What is a Founder’s Associate?

PLEASE NOTE: This is an evolving topic, as the role appears to have only gained relevance quite recently. This post will be updated as more information about this position becomes available. For some context, as of the writing of this post, there were 1,800 results for Founders Associate on LinkedIn, compared to 543,000 for Chief of Staff. 

What do we know about the Founders Associate role? 

The first thing I can definitely say about the Founders Associate, is that it is a Force Multiplier role. This individual is there to act as a right-hand partner to the founder and provide them leverage in order to free up their time to focus on more impactful projects such as fundraising, strategy, product development, etc. 

For those researching the role or applying for the position, note that the role goes by three variations: Founder’s Associate, Founders Associate, and Founder Associate. 

One common theme I have noticed so far is that the Founder Associate position appears to be showing up in Europe (specifically Germany and the UK) more than anywhere else. In fact, the three articles that I reference below are all written by individuals who live/work in Europe. In the past, I have been told by my various fellow Executive Assistants and aspiring Chiefs of Staff that the Chief of Staff role (while fairly prevalent in the United States these days, especially in the tech and start-up space) was not very common in their countries. Moving into a Chief of Staff position wasn’t really an option. Perhaps the Founder Associate role is the answer. 

What is the difference between a Chief of Staff and Founders Associate? 

This, of course, begs the question: What is the difference between a Chief of Staff and Founders Associate?

From my research, there appears to be only a few differences. Both of these roles were created to provide support and leverage to a principal by bridging the gap and connecting the dots across various projects, such as operations, marketing, sales, hiring, setting up company offices, helping with fundraising and more. Both Founders Associates and Chiefs of Staff are generalists, strategic thinkers, able to lead through influence, and handle the execution of a wide range of projects and responsibilities. And both of these positions have to possess strong business acumen, leadership, and project management skills. Honestly, the roles are quite similar.

Where they differ most significantly appears to be three-fold: 

  1. A Founders Associate is best suited for start-ups (generally in the seed stage) and will likely be very hands-on, while Chiefs of Staff are best suited for more established organizations or highly complex companies.  
  2. A Founders Associate works directly, and in partnership, with a founder (as the name implies). A Chief of Staff can be found supporting a variety of executives from CEO, to Chief Marketing Officer, to Chief People Officer, to Chief Product Officer, or leading alongside the Principal of a family office or family enterprise. 
  3. While a Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant are two distinct roles, I’ve seen the Founders Associate roles include some executive/personal assistant to the founder responsibilities. To what extent a Founders Associate is expected to perform the responsibilities and provide the expertise of an Executive Assistant is unclear. This will be something to watch. There is often talk of the Chief of Staff and EA role overlapping (or creating a hybrid position). In the case of start-ups, perhaps that hybrid position is a Founders Associate.  

One additional thought: A Founders Associate role may become a great entry point into a Chief of Staff position in the future. 

What makes a great Founders Associate? 

In my opinion, the same core qualities that make a great Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff, make a great Founders Associate. After all, they are all Force Multiplier positions! 

Those qualities and skills include: 

  • Driver
  • Takes initiative
  • Not afraid to try new ideas & take calculated risks
  • Challenges your thinking
  • Strategic thinking, critical thinking, & creative problem solving
  • Resourceful
  • Adaptable, able to navigate uncertainty & high ambiguity
  • Learning-based & growth-minded
  • Influential leadership skills – able to bring teams together, build consensus, and translate that into action
  • Has a distinct viewpoint and is unafraid to bring difficult issues/conversations to light
  • Fast-paced and responsive
  • Exceptional writing and communication skills
  • A recovered/recovering perfectionist
  • High emotional intelligence 
  • Grit 

In short, Founders Associates (and all Force Multipliers) are leaders. Their mission is to ensure their principal or founder’s objectives, goals, and vision are organized, communicated, delegated, and executed. A great Founders Associate will give time back to their founder, keep initiatives moving forward, and help build and grow a widely successful business. 

More information about the Founders Associate role

For more information about the founders associate position, check out these articles: 

If you are, have been, or work with a Founders Associate, I would love to hear from you and share your story! Email hello@founderandforcemultiplier.com

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