Exclusive: Cheddar taps Eric Harris, former 'BuzzFeed' exec, as COO

Exclusive: Cheddar taps Eric Harris, former 'BuzzFeed' exec, as COO

Cheddar, the video streaming service that broadcasts live from the New York Stock Exchange, is bringing in a former BuzzFeed executive as its new chief operating officer, the company revealed in an exclusive interview with Mic

Eric Harris joined BuzzFeed in 2008 as the company's sixth employee, serving in the roles of general manager and chief business operations officer before leaving last year.

In an email to employees, Cheddar CEO Jon Steinberg, also a BuzzFeed alumnus, explained Harris would be taking on a similar role, effective immediately — handling "HR, finance, vendors and capex project finance, project management, legal management and business operations" — at the video-streaming company.

Mic interviewed Harris Tuesday night, via phone, to discuss his new gig — and what workers today need to succeed in a 21st century workforce. 

What's the difference between working in a more corporate environment and working at a start-up? 

It's very different. I didn't actually start my career at a start-up, and didn't start working at one until back in 2005.

I immediately knew it was the right place for someone like myself. In a small company you get involved in a lot of decisions and really know how the business is running. 

When I talk to millennials about joining [smaller] companies, I tell them, you know you really do have a great opportunity to learn a lot of the things you'd learn in business school.

Do you think aspiring entrepreneurs should get an MBA, or can you really get comparable experience just working at a start-up? 

I rarely say yes to the "should I get an MBA?" question. 

I went through five years straight at Carnegie Mellon and didn't come out with a ton of professional skills that could have complemented what I was learning. 

It was a great experience in other ways. I made a lot of great friends and contacts I still keep in touch with today, but I really don't know that it's helped me immeasurably in my career. 

How should a young person decide if a start-up seems like a good place to work? 

It depends on what sort of level you're coming into at the company. For me, personally, making the decision to join BuzzFeed... what happened was I met Jonah [Peretti} and immediately knew he was a visionary.

When I evaluate start-ups today, for me it's a lot about the founder and the CEO, their managerial style, and what the product is, as well, and the team. 

You mention management style — what kind of manager would you say you are? 

I give the people that work for me a lot of autonomy. I try to empower them while also letting them make mistakes. You need to teach them, give them enough guidance and information so they can do their jobs, but you've also got to be giving them the space to figure some things out for themselves.

When you set up the right guardrails, then you can really see people flourish and do stuff that you'd never thought of.

Is there a mistake you made as a first-time manager you were able to learn from? What's the biggest thing first-time managers mess up?

I barely remember the first time I had to manage people, but when I talk to new first-time managers, especially ones that have really risen through the ranks quickly, the first thing I say is to just listen. 

A lot of them end up letting the power get to their heads. It's really important not to let that happen. 

You've got to continue to do your job; you need to lead but you need to trust people. A lot of first-time managers let the power and authority go to their head, especially the ones who've moved up fast. 

Thinking on it more, I actually think the biggest mistake that first-time managers make is still trying to do everything themselves. For many first-time managers, it's very hard to let go and delegate.

What will you be working on at Cheddar? 

I'll be heading up HR, finance and really helping to bring organization and more structure to the company. 

We're growing super, super fast. There's tons of new hires and new contractors, tons of vendor relationships to manage. So the first thing I've been working on is trying to get that under control. My goal is really filling in the holes.

What do you mean by "filling the holes"? What's the most common thing that start-ups let go by the wayside when they're growing?

It's about getting ducks in a row. Sometimes you don't have the right contracts in place, maybe people aren't being paid the exact right amount. So someone's gotta go in and dot all the I's and cross all the T's. 

At a start-up, everyone wears lots of different hats, but as we're growing and adding new studios and new shows we need the right hiring plan to support these shows, so that we're still able to be nimble about how we can grow. 

I've always worked well with Jon {Steinberg]. I met him at BuzzFeed and we worked together for four years. He actually came onboard about two years after I started, became my boss, and it ended up being a great thing for me. 

We really complement each other. A lot of things I'm not good at, he's good at. 

Do you think there's any truth to the trope about millennials wanting more autonomy in their careers?

I don't differentiate. Whenever I hire I'm still looking for the same things. 

Like what? 

I'm looking for passionate people; people who are athletes, who can wear lots of different hats, analytical thinkers. Pretty much across the board you want people with good analytical and problem-solving skills. 

I also don't think the desire for autonomy is necessarily a millennial trait; all people want autonomy. They want to do new interesting things at work. And at a start-up you get to do lots of new interesting things every day. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.