Madison September 2018 Featured Entrepreneur: Madeleine Niebauer // Featured Member // Sep 12 2018
Madeleine Niebauer of vChief
Doyenne Group (DG): What business do you own?
Madeleine Niebauer (MN): vChief – Virtual Chief of Staff Service
DG: What is your role/title within your business?
MN:CEO and Founder
DG: What is the goal/mission of your business?
MN: We provide top notch strategic and chief of staff support to leverage the time of busy executives, typically on a part-time or interim basis.
DG: What is your background? What got you to where you are now?
MN: I spent five years as a Chief of Staff at Teach For America, working virtually with a member of the organization’s leadership team. I loved the fast-paced, ever-changing nature of the work, and the ability to truly leverage a leader’s time so they could be more productive and successful.
Most recently before starting vChief, I was the Vice President of Strategy, Learning, and Operations at Teach For America. Prior to joining TFA, I was a strategy consultant for foundations and nonprofit organizations at The Bridgespan Group. Earlier in my career, I managed a tutoring center with SCORE! Educational Centers and served in the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast. I also have my MBA from Columbia Business School and my BA from Stanford University.
DG: What made you decide to start your business?
MN: While I was at Teach For America, my former manager left to start a new nonprofit. She asked me to come moonlight for her as a consultant, 5 – 10 hours a week, in a chief of staff capacity. Though she couldn’t afford and didn’t need a full time chief of staff, she missed the added capacity I had brought to her in that role. After doing this for several months, I realized there were likely other leaders like her who could use a chief of staff but who don’t have the budget or workload to require someone full time. So I created vChief with a model similar to the virtual assistant model, where an executive will opt into a certain number of hours of support each month and be matched with their own chief of staff.
DG: What is your biggest accomplishment in your business to date, and why?
MN: We launched quickly out of the gate, and grew over 300% from year 1 to year 2. We have a team of over 20 people and revenue will likely approach $1M this year. Our clients are incredibly satisfied with the support they receive: 100% of surveyed clients said they would recommend vChief and 95% said their chief of staff has provided them leverage to be a better leader. Similarly, our team is very satisfied: 100% said that vChief was a great place to work and 100% would recommend it to a friend. I attribute most of our growth and success to having a strong network and providing a high quality product. We grow our client base and our consultant applicants largely by referrals, and we’ve built a strong brand.
DG: If you could give one quote to live by, what would it be?
MN: I love Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I attempt to do this on several fronts. From my first job in the Peace Corps, my career has been focused on the greater good. I’m grateful that many of our clients at vChief are social enterprises, nonprofits and foundations; we help those leaders create more impact in their work.
Beyond that, I’m really motivated to help people, especially women, find balance in their lives and careers. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to manage a career and a young, growing family. I was fortunate to be able to work from home while my kids were young, and I’m glad to be providing employment opportunities that are virtual and part-time, but also challenging, fulfilling and lucrative.
DG: What are three things that people may not know about you?
- I world-school my 3 children: we’ve spent 14 months living abroad.
- I speak fluent West-African French.
- I was on Teen Win-Lose-or-Draw. I won.
DG: What words of advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
MN: Take advantage of all of the resources available to you. There are so many in Madison, Doyenne being a big one! But also places like 100State where I work, StartingBlock, Forward Fest, Capital Entrepreneurs, Merlin Mentors, the Law and Entrepreneurship clinic and more.
Also, think hard about what your ideal work-life balance looks like, by moving away from doing client work myself, my hours have decreased but my income has increased as I’ve been able to grow our client base. How can you leverage other people and technological solutions to free up your own time? Also, consider starting your business or testing the waters as a side-gig. It can be challenging to give up the comfort and reliability of a regular paycheck, but if you can build up your product or service offering and start to build a client base before you take the plunge, it will be easier to do.
DG: What does Madison need to encourage entrepreneurs to stay and grow their businesses?
MN: This isn’t a Madison-only problem, but I think health insurance is something that holds people back from leaving their corporate jobs and jumping into entrepreneurship. The affordable care act has made it easier to get coverage but it is often prohibitively expensive. It would be great to see one of the Madison-area entrepreneurship organizations could facilitate a group-rate on insurance for solo-preneurs or early stage companies.
Join us at our monthly Connect Event on Wednesday, September 26 from 6-8pm for an evening of networking with other women professionals and a presentation from this inspirational entrepreneur.