The leader of a members-only club arrives in San Francisco with the help of Google

Chief Co-Founders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan

Photos courtesy of the chef

As companies see record numbers of women quitting their jobs in “the big quit”, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is pouring money into an initiative that could help them stay.

Launched in 2019, Chief is a membership company for female executives that is designed to offer organized peer group meetings, mentorship and fireside chats with the likes of former first lady Michelle Obama.

The startup has physical spaces in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and, as of last month, $100 million in cash from CapitalG, Alphabet’s venture capital arm. The money will help Chief open a clubhouse in San Francisco this summer that will include a bar with specialty coffee, an open lounge area, meeting rooms, private call booths and a room for moms.

“Tech is such a male-dominated industry, so I think it’s a great ability to tap into something that breaks that mold a bit more,” co-founder-in-chief Carolyn Childers told CNBC in an interview. She said San Francisco is the fastest growing city in the business, and “we’ve seen incredible members join from early-stage startups to big tech giants.”

The Covid-19 pandemic bolstered the business as women flocked to Chief’s platform, which served as a support system during a time of loneliness. More than 12,000 senior executives have signed at more than 8,500 companies, including HBO, American Express, Nike, Google, Goldman Sachs, NASA and Apple.

Annual membership starts at $5,800 for women at the vice president level and $7,900 for senior executives. About 70% of members are sponsored by their employers, Childers said. Starting this year, members can pay an additional fee to get a full access pass to the Chef’s Lodges, where they can host clients, book meeting rooms and connect with other members.

Chef’s Clubhouse Bar in Los Angeles

Photos courtesy of the chef

“Alone at the Top”

Childers and co-founder Lindsay Kaplan said Chief was born out of experience, as they both had leadership positions at companies and struggled to find support. This is one of the main reasons why female workers don’t stay in the tech industry, studies show.

Childers was previously a senior vice president at Handy and Soap.com, where she served as general manager when the company was acquired by Amazon. Kaplan was vice president of communications and brand at Casper and did marketing for various startups.

“We were managing teams and coaching others, but we no longer had the resources for ourselves,” Childers said. “It can get really lonely at the top, especially when you’re literally the only woman in a room full of men.”

Chief went nationwide earlier this year. There are about 60,000 women on the waiting list, but Childers and Kaplan say they should be able to start reviewing applications sooner now that the company has more money to hire people and develop technology. .

The chef plans to open a clubhouse in San Francisco. The company has members-only clubs in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Photos courtesy of the chef

Laela Sturdy, a partner at CapitalG, said the company had an “incredible business model” but also benefited from the moment given the many stresses of the pandemic.

“I started hearing about Chief because I have a lot of friends who are female senior executives and executives in my portfolio who were joining Chief and I was honestly impressed with the momentum of the brand and the organic love that the members of the leader showed,” Sturdy said. “It’s very rare to have members and users talking about a platform that changes their lives.”

Childers says the company is now well positioned to gain even more momentum in a post-pandemic world as people crave in-person events.

“When everything became completely digital, the most important thing is that it democratized access,” Childers said. “You didn’t have to be in a specific place. For networks and communities, having the ability to meet physically is a huge benefit.”

In April, the platform featured members-only fireside chats with Arielle Gross Samuels, the global head of Meta’s environmental, social and corporate governance initiative, and former CMO of Netflix, Bozoma Saint John. Topics range from workplace inclusion to work-life balance.

Childers said it was a particularly diverse community, with 35% of members identifying as BIPOC, or Indigenous Blacks and People of Color.

Bring to businesses

Chief is raising significant capital from top venture capitalists, which means investors expect the company to scale in a way that can justify a technology valuation. Other backers include General Catalyst and GGV Capital.

Chief says he plans to grow by talking directly to businesses. For example, it could potentially customize features and program to the needs of their female executives, whether that means focusing on events or professional growth, Sturdy said.

The chef plans to open a clubhouse in San Francisco. The company has members-only clubs in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Photos courtesy of the chef

“We really want to invest deeply in building relationships with these companies so that sponsorship becomes a no-brainer for a company you’re an employee of,” Childers said. “There are a lot of opportunities to think about where Chief is, even beyond the United States”

Sturdy has a role to play in the expansion. She’s seen 10 of her investments grow into businesses worth a billion dollars or more in the past year, and she’s spent more than a decade at Google in various leadership roles. She said Chief can serve as a valuable retention tool as companies consider ways to retain their best employees.

“What’s exciting about this expansion is the vision of going to Google or Nike and saying, ‘Hey, there’s already five, 10, 20 of your senior executives who are chief members and here’s all the ways we could expand to serve more of your people,” Sturdy said.

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