A General Partner (GP) in a venture capital firm has a myriad of responsibilities ranging from day-to-day operations to fundraising and deal sourcing. A Chief of Staff can support the GP in managing their daily workload by acting as their right hand, helping implement the firm’s overall strategy. We connected with two superstars who currently hold a Chief of Staff role to get their thoughts on this topic. Rylie Jennings from Behind Genius Ventures (BGV) and Michael Amar from Diagram Ventures share their views in this deep dive on the multi-faceted role of a Chief of Staff at re. Together, we explore the role of a Chief of Staff at a VC firm, the benefits of having one, the factors that GPs should consider before hiring, and how to equip a Chief of Staff for success.
Broadly, the role of the Chief of Staff is to provide operational and strategic support to the GP. The Chief of Staff acts as the GP’s right hand, managing the day-to-day operations and implementing the firm's overall strategy. The specific responsibilities of a Chief of Staff vary depending on the size and structure of the firm. Rylie notes that at BGV:
“As a solo-GP having that additional person to assist with the backend operations of the fund helps mitigate being a single person. My role as a Chief of Staff shifts depending on the priorities of the fund, and that’s extremely helpful to have to continue moving towards our strategic goals”
Similar responsibilities are identified by Michael at Diagram Ventures - a mid-sized firm. While they remain fluid, they have a more defined scope, reflective of the organizational structure in which the role is performed:
“The Chief of Staff ultimately acts as an extension of the Partner, and serves to increase their capacity, facilitate coordination and help streamline processes for improved efficiency.”
Michael echoes the Chief of Staff role description provided by a Harvard Business Review article. The responsibilities include:
As mentioned above, this varies depending on the firm and what was negotiated as part of the scope of the role, but generally, the Chief of Staff is not:
While there are no hard and fast rules on this, there are many questions you can ask to make that decision:
As Rylie notes:
“Hard to say the exact right time [for hiring a Chief of Staff], but when fund activities are scaling up, then that’s the right time to look into hiring additional personnel”
Michael adds that the opportune time is:
“as the firm grows, workload increases and the partner feels drained rather than energized by the day-to-day demands. [A Chief of Staff’s] primary goal is to enable the partner to focus on more strategic tasks. In my case, I was brought in as the firm was in the process of raising two additional funds, had a portfolio of 18 companies, and the partner had four functions reporting to him (Investing, Legal, Accounting, and Talent). The partner was concerned about his productivity, poor information flow, and too much time spent on follow-ups and slow decision-making.”
Each Chief of Staff is different because the best ones share a complementary skillset to the GP to fill in the gaps. For example, if the GP has a technical background, they would benefit from hiring a Chief of Staff with a financial background to help manage the go-to-market side of the business.
Additional key characteristics of a strong Chief of Staff include:
The GP should also ensure that the Chief of Staff is a good fit with the firm's culture, values, and goals.
Rylie notes that:
“For me, the best preparation is the mental stamina of learning how to do new things on any given day. Truly embrace the information that can come from each day. That way, when it comes to improving systems and processes, you already understand the deeper context of how all these different systems support each other and therefore learn how to make them better. This can be within communication practices, the tech stack your team uses, workflows, etc.”
At the most fundamental level, a GP can implement parallel strategic initiatives with a Chief of Staff. From Rylie’s perspective at BGV, it varies based on the day, but broadly, it is managing operations, content creation, and LP and founder relations:
“I help produce [the GP’s] podcast, Seed To Harvest, so oftentimes I’ll conduct research and meet with our editor to finalize details of upcoming episodes. I manage capital calls, help write LP updates, and plan events across Miami, SF, New York, and LA for our founders and LPs.
We have a part-time analyst focused on research-driven written pieces, so I enjoy brainstorming new ideas, and iterations focused on our investment thesis of the future of work and play.
We’ve recently opened an office in San Diego, so this week I’m focused on setting up the property for official move-in. In summary, it depends on the day.”
Rylie’s typical day at BGV has evolved as the firm has grown but the best part of the role is “being able to touch base with each team member and have a part in just about every area of BGV’s activities.”
Likewise, Michael notes that his day to day at Diagram Ventures is extremely varied but that his “role is to provide additional leverage and capacity to the Partner, making sure that the firm runs smoothly and efficiently”. Tasks over Michael’s day include:
From Michael’s experience at Diagram Ventures, three key factors stand out:
Rylie adds that:
“The Chief of Staff role is ambiguous. Every role has a different need and every Chief of Staff has their own way of onboarding. It depends on the team you join.”
Additional success factors for the Chief of Staff role include:
That said, equipping a Chief of Staff for success is an ongoing process, and the GP should work closely with the Chief of Staff to enable them to perform their role effectively.
The decision to hire a Chief of Staff is a complex one. While a Chief of Staff can provide valuable operational and strategic support, the key to unlocking the benefits will be correctly timing the hire and having a defined list of responsibilities for the role. Given the role’s ambiguous nature, it is important the Chief of Staff is adaptable with strong people and problem-solving skills and is aligned with the firm’s culture. Once hired, it is an ongoing process to ensure that the Chief of Staff is equipped for success. If executed well, the Chief of Staff is a force multiplier for the GP’s strategic value.
If you are thinking about hiring a Chief of Staff (or want to become one) make sure to check out our job board at Startup&VC.