering them to push back and say, “Let me think about that. if I do this, this isn’t going to happen.” I had an explicit talk with the CEO before where I started saying, “You know my job is going to be to say no to you very often.”

We were friends as well. That’s going to put a strain on our relationship. I want to make sure you understand that. We have checked in every few months or so on it. We’re also fortunate enough that we’ve had an organizational consultant who’s worked with us, especially with the transition of the co-founder moving out. We meet once a month and that’s a good opportunity for us to check-in, and with a third voice in the room be able to talk through, “I think you’re actually saying no too much” or “I think you’re being too ambitious here.” I’m not going to say we couldn’t do it without a third voice, but the third voice has helped us.

I used to screw up frequently that I would say no publicly probably more than I should have. I was right to say no. The issues were the right ones to say no to, but I didn’t understand the forum to necessarily do that. I would equate it now to a mother and father raising kids where let’s say the mom says, “You’re grounded for two weeks” and the father says, “No, that’s a stupid idea” and they argue in front of the kids. Even though the father was right, it was the wrong timing. I probably could have kept my disagreements offline and private with the CEO. I used to do it in board meetings and leadership team meetings. I will argue my point, not to be right but to be heard. He did the same and I think we messed that one up or I messed that one up. Any thoughts around that at all?

Going back to the daily standups, that’s one of the things that saves me from having to say no in the moment. I know that at the very least, it’s going to be less than 24 hours before I have a chance to talk to him again and express my opinion. I’ve had to learn that lesson too. When I do say no or when I do express some discomfort, I tried to do it with a form of humor and not be too harsh about it so that we can preserve the relationship. It’s a pad sometimes that we have a disagreement, but it’s something that it’s clear that we’re not going to be hashing out at that moment.

I don’t think that was a skill that I learned early enough. I wished that I had learned that one probably earlier on in my career to be able to temper. I’m a little bit like a dog with a bone at times and I chomp on it. I’ve been diagnosed to be on the spectrum with Tourette’s as well that I just say what’s on my mind and it comes out. It’s not an excuse and I could have been a lot more introspective with or leverage that emotional intelligence. Talk to us about how you’ve built out your team. Have you got a management team now? Do you have a layer between you and the CEO and the rest of the group?

There’s not a layer between me and the CEO, but there is a management team that mostly sits under me. He’s got two managers under him, the head of sales and head of PR. I have five direct managers, the head of the video, the head of the editorial, audience development, product and technology. We all meet as a management team. I came from our management team meeting. That includes my direct reports in me and his direct reports on him. That’s the full management team. It’s about nine or ten people.

I was talking with Clate Mask who’s the founder of Infusionsoft. We were in a mastermind together called the Genius Network. We were talking about how a company can only go through two success of doubles before the management team can’t continue to do their job. If the company goes from $4 million to $8 million, they can still do their job from $8 million to $16 million, they’re starting to get stretched. I read in The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Ben Horowitz said that a company can’t go through a triple, which they can’t go from $4 million to $12 million, which is the same for $4 million to $8 million to $16 million. Any thoughts around how you’re going to grow your team or stay ahead of your team with what I call “The chess moves.” Strategically thinking about the company is going to scale, what’s the team look like in two years? How do you either get your current team to keep managing well or how do you work to keep them in the company but reporting to newer people? Have you come across that at all yet?

It’s something we’ve given a lot of thought to. It’s not something we haven’t come across to yet. We know that there are some people who are great at getting a company to $15 million in revenue but maybe done $30 million in revenue before. There are some people who we’ve hired with the understanding that as we grow, there may be a layer of management that comes on top of them. We’ve tried to be open and honest about that as possible. They’ve been okay with that. I’m not naive enough to think that, it’s going to be super easy. They’re not going to love it. We’ve tried to bring the one with an understanding. I’ve been fortunate enough to hire a couple of people who are punching way above their way that they could do a lot more. They’ve been part of much bigger organizations, but they wanted to join an organization of this size at this stage and see it through as it grows. I do not have the answer there at all because we haven’t gone through a dramatic growth phase. We grow by about 60% in terms of revenues and we’re aiming to grow another 50% to 60%. It’ll be interesting. I know it will be somewhat bumpy.

I’ve always said that the leader’s job is to grow people. If we even flipped the org chart upside down so the leader is at the bottom supporting the VPs who were supporting the managers, who were supporting the employees and customers. Our job is to support our team in terms of aligning them with what they’re supposed to be working on. Giving them the skills if they need them in certain areas and giving them emotional support in their personal lives and the work. How do you grow your team? How do you grow your direct reports? Is there anything that you do systematically there?

SIC 29 | Fatherly

Fatherly: The role of COO is one of the most confusing ones from the outside and different when you compare it.


I’m a very bespoke manager. I wouldn’t say I do one thing systematically. I get to know each person individually and see what makes them tick. This is a little bit of my Stanford experience, learning that a person can come across very differently to different people depending on their backgrounds and the lenses through which they view things. I tried to get to know each manager personally. I’d go out to lunch with each of them once a week to shoot the ship and see what’s going on. It often ends up being about work, but a lot of it ends up being about their personal lives. I’m a very casual, nonhierarchical manager. I’m able to bring out what they’re feeling. Systematically, we do quarterly reviews. That gives us an opportunity to formally sit down and talk about how things are going and what help they need. We go into a 360 review process which I find to be valuable for myself and for all the employees.

Do you ever do any personality profiles on your management team and how do you use those if you do?

We use two, one was the MBTI, Myers-Briggs test. One was a conflict style test. We work with a consultant who came in and helped us see as an organization where are our holes. As a management, team how can we complement each other better. People have been very cognizant of other people’s personality types and conflict types and worked to compensate for them and to encourage each other. Those whose conflict types where to disagree or to get in. We push to express their opinion more often. I find that those can be fascinating and very eye-opening, especially for those in the organization who aren’t as self-aware or attuned to other’s personality types or personality quirks.

I like doing one every year with the leadership team to learn how to work better together. Learn about the other people on the team, not to try to change anybody. Just to have deeper insights. We’ve profiled all of the COOs at the COO Alliance and we profiled the CEO. We’re using a Kolbe profile and we found they have completely different Kolbe profiles. We’re getting the DiSC profile of the CEO and the COO and we’re seeing completely different profiles there as well. It’s interesting to see that most. They’re fire, ready, aim. Whereas the COOs tend to ask more questions and put systems in place to help scale. We maybe start a little bit slower, but we play catch up to a lot of the entrepreneurial mess. Without both the roles being played, the company doesn’t scale. You almost need that two in a box. Why don’t you leave us with one of your big parting tips? If you were starting out as a second in command or you were in a leadership role. Is there any idea or something that’s worked well for you in the business world that somebody else could learn from?

Getting to know your CEO as well as possible before you start because there are many different types of COOs. The role of COO is one of the most confusing ones from the outside and different when you compare it. There are a couple of COO groups and my role as a COO is completely different from other people’s role as a COO. Getting to know your CEO as well as possible and making sure that your quality compliments one another. That the CEO and you are both open to those complimentary and qualities, and that they’re not going to be seen as conflict causing.

It’s almost like dating before you get married. You may as well get to know the other person before you dive right in.

I was very fortunate to have this running start. Having known them beforehand and starting off as a consultant. I know not everyone has that opportunity. I would certainly say as a startup. A trial period is not the worst thing in the world.

Michael Wertheim, thank you very much. You are the COO for Fatherly. I appreciate you sharing your ideas, insights, and some of the wisdom from all of the years doing this role with our audience. Thank you so much for joining us.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

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About Michael Wertheim

SIC 29 | Fatherly

Michael Wertheim is a leader in digital media with more than fifteen years of experience driving rapid growth and monetization at digital media businesses. Wertheim is currently the COO of Fatherly, a media company that aims to help parents raise great kids and lead more fulfilling adult lives.

Previously, he was a consultant and advisor to startups and established media companies, including Atlas Obscura, The New York Times, TipHero, VinePair, Atlantic Media, Fusion, National Geographic, New York Media, Alley Interactive, Chong & Koster, and Observer Media.

Wertheim served as the Head of Business Development, Audience Development, & Strategy for Upworthy. Joining the company a month after its 2012 launch, Wertheim was instrumental in growing Upworthy’s audience to 40 million monthly unique website visitors, 1.5 million Facebook page likes, and more than 700,000 email subscribers in its first year of operations and for developing its revenue strategy.

Previously, Wertheim was General Manager at EW.com, where he transformed the site from reaching 2 million monthly uniques into a leading digital entertainment brand reaching 11 million monthly uniques and from $1.5 million to $14 million in annual revenues.

Prior to running EW.com, Wertheim built Time Inc.’s first Audience Development department, ran business development for Entertainment Weekly and was on the founding management team of Smarter Travel Media, a digital travel publisher which was sold to TripAdvisor.

Wertheim earned his MBA from Stanford Business School and his BA from Harvard College, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Media Studies. Wertheim lives in New York City, is a three-time triathlete, and serves on the Board of Directors of 70 Faces Media.

Specialties: general management, digital publishing, digital content, audience growth & engagement, business development & strategic partnerships, advertising sales & revenue growth, social media, email marketing, strategy.


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