For our final anniversary post, I’m hopping down memory lane and reflecting on the history of vChief. On April 15th, we officially celebrated five years. A lot has happened since 2015! The journey of how vChief started and our path to the present day has been paved with exploration, learning, and risk-taking, which are all standard practice for entrepreneurs.
The early days
The roots of vChief lie in my experiences as a chief of staff, a role I took on at Teach for America (TFA) in 2009. Through TFA, I met one of my most impactful mentors, Aimée Eubanks Davis. In 2015, she left TFA to start her own organization called Braven that seeks to empower young people from underrepresented communities in their transition from college to strong first jobs.
Aimée asked me to come moonlight with her, working in the chief of staff capacity for five or ten hours per week. That was the first spark for me that there was a need for something like vChief.
I continued to support Aimée for a number of months, while still working at TFA, but decided in January 2016 to transition out of TFA. The organization was going through a second restructuring, my role was being eliminated, and it felt like time for something new. Around that time, our family took a month-long trip to Costa Rica, living and working abroad as we are wont to do. I was reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
One of the main tenets of the book is building a business that doesn’t just trade your own time for money. This sparked another idea for me: if I were to build a business around chief of staff support, it made more sense for me to build the business in a way that could serve a multitude of clients by hiring people who could fulfill the chief of staff role, rather than working as an independent contractor for a handful of clients. That’s when I began to think of creating a model similar to the virtual assistant model that’s so popular in the business world.
So I started to build this idea of a model where a leader can seek out a chief of staff for ten or twenty hours per week, and we have this pool of talent that we can draw from and match them with. This was the concept I started developing in January 2016, but I didn’t officially leave my role at TFA until April 15, 2016, which is vChief’s official “birthday,” when we started bringing on new clients. Between January and April, I was spending a lot of time developing the website, making connections and communicating with people about my business.
In the early days, I considered vChief doing a number of different things. One thought was doing more traditional, strategic planning similar to the type of work I did earlier in my career at Bridgespan. I also considered including executive coaching in my model, as well as virtual assistants. But I realized very quickly that the virtual chief of staff support or interim support in a variety of different areas like COO and chief people officer, that kind of work was really our special sauce. It’s where we had the most consistent success and also seemed to be the easiest area to staff and manage over the long run.
Critical decisions along the way
Deciding to be extremely narrow and very, very niche on the chief of staff role was big. That’s not to say we won’t expand to do other things in the future, but foundationally it helped us build a really strong brand for the work that we do. When vChief started, we were the only people in that space, the first virtual chief of staff business. Now there are a couple of similar businesses popping up, but I believe we have a strong brand by being the people who essentially created this market, and that’s something that I’m really proud of.
Another critical decision that I made early on was limiting my personal client load to one–Aimée at Braven. I worked with her for about the first year of vChief, freeing up my time to actually build the business and infrastructure of vChief rather than being bogged down in client work. I was able to staff our organization appropriately, and therefore partner with a lot more clients. Honestly, that is a decision I needed some convincing to make and I’m very thankful to my husband for his role in that. It was a bigger risk but it also led to a bigger reward.
Supporters along the way
Of course, so many critical decisions and plans were laid with the help and support of so many awesome people, especially in those early days when I was figuring everything out. I’m grateful to Kelly Harris Perin of Little Bites Coaching and Marion Hodges Biglan of Illuminate Coaching. Both of those women were great thought partners to me as I contemplated what my business model could look like.
Locally, both the Doyenne Group and 100State were great places and groups for me as I got started, educating me on legal structure, insurance, and all these other random things that I wouldn’t have thought about for two seconds.
Aimée Eubanks Davis is my biggest mentor. Seeing her have the courage to go out and start Braven and taking part in helping her build that gave me a taste of what entrepreneur life could be, and the excitement of building something from the ground up. She also referred so many clients to us, so I was super, super grateful for her along the way.
And the last person that’s critical to mention is my executive coach, Jackie from Radical Spark. Jackie has been coaching me since the beginning through to the present day, and has always had a great ear for the challenges we’re going through and brings a lot of solid ideas to the table.
Continuing to grow
I’ve mentioned how much of our initial growth was done organically, but in Fall 2019 I started thinking about driving our growth more strategically. I started pulling together a business development team but I had a bit of a false start, so it really wasn’t until early 2020, right before COVID hit, that I started to get more traction there. I brought on Beth Jacobs, one of our current chiefs, to help build our business development strategy. She has taken a really big leadership role building out the business development team with Dolores Fabregas and Jenn Chandler. They’re a fantastic team that has set us on a path of much faster growth.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve almost tripled in size and I give a lot of credit for that to our business development team. I think we’re going to continue to grow at a fast pace, which means building more of our internal teams, especially within the business development and talent areas. We’ve been so lucky to have great folks leading our talent work, like Crystal Coache and Chante’ Chambers. This past January, I also finally decided to get myself a chief of staff and hired Nisha Dass–a long overdue decision for me, which has been a total game changer, just like our clients say we are!
Running a business is not for the faint of heart. The big ideas are just a part of the process. You have to be willing to take some risks to realize some reward. And you also have to be willing to push yourself out of your own box of how you think things should be, thinking more strategically about how things could be and how to take action on that. Here’s to another five years and beyond!