Start-up Businesses (Part 2): How to Build Your Org Chart

Written by vChief

February 5, 2022

There’s no denying it: being a founder in the startup world can be lonely and overwhelming, and leave you feeling like you need to do it all. But the good news is: you don’t need to do it all.

Our first post in this startup series referenced how some of our clients utilize their chief of staff like an entrepreneur in their companies. We hope their experiences and feedback empower you to take those next steps in your business and ask for help when you need it. Part of our intention in creating this series was to drive the message home that you are not alone and that you deserve to thrive and grow.

One of the key messages from all three clients in part one was that once you have

established trust and consider your chief of staff a partner in the business, you can lean on them for support, allowing you to grow your business more intentionally and efficiently. And as your business grows, it’s time to start thinking about your organizational chart to ensure workflows are maximized.

Once again, we asked for feedback from these three vChief clients:

  • Kishan Madamala of Maxton & Company, eCommerce business which sells niche office supplies and accessories
  • Nicole Jarbo of Goodbets, a boutique fundraising firm
  • Joanne Hill-Powell of LiftEd, education technology company serving special education programs by providing data to help advance learning capabilities

Each of them had something to contribute in regards to building their own org charts for their companies. We hope you gain some valuable insight and knowledge from what they had to share.

What key areas of responsibility do you need in your startup?

KM: Corporate, government, local interaction and liasoning, planning, forecasting/budgeting, preliminary outreach on certain projects and certain vendors, narrowing down the set of options. We’re an operational business. We have machinery, so I had a chief of staff look for a couple of manufacturers of the type of machines we’re looking for. I gave them the criteria and asked them to narrow down to a list of two or three options.

That’s what I find the chief of staff extremely helpful for: taking something that’s big and wide open and cutting it down to the relevant choices.

NJ: Project management, strategy, research analysis, communication

JHP: We’re actually going through a bit of a restructure. Things are very transitional in this time as we are seeing a positive rebound now in anticipation of the 2022-2023 school year, so we have restructured our organization in terms of our engineering team and staff, and also customer support. Our chief of staff is helping us to cement this process because she was already starting to think about our hiring and onboarding process when we didn’t necessarily have the need, so some of those supports have been put in place already.

How did you create an org chart for your startup?

KM: You first have to identify what sort of business you’re in. From there, figure out where the bulk of the work is and where your most important sources of revenue are coming from–that’s where you probably want to start. As the owner or CEO, [if you] see yourself taking on more and more responsibility, eventually that lends itself to needing a new position. I’ve heard people say your goal as a CEO is to fire yourself from as many jobs as possible and to hire somebody else.

A chief of staff benefits [in this regard] when you’re solo, because you are able to talk about certain issues with an educated professional, especially when it’s really in the process and your team isn’t really built out yet, and if you don’t have a cofounder.

NJ: There’s a really good book, Traction by Gino Wickman, that talks a lot about how companies should have someone who’s really focused on the long-term vision of the company, and someone who can really integrate that vision. Someone who has a different set of competencies, more operational or execution-focused, doing an org chart around strengths and needs.

What am I really good at that I should continue to do and how can I put people around me that can do the things they’re best at (and are things we need)? [Be actively] assessing for [more than] the needs a business has, [but] building meaningful culture. And figure out what competencies and experiences people need to have that are complementary. I think a lot of people don’t think about that as much. I certainly know that I haven’t. [I had times when I was] not really understanding what the needs were from a cultural or operational side and relying too much on one or the other. Finding the balance is important.

JHP: We’ve had the support of several accelerators (AT&T Aspire, New Profit, and Camelback Ventures). All of those accelerators have helped us to do some of that deep work of the higher-level way of looking at our org chart, but also thinking about that authentically in the context of your organization. Given where we are now in terms of a restructure, we’re in a place where it’s going to be very important for us to revisit what we had in place before and make sure that’s matching our current needs now.

I want to reiterate a few common themes I heard in regards to organizing your startup and getting it on paper:

  • There are a multitude of responsibilities within every business; figure out where your skill set sweet spot is, stick with those responsibilities, and find out who to assign the remaining tasks to
  • Always be thinking about and evaluating the ever-changing needs of your business and align the strengths of your people with those needs
  • Have someone looking ahead at the long-term vision of your company who can really integrate that vision in the present. (FYI: this is often the perfect fit for a chief of staff)
  • Have an understanding of where your business is at and where you want it to go before you build your org chart

Lastly, I can’t stress this point enough: get support as soon as (or before you think) you need it! Starting a business is hard work, and you’re likely well aware of that fact as well as extremely passionate about your pursuit. But, at some point, you will find yourself drowning in the weeds a bit. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a partner up on the dock, ready to pull you to shore and get to the real work of developing your business?

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