Imagine if the biggest companies in the world had to increase their workforce by 25% month over month. It would be a monumental task that could spell the death of them if extreme care wasn’t taken to maintain the highest level of quality in their talent pool. Even if that was done, it would still be no small feat to onboard that much new blood without completely rocking the boat.
Early stage startups have that task many times over after they receive their first funding. Sure, we may only be talking about less then 20 or even less than 10 employees in total, but it still remains no small feat. That’s why hiring at the stage that our companies tend to be at is a unique proposition…one that can seriously create or destroy a ton of value.
Because this is so important to our companies, we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how we can add more value on this front. A couple of months ago, we created the Key Hire Wire e-mail newsletter, which highlighted the best opportunities in our portfolio. That didn’t prove as efficient as we had hoped, for a couple of reasons–ones that made us realise a lot about why traditional resume/job posting transactions tend to work less at this stage.
First off, the best people simply aren’t spending a lot of time on job boards. They’re going through their personal networks and around the typical hiring channels—especially since environment and people matter so much when you join a company. It’s hard to tell what a company or the founding team is like from a job post, no matter how great a post you write.
Secondly, and this was the bigger issue, is that most startup hiring is completely opportunistic. Our portfolio company Modcloth, for example, just made a great Product Manager hire out of Google. It was their first product hire and it wasn’t a job they had advertised widely for, so it never would up in our newsletter. Product was an area they knew they needed help in eventually but they weren’t ready to take in 500 resumes around it in the next two weeks. Instead, the CTO there met someone amazing at SXSW who turned out to be a big fan (and customer) of the company. They just started talking from there and decided to move forward. That’s the way a lot of this stuff goes.
So, as many startups do, we’ve decided to take what we learned and pivot. We’re going to adjust the frequency of the Key Hire Wire and perhaps wind it down. In the meantime, we’re announcing the new Key People Wire–something you won’t see unless you are a First Round Portfolio company CEO.
We’re reversing the model. On a weekly basis, we meet great senior level talent looking for early stage opportunities. They may have left a successful exit, just finished a wind down, or they are looking to jump into the startup scene from a bigger tech company. We consider them for the open positions that we know about but we had never formalized how we show them to our portfolio. Now we have a vehicle for that. The senior level professionals that we meet up with can now get circulated to our portfolio in a weekly newsletter. We won’t add them without their permission and we’re happy to add them anonymously such as “VP of Biz Dev looking for East Coast opportunities–see Josh”. We did an alpha test of this last week and several of the featured people got contacted for jobs I didn’t know were being recruited for–proving the model.
Having this vehicle helps recommit us to spending time with potential senior level hires for our companies. It’s something we tend to do anyway, but now we’re going to be more intentional about. If you’re at a VP level looking for the next big opportunity, get introduced to us.
Why senior level? At the stage we invest in companies, they often have big gaps to fill—like someone to lead marketing or sales or be a CTO where there was just a couple of developers before. We need to fill those gaps as a priority before those people start filling out the positions below them. Will there be exceptions? I’m sure there will be, but we think focusing on more senior folks will help us maximise impact.
So how can you get on? Just like startups pitching for financing, its always better when someone gets introduced to our team via a warm introduction—especially since we’d be advertising you to our portfolio as someone worth talking to. If we don’t know you at all through someone else’s word, it’s harder to do that without spending more time with you. With a warm intro, that makes it so much easier to spend even just a few minutes with you to see if it makes sense to circulate your profile around to our companies in our new internal Key People Wire—just let us know how public you want to be about your search.
Charlie O’Donnell is entrepreneur in residence at First Round Capital. He is also co-founder of Path 101, a NYC-based startup, and founder of NextNY, a tech community group. He blogs at This Is Going To Be Big, where this post was originally published.
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