Blog EAs: startup luxury or an essential resource?

EAs: startup luxury or an essential resource?

Jul 21, 2023

5 min read

Long gone are the days when we had kombucha on tap and VCs were giving us free reign to grow at all costs. Now more than ever, startup leaders are focusing on the essentials for growth, rather than luxuries. Still, many of them are holding on to their executive assistants as sustainable means for growth. Why?

Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell the difference between a luxury and an essential, especially for startups at different stages of growth. What may seem like a luxury early on can become necessary as the company expands.

To make it more clear, we need to bring down to earth what an essential really looks like. By giving practical examples and understanding how they directly impact productivity, cost-efficiency, and overall success, we can better understand how startups really need an executive assistant at each stage of their growth. So, let’s look at specific situations and see what truly counts as essential for startups at different stages.

Table of contents:

  • What is essential for startups?
  • Debunking misconceptions about hiring an EA
  • Will hiring an EA make me look elitist?
  • Will hiring an EA make me look incompetent?
  • Will hiring an EA make me look like a spender?
  • Overcoming imposter syndrome about hiring an EA

What is essential for startups?

Like a Tetris game that needs to have all the pieces in the perfect spot by going at full speed, startup executives constantly make decisions in a fast pace leaving their cost-saving mindset at odds. Startup executives obviously want, and need, to acquire the best talent out there and have talent retention strategies to reduce employee turnover. There is also traveling involved, cloud and server-related costs, software, among many other ways to use their budgets. The whole purpose of driving funding rounds is to make your startup grow as fast as possible, definitely faster than your competitors, and that takes money — sometimes, a lot of it.

As much as you plan and strategize your “tetris game”, you have to adapt the pieces as they come.

So, how does this relate to executive assistants as an essential rather than a luxury?

We believe, because we’ve seen it before, that startups benefit greatly from the support of an executive assistant to such an extent, that it should be considered a necessity for executives from the second round of funding and on. If you’ve reached Series B without one, it’s time to consider it seriously.

These three scenarios will show you what we mean by essential/luxuries being subjective but at the same time, they can be quite clear.

Managing every single email in your inbox? Essential.

Hiring a CTO to manage your inbox? Luxury.

When you run a Series A startup, you can’t afford to ignore or miss any emails and requests. They could be potential opportunities, feedback, or partnerships that could help your business grow. That’s why you need an executive assistant who can take care of your inbox and prioritize the most important messages. However, you don’t need a CTO to do that. That would be a poor use of their skills and expertise and should focus instead on developing and executing the technology and product strategy. Hiring a CTO to answer emails is like hiring a chef to make you toast.

Saving money on travel expenses? Essential.

Traveling first class? Luxury.

As a startup progresses to Series B, managing time and resources becomes crucial. An executive assistant plays a pivotal role in saving money on travel expenses by researching cost-effective options, booking accommodations, and arranging logistics. This essential task allows leaders to concentrate on high-impact activities not only saving time but also money. While traveling first class may provide luxurious amenities, it is not a necessity at this stage. An EA can help prioritize cost-effective travel options that are still really good and comfortable, ensuring executives can allocate funds toward essential areas like hiring key talent or expanding marketing efforts.

Managing communication effectively? A necessity.

Splurging on frequent extravagant team-building retreats? Luxury.

In the fast-paced world of startups, effective communication is vital for success. In the later stages especially, such as Series C all the way to the IPO process, startup leaders must ensure that information flows smoothly within a grown team and with external stakeholders. An executive assistant plays a critical role in managing communication channels, scheduling meetings, and coordinating responses. They act as a gatekeeper, filtering and prioritizing messages, enabling leaders to focus on strategic decision-making. This essential support ensures efficient collaboration and alignment across the company.

On the other hand, indulging in excessive branding and marketing initiatives can be categorized as a luxury. While branding and marketing are essential for business growth, going overboard with extravagant team-building retreats, lavish promotional events, or expensive PR stunts may not be justifiable expenses, especially for resource-constrained startups or startups that are not concentrated on the luxury industry itself. Instead, focusing on targeted and cost-effective marketing campaigns, building a strong online presence, and fostering authentic customer relationships can yield better long-term results. An executive assistant can assist in strategic marketing planning and execution, optimizing the use of resources and maximizing the impact of marketing efforts.

Debunking misconceptions about hiring an EA

There is pressure on reducing costs in payroll, cloud changes, and other expenses so you’re left with the bare essentials, leaving luxuries for other macroeconomic times.

Many startup leaders and executives are reluctant to hire an executive assistant because of three common misconceptions. These misconceptions prevent them from fully understanding the benefits and potential that come with working alongside an EA. By debunking these misconceptions, leaders can discover the valuable advantages that executive assistants bring, including increased productivity, efficiency, and growth opportunities.

These are:

  • Will hiring an EA make me look elitist?
  • Will hiring an EA make me look incompetent?
  • Will hiring an EA make me look like a spender?

Will hiring an EA make me look elitist?

No, hiring an executive assistant does not make you look elitist. In fact, it opens up lines of communication, allowing you to be more accessible and responsive to your team and stakeholders. An EA ensures that every message and email is attended to, making you a better leader who actively engages in relationships with your team.

An EA acts as a valuable resource in managing your schedule and ensuring dedicated time with your direct reports. They follow up on action items, keeping you informed about the progress and identifying opportunities for additional coaching or support when needed. This proactive approach strengthens your leadership effectiveness and demonstrates your commitment to the growth and development of your team.

An executive assistant can help you stay connected with your team by keeping you updated on important milestones, such as anniversaries or birthdays. This enables you to build stronger bonds with your team members and foster a closer working relationship, far from being elitist.

As a busy leader, your EA can also help you find time to participate in team lunches or other team activities, making you more approachable and fostering a positive team culture. By actively joining in these activities, you become an integral part of the team, fostering better collaboration and building stronger relationships.

By having an EA, you can attend every meeting without being double or triple-booked. This sends a clear message to your team that you are fully aware of what’s happening and are actively involved. It reinforces your commitment to staying informed and engaged, boosting the confidence and trust of your team members.

In summary, hiring an executive assistant not only enhances your accessibility and responsiveness but also allows you to maintain meaningful connections with your team, prioritize your time effectively, and actively participate in team activities. It is a valuable asset that demonstrates your dedication as a leader and strengthens your overall leadership presence.

Will hiring an EA make me look incompetent?

Not at all. Hiring an executive assistant does not make you look incompetent; in fact, it demonstrates your commitment to productivity and effectiveness. An executive assistant can significantly enhance your performance and help you accomplish more.

Executive assistants provide valuable support to leaders, allowing them to maintain a clear mindset and focus on their tasks. By handling administrative and operational duties, EAs help create a sense of sanity and peace of mind, enabling you to be better focused and more productive.

Through effective calendar compartmentalization techniques, executive assistants optimize your working hours, helping you reach your full potential. They manage schedules, ensuring that you make the most of each day and accomplish more tasks. This includes prioritizing important personal appointments, such as doctor’s visits or even taking a break for lunch, so that you can maintain a healthy work-life balance.

EAs also play a crucial role as team members during board meetings. They assist in planning and communicating meeting agendas and objectives, manage and engage meeting attendees, and support the delivery of essential data and insights. Our experience has shown successful outcomes with executive assistants providing invaluable support in board meetings. You can read more about how EAs support executives in board meetings in our informative blog post.

A skilled EA solves various pain points that startup executives face, including multitasking inefficiency. They utilize planning, prioritizing, and delegation techniques to address these challenges, helping you streamline your workflow and maximize your efficiency.

A notable example of an EA positively impacting an executive’s performance is the case of Shipwell’s CMO, Karen Sage, who works with Maria, an EA from Viva. Maria’s support extends beyond administrative and operational tasks, resulting in a significant reduction in the CMO’s workload and a notable boost in productivity. By assuming ownership of various responsibilities, Maria has given valuable hours back to her CMO. This newfound time allows the CMO to engage in focused, strategic work, leading to increased productivity, impactful decision-making, and overall success.

In conclusion, hiring an executive assistant does not reflect incompetence but rather a proactive approach to optimizing your productivity and performance. EAs provide valuable support, enabling you to be more focused, accomplish more tasks, and make impactful decisions. With their support, you can thrive as a leader and achieve greater success in your role.

Will hiring an EA make me look like a spender?

Actually, hiring an executive assistant is a strategic investment that brings numerous benefits to your business. It’s important to note that this decision is not about overspending but rather optimizing resources for maximum productivity. Let’s explore three compelling reasons why executive assistants (EAs) are worth the investment:

Cost savings: EAs provide a cost-effective solution for startups. By entrusting administrative tasks to an EA, you can avoid the expense of assigning these responsibilities to high-level employees such as C-suite executives or VPs. EAs efficiently handle these tasks at a more affordable rate, allowing you to allocate your financial resources more effectively. Allocating $60K per year to hire an EA is a prudent utilization of your funding. This investment directly enhances your productivity and focus, bringing you closer to achieving your goals. By strategically allocating resources towards an EA, you optimize your financial budget and ensure that your startup operates at its highest potential. Building a solid business case for hiring an EA is an essential step in understanding the value they bring and justifying the investment.

Time savings: EAs are adept at saving you precious time. Taking care of non-executive tasks, EAs free up your schedule to focus on more crucial responsibilities. With the support of an EA, you can reclaim at least 2 hours each day. That extra time can be redirected towards revenue generation, sales strategy, team leadership, and other essential activities that drive your startup’s growth.

Considering the cost savings, time savings, and strategic utilization of funding that come with hiring an EA, it becomes evident that it is a valuable decision for your business. Embracing the support of an EA is a practical and forward-thinking step towards achieving your startup’s objectives and driving sustainable growth.

Overcoming imposter syndrome about hiring an EA

If you’re a startup executive who feels like you don’t need or deserve an executive assistant (EA), you might be dealing with imposter syndrome. You might think that being swamped with work is normal or that hiring one means you’re not good enough for your role. But don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from hiring an EA.

Imposter syndrome is very common among high-performing professionals. It’s when you doubt yourself, fear failure, and think that your success is due to luck, not skill. A study from Kajabi, a startup that operates as an all-in-one knowledge commerce platform, found that about 84% of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome. It can make startup executives think that they don’t need any support, even when they do.

The good news is that you can overcome imposter syndrome by taking on challenges and learning from them. This can help you build resilience and confidence in your abilities. An EA can help you with this by helping you manage your challenges more efficiently. Plus, getting support from others is another great way to defeat imposter syndrome.

Summary

Executive assistants are a valuable resource for startups, not just a luxury.

In the past, startups could afford many perks, but now they focus on essentials for growth. However, some still keep executive assistants because they prove valuable as companies grow.

By recognizing the value of an EA and embracing their support, startup executives can drive productivity, efficiency, and overall success in their roles.

If you’re wondering whether you should consider hiring an Executive Assistant, you can use these seven questions to assess if it’s the right time for you to have one.

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