Why a CEO does (and doesn’t) need a Chief of Staff
If you’re a founder of a start-up, you’ll have likely considered hiring a Chief of Staff. Making the right hires at the right time is arguably the most critical component of building a successful company. As the former Chief of Bulb, I wanted to pen my thoughts on why you should (or shouldn’t) hire one.
What does a Chief of Staff do, and why do I need one?
The day-to-day of a Chief of Staff can vary wildly, but the objective of the role is to support the CEO in setting and executing the company’s goals and mission-critical priorities. They act as an “extra limb” to give the CEO leverage to spend more time on activities where they can have the most impact. They can also act as a sounding board, with their full cross-functional ability and sole agenda to help the CEO succeed.
The unique nature of the role means that the individual you hire can be reverse-engineered to work around your capabilities as a CEO. It’s therefore helpful to work backwards from what a CEO typically does. In my experience, it can be broadly bucketed into three categories:
- Strategy - vision, mission and goal setting to ensure the company is pointed in the right direction
- Fundraising - relationship building and marketing; most high-growth companies are never far away from their next fundraise
- Execution - hitting your goals and putting out the inevitable fires that start. In the early stages of a company, this will include founder-led sales and hiring
As a result, a Chief of Staff can typically be found doing some (or all!) of the following activities:
- Setting company and team OKRs
- Prepping for and running management & board meetings
- Running a fundraising process (investor outreach, data room preparation, due diligence)
- Leading strategic projects that have no natural owner
- Creating and embedding processes that scale when there are none
As a CEO and founder, you have undoubtedly spent hundreds of hours on the above (and will continue to do so). As the Chief of Staff is the only C-suite executive that has no direct reports, they can focus 100% of their time on these tasks, giving you time back for those things you might often fall behind on (i.e. 1-on-1s, deep work, your inbox!).
When should I hire a Chief of Staff?
I would argue that every fast-growing business should hire a Chief of Staff at some point. The difficult question to answer is when. Too early, and you have brought in a generalist at the expense of another specialist in a core function (tech, product, growth). Too late, and you are missing out on the opportunity to unlock valuable operational efficiencies as a CEO and/or management team.
The typical timeframe to make the first Chief of Staff hire is between Seed and Series B, but it varies depending on a few factors:
Are you a solo founder?
Solo founders can benefit from hiring a Chief of Staff earlier than companies with multiple founders. This is because a solo founder can access some of the benefits of having co-founder, including additional operating leverage and having a mental sparring partner. It is important however to ensure you are hiring critical function leads in technology, product and growth first.
If you are a co-founder, how complete is your management team?
If you have one or more co-founders, you should ensure you have hired leads (not necessarily C-suite) in all key business functions, including operations, finance and people. If you hire a Chief of Staff before these roles, they will likely end up plugging gaps in these areas and not have the time to give the CEO the operating leverage the position is designed to unlock.
Who should I hire?
The typical archetype for a Chief of Staff is someone early in their career with the hunger and ambition to operate or found a start-up one day. The individual will need strong interpersonal skills, high learning velocity and the ability to handle high levels of autonomy.
The Chief of Staff is typically considered a generalist role, and you are therefore looking for someone with a breadth of skills and capabilities to handle the varying demands of the role. However, for a Chief of Staff to hit the ground running, it’s helpful if they have acquired some specialist skills too.
- Fundraising - an individual that understands the fundraising process and can build pitch decks and financial models will save the CEO a lot of time. Individuals with a background in investment banking, venture capital or similar will have honed this craft
- Execution - an individual that has experience solving both strategic and day-to-day problems and managing cross-functional teams. Individuals with a background in start-up operations (growth, product management, etc.) or management consulting will be well-positioned to help
An individual that is seeking a mapped-out career path (i.e. COO) is unlikely to be a great fit. The Chief of Staff must be comfortable with uncertainty and accept that their growth depends on the company's success.
If you're a founder looking for practical guidance on the Chief of Staff role or would like to learn more about how MMC supports its portfolio, reach out to Tom Scowsill or Lucci Levi