Attracting, Hiring and Retaining the Best People

So recently I was invited to a 3 evening course at StartupDigest University via Hacker Dojo on Attracting, Hiring, and Retaining the Best People. Today was day 1. More to come over the next 2 weeks. StartupDigest is the insider’s guide to the startup world and the evening was hosted by Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder of Udemy, where all the videos of the presentations will be hosted later on.

Chris McCann
Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder of Udemy

“Right now there is a war on talent. The entire technology sector is hiring, virtually every startup (alive) is hiring, and VC’s are even creating newsletters to help their startups hire. Hiring is the most important function of a startup founder/CEO. With the talent war raging, it is clear that finding and hiring the best people is one of the most challenging aspects of an entrepreneur’s job. Developers are elusive and expensive, and it’s hard to find a business or marketing person among the noise.” ~ StartupDigest

This evening had 2 great speakers which filled the event with tactical knowledge and inspiration rather than just inspirational rhetoric. There was no bullshit. The folks in the room were A-players, smart and were thirsty for education which would serve as the arsenal of hiring tips and tricks.

Here’s what happened.

Immad Akhund, Co-Founder and CEO of HeyZap

Immad Akhund
Immad Akhund ~ Co-Founder and CEO of HeyZap

About Immad:

  • Immad Akhund is the CEO of HeyZap and an engineer.
  • Having studied Computer Science at Cambridge University and co-founded 3 successful start-ups.
  • He was previously a co-founder and the CTO of Clickpass.com (acquired by Yola.com).
  • Clickpass partnered with Plaxo, Scribd, Disqus and others to power their sign-on through OpenID.

The presentation notes:

  • Recruitment is a Marketing Exercise. You must market yourself and your company over and over so it gets into people’s head that you are a good company.
  • Ask yourself “Why should this hire give several years of their life to your vision?”. Remember that you aren’t the only making favors here.
  • Hire Generalists over Specialists.
  • Spend time on your jobs page to make it Marketable. It should lure talent in. See http://www.heyzap.com/jobs
  • Use all the available channels to get talent. Being: Internal, Online, Offline, Campus and New clever ways like running random competitions for others in the social space to re-tweet your job ads.
  • Give employees a hiring bonus $2-10K to show you care.
  • Good people have at least 5 friends that are like them. If you find an A-player tap into their social grid since there is a high chance their 5 close friends will also be A-players.
  • Add “We are hiring” to all your blog posts.
  • Online communities like HackerNews, Reddit, StackOverflow, GitHub et al are one of the best sources of A-players.
  • Organize “open house” like Startup Crawl to allow A-players to come and have an open chat with you.

Auren Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Rapleaf

Auren Hoffman
Auren Hoffman ~ Auren Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Rapleaf

About Auren:

  • Auren Hoffman is the CEO of Rapleaf and an angel investor.
  • Rapleaf helps B2C companies give their consumers a better experience by providing automated search services for each consumer.
  • Auren is also a non-employee cofounder of BrightRoll and a co-founder of AdRocket.
  • From 2003-2006, Auren served as Chairman of Stonebrick Group and Chairman of the Connector Group (Silicon Valley 100).
  • Previously, he founded and sold three Internet companies before age 30: BridgePath (sold in 2002), Kyber Systems (sold in 1997), and GetRelevant (sold in 2002).
  • He writes a blog called Summation ~ http://blog.summation.net/

The presentation notes:

  • 3 ways to find an A-player:
    1. Having worked with them,
    2. Knowing someone who vouches for them and
    3. Reflective interview process.
  • Resumes are bad since they are nothing more than marketing and act as a selling document.
  • As the interviewee, you should always show up on time. Be respectful of the candidates time too.
  • Once you get comfortable about their specific skill there is no need to further drill it. Move onto other questions.
  • Get the candidate to teach you something. If you see they have a specific interest / hobby like chess, ask them to teach it to you (crash course) in the interview. Few people can “simply” explain complex concepts. Yet being able to explain a complex concept in simple understandable terms by breaking it down and even drawing it on the board is an important quality of an A-player. Every complex concept can be explained easily by an A-player.
  • Ask insightful and hard questions which are interesting for the candidate. Ask about:
    • Their thesis,
    • Current events like WikiLeaks and the ethical dilemmas created,
    • Drill into something they stipulated they are good at and see if their depth of knowledge reflects it,
    • Ask curious questions like: “How do you think LinkedIn generates the n-th degree contact/s?” Even if you don’t have the answer observe how they tackle the problem.
  • Don’t ask typical questions most interviewees ask. Come up with something clever that is specific to the candidate and see the fire it ignites in their desire to get to the answer. If you get a call or email after the interview with the answer then this is a great indication of the desire and fire that burns in A-players.
  • Don’t talk more than 25% of the interview. You want them to do the talking since you need to get the answers to your single question – “is this an A-player”.
  • Try to determine how Smart the person is by accessing:
    • Are they curious?
    • Do they ask the right questions?
    • Do they engage in further deeper discussions?
    • How well do they take feedback?
    • Are they unsatisfied with mediocre answers?
  • You can even get the candidate to do a presentation on their topic of choice and see how they can explain and simplify it enough so it’s crystal clear and educational. Make sure the topic is hard so you can see their thought processes. Then ask yourself the questions above whether this candidate is smart.
  • Overall, you need to determine whether you would enjoy working with this person. At the beginning stages of your company you are the company culture and bringing in a new employee may change or enhance it.
  • You get to choose the people at your company. Therefore choose wisely.
  • Choose 3 key criteria you want in the people you hire and stick to them.
    • Rapleaf has the following:

    • A. Scary smart
    • B. Gets things done
    • C. Nice & friendly
    • Notice how there is no technical skills listed. Remember, top 3 only since in a Venn diagram too many circles creates too many overlaps which are too small. You want a nice chunky even spread.
  • Finding a Co-founder is always hard. So when you think you found one do something together to determine “compatibility” – something like a blog post together or running an event. This will help you see whether this person is trustworthy, follows up with their word and has passion for their work. The try before you buy approach. But always remember, that no matter what, even the 1st employee should be called a “co-founder”, looked after with good equity and be treated as such to help your vision come to life and ultimately success.

Isnt this educational and inspirational! Great content from great founders that know what it takes to hire the best people.
So this was part 1 of 3 and I will be posting links to full videos of the event later in the week – so come back to check this blog for more updates.

Happy hiring!

~ Ernest

Linked mentioned in this post

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

Veryfi cofounder (#YC W17 cohort) ~ mobile automation software designed for the construction workforce. GSDfaster founder ~ be more productive. Follow me on Twitter: @ernestsemerda