Sep 17 2020

Bolster’s Founding Manifesto

(This post also appeared on and builds on last week’s post where I introduced my new startup, Bolster)

Welcome to Bolster, the on-demand executive talent marketplace. We are creating a platform that is the new way to scale an executive team and board.

verb: bolster; 3rd person present: bolsters; past tense: bolstered; past participle: bolstered; gerund or present participle: bolstering

support, boost, strengthen, fortify, solidify, reinforce, augment, reinvigorate, enhance, improve, invigorate, energize, spur, expand, galvanize, underpin, deepen, complement

We believe that startups and scaleups are not average companies. Their rapid growth means their appetite for talent constantly outstrips their budget — and that they can’t spend months searching for it. Their dynamic industries dictate that they keep pace with bigger and better funded competitors. Their leadership teams — the people and the roles — are always changing. Their CEOs spend a ton of time hiring and coaching their leaders and shaping the complexion and direction of the team. They stress out about big expensive new executive hires when sometimes they just need to level-up an existing manager or “try before they buy.” Their Boards frequently jump in to help, but those efforts can be a little ad hoc and inefficient.

We believe that experienced executives working as consultants is the wave of the future. The number of career executives who work flexibly and on-demand for a living is skyrocketing in recent years. People are more often “between things” and are interested in plugging into shorter-term engagements while continuing to look for their next full-time role. People are retiring younger, yet wanting to keep contributing. And even fully-employed execs like to advise companies and serve on Boards. Whether these people are career consultants or are looking for a “side hustle” or just to pay something forward to a future generation of leaders, they all have two common problems: finding work is time consuming and they’re often not good at or don’t like doing it; and managing their back office, everything from insurance to legal to tax to marketing, is a drain on time that could otherwise be spent with clients or family.

We believe that a new kind of talent marketplace is needed to meet the unique and complex requirements of both audiences — the freelance, or flexible, seasoned executive, and the startup or scaleup CEO who thinks holistically about his or her leadership team and carefully tends them like a garden. We are building a platform to make instant, tailored, vetted matches between talent and companies without the randomness of a job board and without the theater, long lead times, and cost, of a full service agency 

Service marketplaces like ours work best when they help their stakeholders solve other meaningful, related problems.In this case, we believe that the need for back office services will help executive consultants focus on more important things. And we believe that CEOs need lightweight and dynamic support in thinking through the composition and skills required of their executive teams both today and 6-18 months in the future.

That is the essence of the business we are building. A business to quickly match awesome companies with awesome freelance executives and to help both sides be better at what they do. We are here to make it easier for you to:

  • Bolster your executive team. For our Clients, our pledge to you is that we will quickly and cost-effectively fill the gaps in your leadership ranks (whether interim, fractional, advisory, board, or project-based) with trusted, curated talent, and that we will give you a platform to evaluate your overall leadership team and help you think through your future needs as your company evolves. Think of us as a shortcut to scaling your leadership team.
  • Bolster your board. The best boards are the ones with multiple independent directors who come from diverse backgrounds with diverse points of view. We also pledge to our Clients that we will find great matches to help fill out their boardrooms as their strategic advisory needs change over time.
  • Bolster your work. For our Members, our pledge to you is that we will find you the right kind of interesting clients and help you manage your back office so you can focus on your work (and all the other important things in your life!).
  • Bolster your portfolio. For our Portfolio Partners, VC and PE board members, our pledge to you is that we will make it easier for you and your firm to both drive successful on-demand executive placements for your portfolio company CEOs, and to manage and expand your firm’s network of flexible executive talent. 

We are an experienced team of entrepreneurs and operators who have scaled multiple businesses throughout our careers. All of us worked together as part of the leadership team at Return Path, a leading email technology company that we scaled from 0 to $100mm in revenue and 500 employees in 12 locations around the world while winning numerous Employer of Choice awards. All of us have independent experience scaling other businesses, small and large, public and private. All of us have experience being on-demand executives as well — whether interim, fractional, advisory, project-based, or board roles, we know the landscape of both our members and our clients. 

We’ve all dealt with the stress of having product-market fit and market opportunities but not being able to capitalize on those opportunities because we were missing key talent. And we’ve tried everything from executive search firms (expensive, time-consuming, and slow), to leveling up people (will they be able to grow into the role?), to leaning in to our board (hit or miss, inefficient). Heck, we’ve been desperate enough to follow up on the “my cousin’s boyfriend has an uncle, and he might know someone” lead.

We believe there is a better way for startups and scaleups to find executive talent. Along the way, I published a book about scaling startups called Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business that has sold over 40,000 copies to CEOs around the world. And our whole team is working on a new book called Startup CXO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Teams, which is coming out in early 2021. Our team has a maniacal focus on helping startup teams scale and flourish and on helping leaders develop into the best version of themselves. That’s what we’re all about. 
Plus, we have an amazing group of investors behind us who know how to grow businesses like ours and have incredible reach into the startup and scaleup world. More about that later. For now, we are excited to soft launch Bolster and begin unleashing the power of on-demand executive talent to our Clients. Thank you for being on this journey with us. If you’re interested in the somewhat unusual story of how the company was founded, it’s here.