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Screen shot from an interview with Darcy Lee and Casey Bolsega

Casey Bolsega, Senior Portfolio Manager at Intrepid, sits down with Darcy Lee, the innovative founder and CEO of Vida Nova. With a rich background in applying brain sciences to business, Darcy has shaped a career that spans across various high-impact roles—from COO to VP of Strategic Growth. In this conversation, she dives deep into her journey from the academic realms of brain science to the dynamic world of business consulting, and the pivotal moments that led her to launch Vida Nova. Darcy also shares her unique perspective on the role of a fractional Chief of Staff and how it can transform business operations, offering flexibility and strategic insight. Join us as we explore these insightful themes, perfect for entrepreneurs eager to adapt and scale effectively in today’s fast-paced market.

Casey Bolsiga:
Hey there. Casey Bolsiga, senior portfolio manager here at Intrepid, and I’m excited for today’s conversation as I get to dive in with Darcy Lee and we talk about investing in your startup success, how you can empower entrepreneurs to adapt and scale on their own terms. As I mentioned, I’m here with Darcy Lee, founder and CEO of Vida Nova, and Vidanova provides fractional chief of staff, services and business consulting. We’ll dive more into what led her to start Vitanova, as well as her vision of transforming the power of a fractional chief of staff. Darcy, how are you doing today?

Darcy Lee:
I’m great. How are you doing? Doing well. So, first, just to start, for people who aren’t maybe familiar with you, your background, your experience, share a little bit more about yourself. Yeah.

Darcy Lee:
So what got me here is kind of a long, what I say is a long and circuitous journey. So I graduated from college with science degrees, brain sciences. I never really planned to get a job. I plan to do research and teach and stay in higher education, but I found myself a lot more interested in the application of the brain sciences and psychology in business. So for the past 20 years, I have worked in small to mid-sized businesses across a variety of business functions.

Project manager, account executive director of sales, COO, VP of strategic growth, and I’ve worked with clients, like you said, from startups to small nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies like Harley Davidson and UPS. And the organizations that I’ve worked within have ranged from marketing to tech organizations. And so that’s kind of like a real skinny, quick version of my background. And in October, I started Vita Nova. And I know our paths have crossed a couple different times kind of throughout your journey, but Vida Nova is a new venture for you.

Casey Bolsiga:
So when you look at kind of everything, what led you to pursue this path in your entrepreneurial journey?

Darcy Lee:
Yeah, well, it is super exciting, super new. You know, I think a lot of things went into it, and what I usually tell people is just, it was time. So this year, my family experienced a really significant loss with somebody that we love dearly. And it really made me dig in and ask myself, am I living my best life?

Am I truly using all my gifts and talents? Am I creating the life that I want? And I also realized earlier this year, as I was touring the football stadium down at IU, that I had graduated from college 20 years ago. And that was a pretty significant 20 years ago, you know, like a pretty significant moment for me and in all the roles that I’ve served in, I’m what my dad would call a utility player. So if there was a problem, if there’s a challenge, you know, people would look to me to solve it.

So for those of us my age, q and vanilla ice here. But I also saw opportunities that other people didn’t see and connected dots that other people, you know, weren’t able to. So. And earlier this year, I began seeing roles at different companies with the title chief of staff. And I was really intrigued and interested with that.

And the more descriptions that I read of how different companies, you know, utilize the chief of staff, like, what that meant, it felt like it, like, fit me perfectly. It was the best way to describe how I felt I could serve a business and bring all my gifts and talents to the table. So basically, I felt like the world was finally ready for me to say it that way, and I felt like I could do my best work as an entrepreneur rather than working within a company. So you might say, hey, you saw all these chief of staff roles. Why didn’t you apply for those?

I love variety. It’s part of how I’ve amassed so many different experiences and skill sets. I’ve worked with so many different clients and different roles. So I like the variety of being able to work with a lot of different companies, but it also allows me to be objective, something that is often difficult to do when you’re within an organization and the politics of an organization, but specifically serving as a fractional chief of staff, I think that’s a really important part of the services that I offer. It allows an organization the ability to get what they need when they need it, how they need it, for how long they need it, so that they don’t have the overhead of maybe a full time executive.

If they’re, and if they’re thinking of making it a full time role, which I often hear, they can leverage my experience and skill sets to, like, better define what that role is, what the responsibilities are, develop new frameworks and processes, et cetera, you know, and just make it really easy for somebody else if they would like to make that a full time role, to step in. And sometimes it’s like, well, you actually don’t need a chief of staff. What you need is to elevate this person, move this person over, you know, so it can be a variety of different things, but the fractional thing is really important. And you talked about being a utility player, which I love that term. I think that’s great.

You know, obviously, when you think of, you know, sports teams and different stuff like that, the utility players bring a certain level of impact to the team. How do you think the role of chief of staff in particular, how should that impact the company and help it move forward?

Darcy Lee:
Yeah, so it’s a really interesting question. My favorite answer is it depends. Like if you’ve ever worked in any industry, when somebody asks you something, you’re like, well, it depends.

And that’s definitely the case here. I think that no two companies are the same. So no two chief of staffs are the same or no chief and staff. No two chief of staff engagements for me will look the same. But generally speaking, a chief of staff is like what I would consider a force multiplier for executives.

And so somebody in that role would expand leadership capacity, can look at and address challenges within the organization that are organization wide, and support and develop the company through a transition or a growth phase. That’s kind of the high level, but a lot of the times the chief of staff works directly with the CEO. But at Vida Nova, I wanted to sort of extend that to be a little bit more broad to whatever executive. You know, there might be a particular executive or set of executives or it’s a board that you’re serving, because I really think that those services work well at any executive level. But I also work with organizations on consulting engagement.

So it’s a bit different from a true chief of staff role, but I kept the title kind of for both. I really like chief of staff because the skill sets are the same that make for a good consultant as they are for a chief of staff. But the consulting engagements differ a little bit. And the role of a consultant in those types of situations is usually going to be, someone’s going to be brought in when there’s a triggering event. I talk on my website a little bit about inflection points, and consulting engagements are going to have a little bit more specific focus.

They’re going to focus specifically on developing and executing a strategic plan, operationalizing sales, cross team collaboration and alignment. So they’ll have a little bit more narrow focus than like a chief of staff. And maybe I should explain inflection points. I realize that’s something that I’d love to hear more about that. For me, I think of inflection points as opportunity points.

You know, an inflection point is something that can go up or down, right? So I like to think of it as when a business is growing or tackling complex challenges. That’s an inflection point. But other inflection points can be external. So we’ve seen in the past year, you know, the economy is a little bit different.

The competitive environment is different, market conditions are different, and those are inflection points. In a business where you got to do something differently. What got you here won’t get you there. And that’s usually where I come in, both as a chief of fractional, chief of staff, and as a consultant. And you talked about a couple of different challenges.

But what are maybe the top one to two that you’re seeing present right now with businesses in a tumultuous environment? A lot going on in the economy, a lot going on in different industries. What are some of those challenges you’re seeing right now? Well, if I had to name the top two, the first would be growth. Right?

Like, you know, however that means for a company, growth doesn’t always mean financial gain. In most cases it does, but sometimes it doesn’t, you know, so there’s, there’s an opportunity for growth or stagnation in growth kind of thing. And the second thing would be time, quite frankly, like executives and companies, I mean, pretty much everyone I meet, but, like, in particular, executives are running from meeting to meeting emails, they’re putting out fires. They’re working 70 hours a week. You know, there’s just no time and space to think strategically or to tackle, you know, larger and larger problems or challenges.

There’s an inability to sort of, like, think holistically about the business and how the business is going to grow. It’s more like I’m just kind of doing the things and I know the things are working, but, like, I don’t have a whole view on it. So those would probably be the top things that I see. But, you know, I see other things like communication, you know, resolving barriers to communication. How can I get my sales and marketing team to collaborate better?

Um, you know, how, and I look at it not in silos, so sometimes people are like, oh, throw money at marketing. Right? Marketing is great. I’ve done marketing. But if you’re not, um, serving your clients well, then you might as well just go to the window and throw your money out the window, you know, like, we’ve got other things that are more important and that’s kind of that higher level visibility that I bring where I can say, okay, well, this the problem you think you’re trying to solve, but let’s ask, let’s dig a little bit deeper and really make sure that we’re, we’re getting you where you want to go and solving the right problems in the right order.

Yep. Solving those, those other problems can help with the time and help with the growth example that you mentioned. Well, nobody wants to just burn money. Nobody wants to burn people out or throw money out the window, you know? So I think that’s really great, to have the perspective of a consultant or a third party person come in to really look at it and to say, you know what?

Like, you may not want to hear this, but, like, this is, this is what I see. This is what I’ve seen in other businesses and organizations. And, you know, I’m looking around the corner for you. I’m helping you avoid, you know, you’re falling into a trap of doing something like, you know, I talked to somebody who was like, yeah, we’re about to spend $25,000 on this. And I was like, well, who’s your buyer?

And they didn’t know. They didn’t know how to answer that question. And I was like, you might as well just go throw that money out the window then, if you don’t really know. So lots of things ranging from customer success, operations, business management, sales and marketing, lots of different things that I touch on with clients. And the thing I love about being independent is that if I can’t help you, I 100% can point you to somebody who can.

And I love that. I love that sense of community and creating a partnership network and having those resources to be able to say, you know what? I think there’s this other person who does this role, and I think that they would be better suited to handle this. Or let’s bring that person in to complement the work that we’re doing together. Right?

No, I love it. I love it. Darcy, this has been so great to hear more about your perspective. And before we kind of sign off here, what is the best way for people to get in touch with you? The best way is LinkedIn.

I live on LinkedIn. If you’re going to connect with me, make sure to put a note in the connection request. That’s always really important for me to understand some context for why someone is reaching out to me. You can also reach me darcy@vitastrategy.com that’s Vitanova strategy.com. And then there’s contact forms on my website, which I check regularly, so any number of ways.

Casey Bolsiga:
Awesome. Well, sincerely, a heartfelt congrats to you on what you’re building and for officially launching Vitanova. And thanks for all you do for the startup community. Darcy, I’m excited to watch you continue to grow and to help support your journey. Great. I appreciate it. Thanks.

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