We had the pleasure of chatting with Nkem Oghedo Nkem started her career working in healthcare consultancies before going to business school to pursue an MBA and explore her interest in startups. She's now the Chief of Staff at healthtech startup, Care/of.
She shared her thoughts on the importance of social enterprises and the positive impact businesses can have on their employees and the welfare of society. Healthcare startups like Care/of are creating holistic approaches to how consumers take care of themselves and we were thrilled to get a firsthand view Nkem and her team's approach to building this important business.
Nkem is a born entrepreneur, having recently founded Ada Supper Club, a startup that curates thoughtful dining experiences that combine black and female perspectives with contemporary aesthetics.
Read on to learn more about Nkem's Chief of Staff experience and career ambitions!
How did you get into your CoS role at Care/of?
I studied engineering in college. I thought I wanted to be a chemical engineer, but quickly realized I didn't want to do that. After school I got into consulting at a healthcare consultancy for a few years and went back to get my MBA. I quickly recognized that the consulting lifestyle was not one that I wanted to maintain. I was still very interested in the way that small businesses startups grow and are doing new and interesting things and creating a workspace that's more sustainable. I wanted to create more products and services that felt appropriate for the sort of progressive lifestyle that I'm interested in living.
I found this role actually on LinkedIn. I was able to connect with some people on the team and met Craig and Akash, our co‑founders, and really loved their vibe and their mission. The energy of the space really spoke to me so I was super happy to join the team about two and a half years ago
What excites you about Care/of’s vision in the healthcare space?
How do you make taking care of yourself fun? We often think about it as chores:I have to exercise, eat healthy, take my vitamins, but really it’s a privilege that you get to take care of yourself.
It’s a form of self care to be able to do all of these things for yourself. I loved the fun aspect of it that really bleeds through the culture at Care/of and the way that we think about health holistically; what we think about in the Western world as alternative forms of medicine. I'm Nigerian American. I very much believe that these traditional medicines (herbs, etc) are valid forms of medication. They have been used by humans much longer than many of our like Western styles of medication.
I really love the diverse and holistic approach to what you can do to take care of yourself from vitamins and supplements to also like meditation and eating. We are very much science‑based too, but we believe that there can be a science from standardized randomized trials. Control studies. And there's also a traditional use as a form of validation of some of these things. So that's why I appreciate it.
What does social enterprise mean to you?
My perspective is that politically all businesses should be social enterprises. No business should focus exclusively on profit. You should also think about the wellbeing of your employees, the impact to the environment, to your community, and social aspects that your business affects in the world. From that definition, Care/of is a for‑profit social enterprise.
Our mission is to remove all obstacles to living healthy. We're doing that right now in the vitamin and supplement space, which is also traditionally a space filled with a lot of bad players and rigmarole. It's a regulated industry, but you wouldn't know that by the number of lies and low quality materials that are out there. So our mission to make taking care of yourself easy and fun and something you look forward to doing, is providing an important service. Especially if you think about health as a foundational need for us as humans.
What’s your professional goal in the next ~10 years?
I definitely want to be entrepreneurial in my life. Chiefs of Staff are often talking about what comes after their Chief of Staff role. I want to be a general manager. I definitely see myself starting companies, running companies.
I've started a small business here in New York called the Ada Supper Club where we do public and private dining experiences with Black chefs and female chefs, which has been a great experience. I see myself through business providing social value by creating space for people to self‑actualize whether it’s with a product or service. I think about creating a business, a workspace environment that's inclusive and welcoming to all people, where you can come to work everyday and actually feel like it is helping you be a better version of yourself.
Businesses can be an avenue for liberation or for self‑actualization for progression in society. I care deeply about the benefits of business and I hope to be a player in making those things happen.
What surprised you the most about your experience as a Chief of Staff
I think Chiefs of Staff specifically and startups generally are just figuring it out as we go. We all kind of have this perception of entrepreneurs or startups as people that know what they're doing and what's going on. We don't really know what we're doing all the time, but we can figure it out together.
I'm sure all, Chiefs of Staff know there's definitely a beauty to having the space, to find answers in the ambiguity of both the role and the business, but then that lack of direction sometimes can be frustrating or challenging. Balancing the pros and cons of the role has been a good learning.
What’s something that you’re sneaky good at or that people wouldn’t expect about you?
I feel like I've learned over the years that my strength is really making people feel comfortable, welcomed, and at ease very quickly. I've almost been forced to have to do that simply being one of the few women or Black people or Black women in this space. I've always made it a point to quickly find a connection with someone so that weird things didn't happen in the conversation. People don't always expect how easily they can open up to me and that has certainly been helpful with the Chief of Staff role specifically and then just in life generally.
What’s the best professional advice that you’ve ever been given?
The best professional advice I've been given has actually been from my current boss, the CEO of Care/of. I was asking him how he started the company. He said, we had all these ideas and plans and things, but one day we just had to do it. There were so many reasons why we shouldn't have done it the day we did it and we weren't sure about all these things, but ultimately we just had to try it. And here I am, five years later continuing to do it.
So literally when it comes to entrepreneurship, just fucking do it. Go. You will figure it out. And if it's not meant to be figured out, it wasn't meant to be and you can move on. I think about this all the time. Whenever I'm scared about something or unsure, I tell myself to just do it. What's the worst that can happen?The time spent thinking is often wasted when that time could have been spent going for it.
What advice would you give to a new Chief of Staff?
Focus more on building relationships than adding huge value to the bottom or top line of the business. Try to have one‑on‑ones with as many people on the team as you can across all layers to just get to know people. That pays huge dividends over time.
I would also honestly say to set boundaries. Set boundaries for yourself and within those relationships with people early on. Chief of Staff is a role that because of its ambiguity means you can be pulled into a lot of different directions and quickly wear yourself out.
I fully believe in rest as a foundational need for anyone to try and do anything in life. It's a revolutionary act to be able to say no, I'm not going to do this. I'm actually just going to watch TV all day and that might be a more productive use of my time. So I really encourage people to try to set as many boundaries early on with your leaders and colleagues so that you can be successful in your long-term career.