From CoS to Co-founder, with Ioanna Mantzouridou Onasi
Are you looking to take your career to the next level and become a Co-founder? Are you interested in learning how to use the skills you have gained as a Chief of Staff to build a successful startup? In this blog post, we’re highlighting Ioanna Mantzouridou Onasi’s journey from being a Chief of Staff at Aptivio to starting her own edtech startup, Dextego. We’ll cover the importance of Chief of Staff skills in startup building and how they can be utilized in strategic planning, resource management, and effective decision-making. By the end of this blog post, you will better understand some of the transferable skills you can use to succeed in any career venture. So let's get started!
How did you become a Chief of Staff?
Due to my studies in psychology, communications, and strategic management as well as my research on talent development, I naturally found myself as an HR and Talent Developer in a SaaS Revenue AI startup in NYC called Aptivio. Because of my leadership and management skills, I quickly became the CoS and VP, Client Enablement. My job was to ensure that the core functions of the organization ran smoothly and efficiently, while keeping our clients happy and building the onboarding and training materials needed for Sales & Customer Success. In my time at Aptivio, I learned leadership skills that would later prove invaluable when I took the plunge and set out on my own entrepreneurial journey. In many ways, being CoS is a mini Co-founder role. (Your responsibility and stress level is up there 🤦♀️)
How did your CoS role prepare you to found a company?
As a CoS, I had developed an understanding of how organizations should be run, how they should allocate resources, how to manage personnel effectively, and most importantly, how to ensure that all processes run smoothly and on time.
This knowledge proved critical when it came time for me to establish Dextego; but more than simply being knowledgeable about organizational processes, what mattered more was having the right attitude towards running a startup - one based on innovation and calculated risks. As such, any aspiring entrepreneur or Co-founder needs to understand the importance of Chief of Staff skills in startup building, particularly those related to cross-departmental communication, strategy creation, resource allocation, personnel management, and operations.
What do you see as the key operational skills for a successful startup?
When I was first hired as a CoS, my primary responsibility was to manage operations and ensure that the company ran efficiently. My job entailed overseeing multiple teams, managing resources, identifying gaps in processes, and ensuring that everyone had what they needed to be productive.
One of the most important skills I developed as a CoS was hiring. By working with multiple teams, I gained valuable experience in understanding what qualities to look for when recruiting new employees. For example, I learned it’s important to hire adaptable people who learn fast and can be productive under pressure. What I look for the most are soft skills, such as effective communication and critical thinking 🧠
Another key skill I refined during my tenure as a CoS was conflict mitigation skills. You are constantly in between the founder(s), managers, vendors, and customers, and you hear it all I call this the “Therapist” part of the job.
Finally, implementing effective processes is another key operational skill that helps businesses run smoothly and efficiently. This involves setting up systems such as task-tracking tools or training software which can help streamline workflows and improve employee performance.
How do you think about strategic planning and implementation?
There’s more to running a successful business than just operational skills. Strategic planning and implementation are also essential for success in the startup world.
As a Chief of Staff veteran, you can use your operational skills to help with all aspects of strategic planning, from product development to sales and fundraising. For example, when it comes to product development, you can use your budgeting and resource allocation skills to ensure that products are developed efficiently and cost-effectively. You can also use your communication skills to ensure that everyone involved in product development understands the goals and objectives of their work.
Regarding sales, your ability to communicate effectively will help you build relationships with customers and vendors. At the same time, your financial knowledge allows you to develop pricing strategies that help drive sales growth. Tracking tasks using tools like CRM software can help streamline customer service delivery times.
Finally, when approaching fundraising opportunities such as venture capital or angel investors, having experience in valuations, employee stock options and requirements of each round will save you a ton of time researching! Furthermore, clearly communicating goals and objectives to reach your grand vision will make it easier for potential investors or partners to understand what they’re investing in and why they should invest in it.
In summary, utilizing Chief of Staff skills – such as budgeting & resource allocation, task tracking tools & CRM software implementation - across multiple areas is essential . When competing for resources or investor funding, these skills give startups an edge over competitors. Can you imagine how effective a startup run by 3 former Chiefs of Staff respectively focused on Product, Operations, and Sales & Marketing would be?
How are you applying the communication and relationship building skills you learned as a CoS?
Communication and relationship building are essential skills for any successful startup. When transitioning from a Chief of Staff role to becoming a Co-founder, developing strong communication skills and relationships with investors, partners, customers, and other stakeholders becomes even more important.
Building meaningful connections begins with effective communication. This can involve actively listening to others to understand their needs, building trust, and finding ways to express yourself clearly and concisely. Effective communication also requires being able to read between the lines of conversations to identify underlying needs or concerns that may not be expressed directly.
In addition to communicating effectively, establishing stakeholder relationships is key to long-term success. The ability to foster strong relationships will be essential for building brand loyalty, acquiring resources such as capital or talent and sparking innovation through collaborations. Doing this efficiently requires solid networking skills – both online and offline – and the capacity for strategic thinking when it comes to problem-solving.
Finally, entrepreneurs must remember that relationships are reciprocal; not only should you strive towards creating strong partnerships, but also ensure your own needs are met by being assertive while remaining respectful of those around you. Successful startups require successful teams – effective communication and relationship building are tools necessary for achieving this goal in any business environment, especially when transitioning from a Chief of Staff role into a Co-founder.
Finally, how have you approached resource management, given that start-ups are always under-resourced?
Resource management involves understanding the needs of the organization and being able to allocate resources appropriately. This requires viewing the big picture while also focusing on details. Additionally, it involves being able to plan projects and anticipate future needs. Effective decision-making is important for navigating difficult situations without compromising the organization's integrity or values. Evaluating competing interests when allocating resources or making decisions can help ensure that decisions are both efficient and ethical.
The experience I gained as Chief of Staff has been invaluable in building Dextego. My knowledge of resource allocation has enabled me to make informed decisions about budgeting and investment opportunities so that Dextego can be successful in the long term. My experience in communication and relationship building has helped me build strong relationships with investors, customers, partners, and other stakeholders who have provided valuable support throughout our journey as a startup.
In conclusion, the skills learned from being a Chief of Staff are highly transferable and can be utilized for multiple areas of a successful startup. I encourage anyone looking to build their career venture or startup to use their CoS swiss army knife skills and knowledge to succeed. By leveraging these transferable skills, it is possible to streamline workflows, improve customer service delivery times, network with stakeholders effectively, build strong relationships with investors and customers, navigate challenging scenarios while staying true to the organization’s core values – all of which are essential for running a successful business.