In our continuing series on Madison Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Maddy Niebauer, Founder and CEO of vChief, a virtual chief of staff service supporting executives from all industries.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what made you decide to start vChief?
I was a chief of staff with Teach for America for about five years, and I really loved that role. As a chief of staff, your role is very much strategic, but it’s also action-oriented. It goes beyond strategic planning to execution, thought partnership, and acting as a surrogate for the leader you support.
I also had a wonderful relationship with the leader I was supporting at Teach for America. When she left that organization to start a new nonprofit, she asked me to moonlight for 5-10 hours a week as a virtual chief of staff. As I thought about my own next steps, career-wise, I realized there was a demand for this type of part-time chief of staff work and decided to launch vChief. Though I continue to support this leader, I now spend most of my time running the business and matching executives with a chief of staff who can meet their unique needs.
How does vChief work and what services do you provide?
We contract with executives and leaders to work for a set number of hours per month—typically between 20-80 hours—and will pair up one of our chiefs of staff to work with that person virtually. Since our chiefs of staff are located all over the country, we can also work with some leaders in person if needed. Right now we have nine chief of staff, each of whom has his or her own accomplished background and areas of expertise—everything from talent acquisition and human resources to strategic planning, sales, leadership, and risk management, among others.
Our services vary drastically based on what the client needs, but generally we serve as a soft partner to leaders and help take tasks off of their plates so that they can concentrate on the things that matter most to their organization. Our consultants are generalists and offer a wide array of support: strategic time management & prioritization, project management, strategic planning, operations, communications, team management, finance, HR, and almost anything else a leader could need.
Generally speaking, our services fall into two primary buckets:
- Interim role replacement, where we fill in for a key team member who is on leave or who has left and a replacement hasn’t yet been hired – sometimes a chief of staff role, other times a COO or another key strategic role. This type of work tends to be short-term and intensive—we can jump in pretty quickly and provide support right away.
- Chief of staff, where we provide ongoing virtual support to executives on any number of tasks, including operations, project management, communications, team management, finance, and human resources. We typically work in this role from 5-20 hours a week, as needed.
Do all of your clients work for large organizations? Or do you also work with startups and small businesses?
Since I launched vChief six months ago, we’ve served clients in industries ranging from nonprofits and education to e-commerce and pharmaceuticals. The organizations have ranged in size from 1 staff member to several hundred, and have been located around the United States.
We’ve worked with four startups to date, and I think we provide a very helpful and economical service. Often startup founders don’t have many other staff and are overwhelmed by everything that needs to happen to launch their business. They need to be lean, nimble, and able to pivot—and they don’t want to bear the risk of bringing on staff if they’re not sure they can afford them. We can come in for just a few hours a week and provide a very high level of support to help move the needle on their business.
Why was Madison the right place to launch vChief and what kind of support have you received from the community?
I lived in Madison while I was working for Teach for America, so I was already based here, but I have found the entrepreneurial community here to be fantastic. I work out of 100 State and have met so many great people there. I’ve also attended a number of Doyenne Group trainings, 1 Million Cups presentations, Forward Fest, Capital Entrepreneurs happy hours, and other startup events. There’s a real entrepreneurial community here doing really interesting things, and they’re all so eager to help connect you to other people here who might be able to help you with your own business. It’s really pretty amazing.
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