March 29, 2024

No, chief evangelist officer isn’t a made up role — here’s what it actually involves

Debunking the mysterious role of a startup’s other CEO

Sadia Nowshin

4 min read

Wolfgang Gründinger, chief evangelist officer at Enpal

The startup world is full of jargon: unicorns are no longer just mythical beasts, seeds produce capital rather than crops and your company’s MVP has nothing to do with competitive sports. 

Thankfully, the job titles given to those leading the company in the C-Suite are usually quite self-explanatory. But one title popping up on LinkedIn is causing a bit of confusion: the chief evangelist officer. 

Former chief executive officers (CEO) primarily use the title— and it is rarely recruited for, headhunters tell Sifted.


So, is it just a vanity title for founders who are forced to step back, or does this alt-CEO role have a valuable part to play in the progress and growth of a startup? 

The alternative CEO

When founder Michel Valstar’s startup Blueskye.AI, which uses AI to analyse face and voice data to interpret medically relevant expressed behaviour, started to scale in the heavily regulated markets of AI and digital health, he realised he didn’t have the experience to meet the evolving requirements of the CEO role. So, the team brought a new CEO on board, and at the start of February 2024, Valstar shifted into a new position as chief evangelist and chief scientific officer instead. 

His is primarily a “promotional and educational role,” he says. Alongside speaking with potential customers and explaining the tech, he’s also a contact point for regulators. 

Michel Valstar, chief evangelist at Blueskye.AI.
Michel Valstar, chief evangelist at Blueskye.AI.

“We not only have a new-to-market product, but also a new-to-market product that there is a lot of media and regulatory attention around. Addressing that is a full-time job,” he says — a job that, as the founder and former CEO, he says he’s “uniquely placed” to tackle. 

HR specialist JooBee Yeow reckons that this expertise is what sets a chief evangelist apart from the marketing or sales department. “It’s a marketing role to create awareness from someone who is actually experienced in the field [and] really understands the pain points of the customer,” she says.

While Valstar enjoys the chance to work across different teams in the company, it’s been a bittersweet transition. “I miss not being in the hot seat anymore: there are things happening that I’m not aware of,” he says — but ultimately is happy to let his predecessor handle things. “It's a matter of trust and working with a team you believe in,” he says. 

Advocating for the mission

Chief evangelist is not always a title given to CEOs who have stepped aside. Wolfgang Gründinger proudly holds the role at solar panel installation startup Enpal, and says that his first prospective title, devised by the company’s CEO Mario Kohle, was even more abstract.

“Mario proposed the title of foreign minister,” says Gründinger, reflecting his responsibility to travel around the world to spread the startup’s mission. After deciding that the explanation of such a novel title wouldn’t be worth the hassle, they settled on chief evangelist. 

Popularised in the 90s by early Apple employee Guy Kawasaki, Gründinger says the title “meant a revolution: it changed the way people were working, communicating, thinking”. “It proposed a new idea of life,” he adds. 

Enpal aspires to have the same effect. “It’s also a revolution, in how we supply energy and protect the climate,” he says. A big part of his role is to spread the word about Enpal and to break down the science to employees, investors and the media. 


Fundraising and fire-fighting

Alongside promoting awareness and reminding employees of the company’s mission, Gründinger is also primed to fight the PR fires when things don’t go to plan. 

“There is no culture of making mistakes in Germany,” he says. “So as chief evangelist, I have the role of explaining what happened and what [the company is] going to do better, and make sure that’s happening on the ground.” 

But not all chief evangelists choose to take that responsibility on: dealing with the less complimentary side of communications is something that Valstar decides to delegate to others unless it’s serious enough to be escalated to him. In such instances, he’ll respond to the unfavourable message, or write a public counter-post. 

Danilo Jovicic-Albrecht, cofounder and chief evangelist officer at road management startup Vialytics, is responsible for investor relations and kicking off fundraising conversations. He also steps in as a “wingman” to help the sales team secure the larger deals that benefit from a C-level presence.

For both Jovicic-Albrecht and Valstar, the chief evangelist role also involves being “the voice” of their startup. Valstar writes at least one article a week on a topic related to the company, and Jovicic-Albrecht says that part of his job is to make his mark on social media: “I’m the loudest voice [and] my LinkedIn profile is the most viewed one. This is part of the chief evangelist role, to be the strongest channel of the company.”

Sadia Nowshin

Sadia Nowshin is a reporter at Sifted covering foodtech, biotech and startup life. Follow her on X and LinkedIn