You’ll Never Guess Where I Found the Perfect COO

Liz Picarazzi with husband and COO

Liz Reisch Picarazzi and Frank Picarazzi

The pandemic forced my eyes open to see pre-existing conditions that had long hampered the business. Some had to do with fundamental underlying issues like managing cash flow and the supply chain. Some had to do with my leadership. 

By Liz Reisch Picarazzi

At this time last year, my business was down to one employee — me — while awaiting PPP funding to bring the team back. In New York City, Covid was raging, and the sound of ambulance sirens was ever-present. On the block in Brooklyn where I live, three neighbors died within weeks of each other. For many, April 2020 was the scariest month of our lives. 

Covid stopped the business, but it didn’t stop the bills. I owed money to suppliers, landlords, and credit cards. Revenue was down 77 percent and clients were canceling and putting projects on hold. CitiBin got sued in a slip-and-fall scheme, just as we lost business liability insurance due to a change-of-address snafu. And our warehouse was behaving in an extortionate way, so at the height of the pandemic—during the literal lockdown in NYC—I was warehouse shopping.

And then my husband Frank got laid off. I thought he was indispensable at work because he did really important sales reporting for a global fashion brand. Frank saw it coming because he was reading his own reports. Sales in Asia had plummeted in early 2020 when Covid hit. If sales crashed in the U.S. as they did in Asia, he figured, the company would have major layoffs, which it did.

Fast forward a year to now. Thanks to PPP, my team is back. Frank didn’t return to corporate life because CitiBin needed a COO. Sales are up 150 percent, and we’re struggling to keep up with demand. We’re tracking to break $1 million in annual revenue for the first time, which I couldn’t have imagined last year. We’ve gotten some high profile press lately, including a feature story in the The New York Times about package delivery lockers. My inventions have been in The Times twice, and that feels amazing.

The pandemic forced my eyes open to see pre-existing conditions that had long hampered the business. Some had to do with fundamental underlying issues like managing cash flow and the supply chain. Some had to do with my leadership. 

I knew way before the pandemic that I needed a COO. Founders are often not good at operations. We start businesses to realize ideas that we can’t let go of, which is how I was with trash enclosures. What began as a side project making trash bins in my backyard is now a national brand that designs and manufactures enclosures that can be shipped anywhere. 

Sometimes it feels like the thing I started has turned into an exercise in logistics, warehousing, inventory management, scheduling, trucks, tariffs, taxes, and other important tasks that I’m not good at and dislike doing. I have an oversized negative reaction to anything involving lawyers, contracts, or insurance. Someone else needs to handle that stuff.

Since joining as COO in May, Frank has taken a tremendous amount off my plate, working in the business so that I can work on it. He likes to make spreadsheets that forecast production needs based on past sales. Imagine that. He likes to deal with shipping, whereas I want to throw myself out the window if I have to talk to UPS. He does what I could/should have been doing, and he fully enjoys it.

The business recovered because we disregarded job descriptions and everyone started filling gaps, chasing opportunities, and learning new skills. Previously, when CitiBin needed talent that was beyond our existing competencies, we’d hire coders, photographers, graphic designers, video editors, actors. During the pandemic, with no budget to outsource creative work, we kept it in-house and learned new skills.

Our sales and customer service manager, Alejandro, learned video editing and Shopify coding to enable new features in the online store. Our operations manager Carla, who handles production, bookkeeping and payroll, became a photographer and social media publisher. Frank played dual roles as mail man and porch pirate in a ParcelDrop commercial. And he also set up Google AdWords campaigns.

We got scrappy, using our own and our employees’ homes, pets, and family in photography and video that fed CitiBin’s marketing. My employees now have such a wide breadth of skills that I’m concerned about how amazing their resumes would look to prospective employers.  

With people spending more time outside, there has been a surge in demand for outdoor living items like pools, patio furniture, and gardening supplies. There has also been a spike in demand for two things that CitiBin has sold but never actively marketed:  sheds and planters. I’ve learned it’s hard to sell sheds and planters if no one knows you sell them. So we turned marketing on for sheds and planters, added them to the online store, social media, and email newsletters. For some time, my vision has been for CitiBin to be a premium outdoor brand—not just trash enclosures and package lockers. During the pandemic with the boom in outdoor living, I started to advance that vision. 

A year ago I was at the epicenter of COVID and Googling bankruptcy. Today, I’m vaccinated and making more sales than ever. The pandemic forced changes that might have taken me years to make.

Liz Reisch Picarazzi, CEO of Citibin, writes regularly about her entrepreneurial journey.

We would love to hear from you
Ask us anything
Or suggest a topic for a podcast, an interview or a blog post