The most successful investors will tell you, there is much to be learned from the entrepreneurs and startup executives with whom we work on a daily basis. About drive. About passion. And about the grueling task of finding and keeping really good people who share that drive and that passion.
While talking shop about this with my colleague and friend Maynard Webb at Webb Investment Network recently, we decided to bring together a group of entrepreneurs and a handful of experts to share observations, insights and some practical tips to help our companies tackle their single biggest challenge: recruiting.
About 50 CEOs, founders and recruiters joined us at NEA’s Menlo Park office earlier this week for a panel discussion moderated by George Anders, Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author, and Forbes contributor, and featuring Dee Dipietro, CEO of Advanced-HR and compensation specialist; Michael Morell, managing partner at Riviera Partners; Liron Shapira, co-founder and CTO of Quixey and creator of the 'Quixey Challenge' recruiting campaign; and Aki Taha, founder at Persona and experienced Silicon Valley recruiter.
With a highly engaged audience and topics ranging from compensation to equity to interviewing to culture, there was a lot on the table. Common sense dictates that there is no magic formula, but this collaborative discussion soon honed in on a single ingredient that everyone could agree on: to recruit successfully, companies must approach early stage hiring not simply as a pursuit for talent, but as a marketing challenge.
The fact is, in order for seed-stage companies to compete with the big tech players for top engineering talent (and all the other types of talent), there has to be unique attractiveness that is not dependent on cash or the distant promise of a colossal IPO. One of the most important starting points is making sure the company has a good story to tell – a story worth repeating. It is critical to have a vision that will not only convince investors but will inspire potential employees. The strategy, the team, the culture – these should all consistently reflect that vision, and it should be clear across every facet of the business and to everyone who interacts with the company.
A repeatable story is one that employees, clients, affiliates, recruiters, and even competitors are motivated to spread to others. It can be a story of creation – why the founders chose to solve a particular problem. It can be a story of profound adversity, or perhaps welcome serendipity. Or a story of people – infectious, aspirational, even quirky founders. Whatever the story, the distinction and appeal conveyed in the telling can help put the company on the radar of top talent. And without spark of interest or recognition, it’s sure to be an uphill battle.
Beyond that, ensuring that founders, executives, and early hires understand and believe in the company’s story means that they, in turn, will able to decipher which candidates exhibit the same enthusiasm and belief. Infusing a young company with clarity of purpose and an atmosphere of genuine excitement is what leads to building a strong team.
Our panelists agreed that entrepreneurs, team builders, and investors could all benefit from taking a step back from the details of sourcing, interviewing, and evaluating hires, and first prioritize the defining message of the company. At some point during the evening, I heard someone echo a quote from David M. Boje, Professor of Management: “Stories are not indicators, they are the organization.”
So define your story, market your story, and you will be well on the way to conquering the challenge of recruiting.