It's lonely at the top.
As any entrepreneur or C-suite executive will tell you, leading a team can be as rewarding as it is punishing, with the long hours, cash-flow woes, and expectations to meet with customers and employees. While men have long enjoyed support from networks and clubs that cater to them, women historically have had fewer options--particularly when they're younger.
Lindsay Kaplan and Carolyn Childers want to change this for good. In January 2019, they founded the New York City-based private women's network Chief, which offers C-suite execs and rising vice presidents mentorship opportunities across industries, focused career coaching sessions, and networking events. There's also access to a clubhouse, a speaker series, and workshops.
The entrepreneurs had worked in high-level jobs--Kaplan at mattress startup Casper and Childers at home-improvement marketplace Handy--before founding Chief. "I really spent more time mentoring younger women than I did looking for mentorship for myself," says Kaplan. "We felt as we were climbing up the ladder, as many women feel, that there was nowhere for us to go."
Chief curates core groups of eight to 10 members based on responsibility level, career experience, and life stage. Groups meet once a month at the clubhouse for discussions led by a guide: a facilitator with at least a decade of experience in executive coaching or leadership development. Membership is $5,400 a year for VP-level executives and $7,800 for those in the C-suite, which is pricey until you consider that attending a single conference can cost just as much.
"These core groups allow people to have sessions where they can really use each other for support and advice and have that private space to unwind, but also really tackle their biggest challenges," says Childers.
While Chief's services are currently available only in New York City, the firm already has 1,500 members representing more than 1,000 companies including Apple, Nike, WeWork, Lyft, Amazon, and Instagram. Another 7,000 women are on a waitlist. That's up from 1,100 members, representing 700 companies, just two months ago. In the spring of 2020, Chief will open a new location--taking over an entire five-story, 20,000-square-foot building in the city's Flatiron district.
What's more, Kaplan and Childers closed a $22 million Series A in July, co-led by General Catalyst and Inspired Capital, an investment fund founded by Alexa von Tobel. The round is one of the largest Series A rounds raised by a woman-led company this year.
"What really stuck out to me was just how big Chief's vision is," says von Tobel, who is also a Chief member. "Imagine what will happen when we bring the top 50,000 women across the country into a single place [and] actually begin to leverage that power together." Von Tobel is an Inc.com columnist and host of Inc.'s Founder's Project Podcast.
On a recent tour of Chief's first clubhouse in Tribeca--festooned with moss-green walls, buttery leather armchairs, and a plethora of plant life--Kaplan is quick to point out that Chief is absolutely not a co-working space. "You won't generally find people working on their laptops here," she says, walking past a baby grand piano. Indeed, while there are plenty of women-focused co-working places these days--the Wing, the Riveter, and Luminary are just three--Chief is not one, nor does it want to be.
It also wants to keep a low profile. The company has received its fair share of media attention over the past 10 months, yet it's not striving to be public-facing. Chief doesn't have an Instagram or Twitter presence (it is on LinkedIn) and doesn't publicly disclose programming. Even with the expansion, Kaplan and Childers say they still want the place to be "very hidden." It's more of a "secret society" that just happens to have a physical home base, says Kaplan.
"We really want to make sure that the space feels sacred, because the community, the network, the confidentiality, the conversations are so important," says Kaplan, who notes that Tina Fey did a Chief event a few weeks ago, while other notable figures including Whoopie Goldberg, Julianne Moore, Marc Lore, and Lindsey Vonn have also appeared. The new space, they say, will have more conference rooms to host their core-group sessions, phone booths, outdoor terraces, and two event spaces where they plan on hosting exclusive workshops.
And though the founders have designs on bringing their brand of mentorship to big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, D.C., and Boston, they hope to maintain that rarified feeling members now enjoy, says Kaplan. "Making sure that door stays closed is paramount to building trust and to making sure that these women have a place to be heard, a place to get unbiased support."