We typically associate the Chief of Staff role with politics, or sometimes non-profits. The role has been a mainstay of the modern Presidency and state political campaigns alike as leaders have balanced the competing pressures of outward action and internal planning. However, a growing number of founders and startups are beginning to hire Chiefs of Staff for that same reason — and it’s a promising trend for the future of the venture ecosystem.
The Chief of Staff’s potential within tech startups mirrors the role’s successes within tech giants, from established names such as Microsoft and Apple to industry disruptors such as Uber and Tesla. Now, as the tech ecosystem grows — and the startup sector matures in particular — founders and executives are making the case for the Chief of Staff as a way to invest in their companies’ long-term viability.
This is especially salient for startups. With 90% of most startups failing — and even two-thirds of the most promising venture-backed businesses going under — it’s clear that the traditional business-building process has its fair share of systemic issues. New companies committed to addressing these problems should consider how a Chief of Staff can empower their founders, implement key strategic initiatives, and nurture growth at a critical stage in their venture lifecycle.
Startup founders are long-term thinkers, habitual trailblazers, and innovative personalities. They’re at their best when allowed the latitude to consider the “next big thing” for a given market and brainstorm what their company needs to do to get there. However, the regular demands of launching a new venture can get in the way of that mode of thinking — and it’s why hiring a Chief of Staff can be exactly what founders need to drive their companies forward.
Akin to a COO at a larger corporation, the Chief of Staff at a startup can handle day-to-day operations from recruitment and marketing to overseeing legal matters and liaising with government organizations. With the authority to handle countless decisions that don’t necessarily need to make it up the chain of command to the CEO, Chiefs of Staff can simultaneously manage startup teams while empowering founders to do what they do best.
As trusted advisors, Chiefs of Staff can also act as confidantes and sounding boards for venture executives. While the best founders excel at figuring out how to adapt to market changes, they still need someone to remind them what’s possible with their existing resources and infrastructure. The right Chief of Staff can help founders think big while making sure they keep both feet on the ground when needed.
The Chief of Staff sits above an organization, acting as a kind of a meta-project manager. While the role will have the executive authority to make decisions for various departments — from sales and customer success to PR and marketing — they’re not “of” those teams. This means that their priorities aren’t tied to a specific group within the organization but rather to the organization as a whole.
For Chiefs of Staff, this bird’s eye view is important when it comes to implementing strategy. They’re responsible for translating their founder’s (or founders’) idealistic vision into real-world action, which requires a granular knowledge of operations in each department while simultaneously maintaining an overview of them. In fact, the best Chiefs of Staff can do this more effectively than their founders can.
When this boots-on-the-ground knowledge is balanced with an executive perspective, the Chief of Staff role is perfectly positioned to understand how strategy should be implemented in the most efficient way possible for the organization. This unique point of view can deliver much-needed clarity for founders and organizational teams alike, helping startups make key decisions more confidently and collaboratively.
While some tech executives recruit Chiefs of Staff to handle their companies’ ongoing growth, the position is ideal for startups just preparing to launch. As someone with an overarching view of the entire organization, a Chief of Staff is uniquely positioned to identify and resolve pain points typical of early-stage ventures.
For founders, the right Chief of Staff can nurture their startup at its most vulnerable. This role makes sure that workflow gaps are handled so that mission-critical operations don’t grind to a halt. By doing so, she can help founders with getting their company up and running and allowing them to focus on what matters most, such as product development, go-to-market strategies, fundraising, and product-market fit.
As the startup landscape matures, expect to see more Chiefs of Staff handling the day-to-day operations and strategic planning for competitive tech startups and their founders. Here at VentureDevs, the role has been integral to our fast-paced growth into a 100+ person company in just five years. It’s even afforded our co-founders the chance to launch the next step for us as a company, VentureLabs — our business-building platform and startup studio.
If you’d like to learn more about VentureDevs, VentureLabs, and how our investment in the Chief of Staff position has helped us streamline and improve our software development and team augmentation services, drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you.