Culture Factor 2.0

How a Diverse Company Culture is the Secret Sauce to Innovating through COVID19

Episode Summary

We have Chief Co-Founder Lindsay Kaplan today. Chief is a club designed for the VP and C-suite female executive. They have 2000 members a robust waiting list of 7,000. Chief closed funding of $22 million on their Series A, one of the largest of any female founded company in 2019. The members are top level women from HBO, Amazon, Sothebys, Google, and Mastercard, to name a few. Chief is headquartered in New York, with expansion anticipated in LA and Chicago. Let’s sit back with Lindsay and hear more about this amazing business and how they are pivoting and innovating through a pandemic.

Episode Notes

https://www.linkedin.com/in/hollyshannon1/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindsaykap/

https://www.chief.com

https://www.companytribes.com

 

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:
Welcome to The Culture Factor where we talk to founders and influential leaders about company culture. We share stories from the C-suite that help executives engage their business from the inside and create a map to transform their culture. Because the truth is, culture eats strategy for breakfast. 

Holly Shannon:
This is The Culture Factor and I'm your host and co-producer, Holly Shannon. Please subscribe, rate and review our podcast. Our journey into company culture has just begun and we'd like you along for the ride. 

Holly Shannon:
Today on The Culture Factor, we have Chief co-founder, Lindsay Kaplan. Chief is a club designed for VP and C-suite female executives. This robust club of 2000 plus members is in demand with a wait list of over 8000 people. They closed funding of $22 million on their Series A, one of the largest of any female founded company in 2019. The members are top level women from HBO, Amazon, Sotheby's, Google, MasterCard, just to name a few. So let's sit back with Lindsay and hear more about this amazing business and how they are coping, pivoting and innovating through a pandemic. 

Holly Shannon:
So welcome Lindsay Kaplan to The Culture Factor.

Lindsay Kaplan:
Thank you for having me. 

Holly Shannon:
Company culture at Chief is a very strong one. And as a startup, it's really interesting because along with scrappiness and sweat equity, you really designed Chief with a singular vision that strength comes in the diversity of hires and a people first mentality. I'd love it if you could share the birth of this idea of Chief and the thought process that went behind the design of it. And I know we're unpacking a lot here, but how is it feeding the resilience of your team during COVID-19?

Lindsay Kaplan:
Sure. So I can give you a little background on Chief, the organization, which is my co-founder and I came together, we knew each other vaguely. We had met at a really bad women's networking event and it wasn't so bad if we met each other, but it was, you know the type, you go to one event and a conversation that you've had a million times. One person's dominating the table. You don't really meet anybody of note and you feel like you had a subpar dinner. I'd go home with a few business cards of people you'll never call. 

Lindsay Kaplan:
Luckily I met my co founder Carolyn at coat check, we both kind of rolled our eyes, stayed in touch, and she came to me about a year after we had met with an idea and wanted to see if I was interested in becoming her co-founder. And that idea became Chief. It was modeled off of YPO, Young Presidents Organization, which is an incredible nonprofit based in the idea that it's really lonely at the top. And so YPO is for presidents, CEOs of companies. It creates peer groups for these presidents and CEOs where they can come together and speak really confidentially around topics that they are dealing with that really nobody else in their life can relate to.

Lindsay Kaplan:
And so when Carolyn came to me with this idea, she said, "This is something that women in leadership, we are dealing with, but we don't necessarily need to be CEOs and presidents to have these very real problems. In fact, when we climb the ladder, it's lonely at the top. That truism happens certainly at the presidential level at an organization, but really when you get to a VP level, both Carolyn and I were VPs when we were talking about this, we realized that there's not a lot of people who look like you. There's not a lot of women. There's a lack of diversity at that level. And so we wanted to create an organization similar to YPO that was based in peer groups, that gave confidentiality, support and really allowed women in leadership positions to come together to support one another because they really understand what one another are going through.

Lindsay Kaplan:
And we looked at different organizations and there are plenty that bring women together, right? This is an ecosystem of feminism that I think there are wonderful nonprofits. There are wonderful companies, organizations working towards getting women into power. But what we found was many of them were catering to women at a junior level to get them into leadership levels or many of them were industry specific. And so what we realized is there was nothing out there helping this woman who was already in power to make sure that she could stay there and have the confidence and have the support to truly either stay at the top or get from that maybe second, third layer down, VP level to that C-suite position. And finally, if you are only within one industry such as I come from a marketing background, you're going to only be with other marketers.

Lindsay Kaplan:
Those people could eventually be after the same job you're looking for. And so this idea of cognitive diversity, of bringing different roles, different industries, different categories, bringing leaders from all of those different positions together would make an incredibly strong organization. And that's where we are today. We have over 2000 members of Chief who are VP through CEO in their companies from different backgrounds, different experiences, different roles, different industries. And it's an incredibly strong organization full of people who are truly supporting each other.

Lindsay Kaplan:
So that mission that we have to get women to the top and then support them when they get there certainly has driven our hiring practices. We're really looking for people who are supportive of one another, who are working hard, who have an incredible amount of inner drive, and yet are really there to help the community, the community in this case being the internal team.

Holly Shannon:
That's excellent. What's so interesting about the dynamic of your platform, if you will, Chief, is that you're crowdsourcing essentially ideas from across so many different fields with all of these strong people, but because they're all coming at it from different angles, different types of jobs, whether it be marketing or IT, whatever happens to be, they're bringing a very different perspective and yet it takes that competitive note out of it all, which is really pretty special. 

Lindsay Kaplan:
Yeah, I think that when you get to this level in your career, you are driven, but you can have that drive without being competitive towards other.

Holly Shannon:
Absolutely.

Lindsay Kaplan:
It's hard because these are women who have beaten out others for their role. So there is this natural feeling of competition. There's been tons of data that women who are in CEO roles, most of them are athletes when they were younger. My co-founder, a high school athlete, so there is that, that drive and tenacity to win. But I think when you remove the competition, you now have drive that turns into how do we uplift the entire community?

Holly Shannon:
Absolutely. You know, it's so hard, they talk about making room at the table, but generally there's only one seat. So what ends up happening is that particular woman who has technically broken the glass ceiling doesn't want to give up her seat. So it's really hard. It's so great that you're creating a different vision about how women look at that level and how they can support each other and just make a bigger table. 

Holly Shannon:
Another question for you is that I'm sort of looking at this pandemic and it's a bit of a collective experience I should say, and some businesses are really succeeding in. And so from our conversation, I'm surmising that from Chief as well. How is your culture, your company culture, helping you transition during this time of COVID-19 and what innovation is coming out of it as well?

Lindsay Kaplan:
Yeah. Well we've always said that Chief is a community that has the space rather than a company that is based in a space trying to build community. And so that has been a real pillar for us as we've moved into this remote, distributed, way that we are all working together, communicating together both as the internal team as well as the community. I think what's really come to the top for us is when women need support and when our members really want to turn to one another, they don't necessarily need to be in the same room. And so our peer groups that we have, our core group, we've seen increased attendance for these meetings that happen once a month because now they're over Zoom. We've seen more connections happening because people are in transition. They're relying on their network, they're dependent on the community.

Lindsay Kaplan:
And to be frank, I've noticed a lot of women don't have time to come all the way to Tribeca to our clubhouse [inaudible 00:09:09]. There is an element of time travel that we think about when we're creating products. And so we've been able to really move so much of what we've done in person online and I think it's actually strengthened the relationships that we're building and strengthened the support. 

Lindsay Kaplan:
Say like as far as innovation goes, we really wanted to stand up something that was in our pipeline this year. We knew we wanted to get personal coaching up and we made that happen to two weeks. And so what I think is really interesting is something like this pandemic, yes, it turns everything upside down, but it also in a way allows that norm too, that I think works against companies once you start going through the standard practice of here's a way in which we start with an idea, we have a meeting, we bring in stakeholders, we move it onto the next group of people, we build consensus.

Lindsay Kaplan:
All of that gets thrown out the door when things go upside down. And so we were able to take a a product and a service we wanted to launch, this personal coaching product, and we stood it up in two weeks and we were able to take what we had dedicated in paper, which would have been an entire quarter to get this up and out the door. We made it happen in two weeks and we were able to offer every single one of our members a complimentary coaching session to make sure that as quickly as possible during this crazy time, every member could have a free session with an executive coach, which was really important for us to make sure that they knew that we were still creating value for the member and we can truly give something to her on our behalf to make sure that she felt extra supported in this time.

Holly Shannon:
That's fantastic. You make me want to dive into two things there. So you were able to scale up this platform to serve your membership in two weeks. So that brings me to the conversation about your company culture and your diverse, scrappy, agile team that basically churned that out, that helped make that happen. So I'd love for you to speak to that and then I would also ask you if you could speak to the fact that I believe you had mentioned to me prior to this interview that you and Carolyn had talked about starting starting cheap as a virtual platform from the very beginning. Can I ask you to reflect on those two pieces of the question for me?

Lindsay Kaplan:
Sure. So I think first question on agility, we talk a lot about time travel. It's something that I mentioned earlier. I look at time travel in two ways. The first being I do not want to wait 200 years, which is what the data shows it will take for men and women to be equal in business. I am not waiting 200 years, right? We don't want to make small, tiny pushes of change. We want to make a big shove, that gets women really into that C-suite at the table, and we want to see change happen immediately. So that's the first aspect of time travel. The second being how we operate. We internally always think through how do we make sure that we are creating value and we are cutting out any time that doesn't need to be there. Meaning how do we get rid of commutes?

Lindsay Kaplan:
How do we take workshop that would normally take four sessions, how do we concentrate that and really make sure that we can concentrate that value? So in one hour we can accomplish what would typically take four hours, The more we can concentrate time, the more we can concentrate value and give that back to her, the more she is going to look to Chief as not only getting support from us but getting just this highly concentrated support that really doesn't add to her day because our members are, I think of them as movie characters of just they're so busy, right? Like these women are phenomenal. They are balancing work and family and have so much going on in their professional and personal lives that we want to make sure we are delivering as much as possible without dragging on her day and adding more to her busy schedule.

Lindsay Kaplan:
So those are the two elements of time travel and agility and that agility is reflected back in our team. We are looking for people who can time travel. It is the art of a startup is knowing how do we move as quickly as possible, still getting great results, still pushing out premium product, but how do we make sure we're doing it in a way that we are just cutting out any unnecessary steps, any unnecessary meetings, and removing any bloat that can come with a bigger company? I look for that when I'm hiring people and I think we have a team of time travelers working at Chief, working to do that.

Holly Shannon:
I'm just going to ask you, what is the, your team, how are they reacting? Have they been able to articulate how it feels to them to shift the company this way?

Lindsay Kaplan:
Yeah, I think everybody's incredibly energized. You know, a lot is pivoting. A lot is changing. You mentioned the original discussion Carolyn and I had. YPO, the company that really inspired us to build Chief, they don't have a space. And so Carolyn, when she and I were talking, we did think a lot, do we need a space? Is a space important? And ultimately we said yes. For this to be real, for this to be tangible, we wanted to create a true physical space where women, our members could come and meet one another and feel like in a way when you walk into Chief clubhouse, you feel like you've stepped into this amazing future where it's a woman's world and men are welcome into Chief of course. But when you walk in there, there's an air of power, like we have arrived and this is where we are and we are in power and we are working together.

Lindsay Kaplan:
And we felt like that was a really important step for us as we launched. And it's become a really amazing place for Chief members to be. But knowing that we didn't need it and pivoting away from it and bringing everything we've been doing into this digital landscape has proven to be successful to date. I mean, we're only about six weeks into the pandemic, but we are seeing extremely high engagement and it's really proven to us that we didn't really need that space. And I think it will be interesting to see how we expand digitally in the future.

Holly Shannon:
Yeah. So what I'd like to ask you, you talk about bringing high value to the client and there's a growing demand for your membership. You're over 8000 people in weight at this point. How are your present members reacting to the new adjusted product offerings, as well as your investors?

Lindsay Kaplan:
Yeah, I think our members are, from what we've seen, our members are going through a lot right now. Everybody is in transition. There is a level of comfort in knowing that Chief is here and even though we are not physically together, the community feels stronger than ever. We did start to make that transition before the pandemic. So I think we moved very quickly into a place where our peer groups, our events, everything could be online. And so as far as we've seen, engagement has been steady or up. We measure member satisfaction on all of the different services, that is steady or up

Lindsay Kaplan:
And our investors, we have heard from them that they are very happy that we made the change so early. And again, the credit to our team that we could be so agile that we can make this happen and really pivot the business overnight. So it took us about two weeks and we were lucky to make that change and I think we had the foresight to make that change before everybody went remote. We were already set up and good to go.

Holly Shannon:
Excellent. So this next question, I'm sort of stepping away a little bit and looking at other companies. So most companies take a long term look at their business. What would you say to other executives that have to look at the sprint and not the marathon at this time in our world?

Lindsay Kaplan:
I think this is a game of endurance right now. So I think the pandemic and what is happening right now is a bit of a marathon, but getting to where you are steady into this new normal has been a sprint. So I don't know if I can answer that except you know, when I'm hiring, I look for people who are, I think about athletes and I think about people who are well rounded enough that they can sprint or they can marathon. And I think that ability to either race ahead as quickly as possible or think far out, I try to find people, especially in senior roles who can really do both and be that agile in their thinking as possible.

Holly Shannon:
I do have a final question. I want to just shout out a few closing logistics. I want to mention that our sponsors, CompanyTribes, and then I'm going to have a link in the show notes to Chief and to Lindsay Kaplan and we had a little preliminary conversation that Lindsay will engage with us further on the platform after this has come out with any questions that people might have. And I also want to say bravo to you with looking at time travel and trying to push past or shrink the 200 year parity. I'm right there with you. My last question is as an example of company culture, can you share with the listeners what your team is doing to relieve the stress of their fellow colleagues?

Lindsay Kaplan:
Yeah, so I think the culture at Chief is really strong and I think it comes bottoms up in a way that I love. I wish I could take credit for the culture, but I do think building a wonderful team that supports one another, yes, the leadership team hires, we hope to hire great people and those people at at Chief have come together in a way that has felt so supportive to one another and we are constantly thinking through ways that we can all communicate better, support one another in a way that feels like we have each other's backs. Personally, my favorite example of that is Camp Chief. I am home right now with my husband is working full time, I am working full time, I have a four year old that I just put down to bed.

Lindsay Kaplan:
It's around 9:00 right now as we talk on the phone and I have an infant that is teething and there are other parents at Chief internally and we are exhausted. We are burned out. I'm pretty miserable day-to-day, trying to balance being a full time mom and working a full time job and the team at Chief came together noticing how out and absolutely exhausted the parents are. And without us asking, they said, "We want to do something for you."

Lindsay Kaplan:
We are people that love people, that's who makes up Chief. You can't really be a part of Chief and not think through how to make other people feel great because that's the essence and DNA of what we do. And so Camp Chief is an effort to relieve the stress of parents. So every day this group of amazing people who don't have kids set up a different activity for the kids of Chief parents. So today we had a half hour show and tell session, tomorrow's a scavenger hunt. We've had read alongs, we've had dance parties, and it was so, so moving to hear that this huge group, I think it's a third of the team, are coming together to brainstorm ideas and to host Zooms for our kids. 

Lindsay Kaplan:
I could not be more thankful, not feel more lucky to be surrounded by these thoughtful, empathetic people that want to go out of their way and create extra work for themselves to relieve some of the stress from the parent's plates right now. So just in awe of the team and just feel, again, super lucky that these are the people I get to work with in person and when we're apart.

Holly Shannon:
That's fantastic. A big round of applause to your team. That's just fantastic. And I'm thinking that maybe other executives, while they can't necessarily reach out to the people who work with or for them to do that, because of course it would feel maybe like they had to, but it might be a great opportunity for leaders [inaudible 00:22:42] out into their community, to maybe the local libraries and bookstores and see if there's anybody who wants to do story time or provide an hour where you could really focus at work and not worry that your kid is completely bored or climbing the walls or starting the oven. 

Lindsay Kaplan:
Yeah, don't get me wrong, my child is doing all three and more. But it's so nice for him to expect and to see these activities and also to engage with my coworkers, some of whom I just think are going out of their way to create these really special moments for my kids. And they haven't even, some of them, I have not even met some of my new coworkers in person yet because I went straight from maternity leave into this weird half back purgatory that I am in. So it's been remarkable to see it. And it's really a testament to the people at Chief that they are that devoted to both the members as well as their own teammates.

Holly Shannon:
Excellent. Lindsay, thank you. You are a breath of fresh air. You were such a strong leader. I think people will really enjoy your voice and I love that you were vulnerable and put out there about your family for everybody to understand experience. Because I think everybody is feeling that way and some people just are not comfortable talking about it. So I think it's really great that we could see the true shape of your life. I thank you for your voice and I believe that our listeners will really enjoy it too.

Lindsay Kaplan:
You can hear the shape of my life. I will not let you see it because it involves a lot of spit up and sweatpants and it's really not pretty, but I can certainly talk about it.

Holly Shannon:
That's okay. Your voice is perfect. We'll take it. Thank you Lindsay Kaplan. I really-

Lindsay Kaplan:
It was so wonderful speaking with you. 

Holly Shannon:
Thank you so much. We look forward to having you your show on The Culture Factor. I want to thank our listeners for joining The Culture Factor and ask that you subscribe, rate and consider leaving a review. We'd love to hear who you'd like to listen to next and thank you to our sponsor, CompanyTribes. They have an app and a virtual experience to help keep your tribe together during difficult times like now and business as usual. How strong is your company culture? Reach out to paul@companytribes.com.