Nailing your First 100 Hires

Maren Kate, Founder & CEO @ Avra ; Matt Hoffman, Partner/Head of Talent @ M13

Ascent Conference 2019

Matt Hoffman [00:00:02] Welcome, everyone, we are we’re thrilled to talk about building and scaling organizations and nailing your first hundred hires, arguably the most important hires you’ll make regardless of what size you are. So to start, I’m thrilled to introduce Maren Kate. So Maren is an entrepreneur, a writer, and probably most important and relevant to this one, a pigeon fancier. So Maren scaled her first venture back, Sarepta, over 400 people. And she did that by leveraging a diverse workforce and creating strong, healthy, resilient cultures. Now she’s CEO of Avra Talent, which is a recruiting firm that’s focused exclusively on growing organizations and companies with vetted remote talent across the country.

Maren Kate [00:00:43] Yeah, thank you, Matt. So Matt’s a partner and head of talent at M13, which is a venture firm with studios in L.A. in New York. He’s responsible for working with their portfolio companies to help them scale their teams and accelerate their cultures. Hence why we’re talking about this today. Previously, Matt was VP of people at Digital Ocean, where in four years he nipsco the organization from under 100 people to over 500, which is definitely tough. And then prior to that, you spent some time leading people ops at Return Path, which was named one of Fortune’s best places to work in the U.S. So that is a little bit about us. Yeah, just to get started, as we said, nailing your first hundred hires, which is obviously or not obviously necessarily, but definitely one of the most important things as a founder you can be obsessed with, especially in the early days. All right. Well, first, talk about culture.

Matt Hoffman [00:01:39] So it’s not necessarily intuitive to think about culture when you’re thinking about hiring. Right. Especially at the early stages. There’s this desire to just fill the roles as soon as possible and everything is going on. There’s just this kind of sense, this this urgency to just hire the next person and hire the next person and hire the next person. It’s very active. Right. And it makes sense. But what we’re here to argue is that thinking about culture from an organizational perspective is actually one of the most important things that you can do to scale and elevate your hiring process. Right. And so what does that mean? It’s around. What do we want the company to look like? What do we care about? Where do people work out of? How do they connect with each other? What do we reward? What do we promote on thinking about those things? May seem like a really big company problem, right. But it actually is something that’s even more important at early stages, like I imagine most of you are at, because when you’re really small, every single person that you add is actually a huge percentage of the company. And so being really thoughtful about who you’re adding and why and issues around, how do you add to the diversity you have? How do you make sure that people share the values? That’s not something you do later on. It’s actually going to do really important really early on, and it’s more important to do that. So when you’re hiring, what are the values that you care about and how do you make sure that you’re asking questions that will help assess or ascertain whether someone shares those values? How do you think about things like working from home, working in the office? What kind of hours do you keep? What type of behaviors get rewarded, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable? Building that into the early interview process, asking questions about how they think about that is one of the best ways that you can build a really healthy organization. And the more that you have those conversations up front, the easier it is when you’re the CEO for have other people do it right because you want everyone to share that experience. And building a healthy, cohesive culture means everyone knows what to ask and when. And so having questions about that and really having those conversations early on will actually make you hire and scale much, much more quickly.

Maren Kate [00:03:44] Yeah, and just to kind of outline what we have here to the four ways to think about it is leading with a big vision, because if you don’t know, if you’re not clear about where you’re going, it’s even harder for those early people to join and to get behind that vision. Everybody be driving in the same direction. And then, as Matt said, the core values, even your V one core values are really important as you’re bringing on your cultural co-founders. These people that are going to be building your company with you operating principles is another really important one. There’s an amazing book by Ray D’Alessio called Principles. It’s pretty thick and deep, but if you spend time going into it, the first year or two of your company can make a great difference in how you think about operating and how everybody aligns the same way. And then, of course, as you said, environment in terms of whether you’re a company where it’s really important that you you have a lot of face time. Maybe the founder is the one that stays ladies. Everybody doesn’t leave before he does versus a remote friendly or a remote first company. And that actually ties directly into hiring because once you get this set, it will turn off people who aren’t into that culture, but it will really get people excited who buy into your vision. So hiring really is it’s a formula, it’s similar to sales people think of sales and build out their funnels and put a lot into your product roadmap. But often when we’re thinking of hiring, especially in the early days, we don’t necessarily feel the same way. So hiring starts out with I mean, sourcing is an important part. And then the recruiting funnel is an important part and we can go through each of those points. But do you wanna.

Matt Hoffman [00:05:30] Yeah, having a standardized process early on will help you do that. We talked about the framework and understanding. What do you want your company to look like? What do you want great talent to look like? And how do you create the container and a system to do that? But having a document process around the way you source do you just go through your network? Do you just go through your PVCs network? Do you only take in inbound candidates? Do you take the time to look for passive candidates? Those are intentional decisions that are worth making overall because they help expand the pool, they create more diversity and they give you different types of talent rather than what’s faster. Having those conversations where you care about is really important and working with amazing recruiters like Narron. Are you doing things internally or being an external recruiters to help? And then as you go through each stage of the funnel. Right. What is your application process look like? Where do you have consistency? What are you screening for? What are you looking at? Do you do coding tests? What are those feel like? Are they in person or are they online? How do you check for culture fit culture? Add again some of the things we talked about earlier. Then when you dig in deeper in the organization, once you’re here, what does that look like? What are the questions doing that work up front and making sure that you’re focusing on? Can they do that technical ability? Have they worked at a scale that’s relevant to what you’re doing in an industry that’s relevant? And then do they add to the culture? Those are all really important things to understand what that looks like and checking each one of those across the process.

Maren Kate [00:06:48] Yes. So with hiring what I’ve learned over the last decade and change is it’s first really important to start with kind of the end in mind, like thinking through what’s the why behind this role. Often when we take on some venture money or start to grow organically, we think, OK, I need an X, like I need an operations person, I need a digital marketer. But you don’t instead stop, take a minute, step back and say, what are the business goals that I want with this role? So break those down into objective outcomes. Those objective outcomes will be super clear, like this person will grow our user base from X to Y or this person will put together OK and roll them out all across the country, our country, across the company. And when you have the objective outcomes, then you can build a compelling job description and the job description will actually take pieces of the vision and the culture you had. And it’ll tie into this specific role. A great hack that I’ve suggested to people in the past and used myself is if you haven’t hired for a role or done the role yourself. Tappa domain expert. So this is somebody in your network that’s really good at one thing. So digital marketing, maybe their technical product, lead your hiring for a role similar to that, get them a coffee, buy them lunch, maybe even offered him to pay for an hour of their time and get them to vet what you think you want versus what you really want. It’s some of the best money you can spend.

Matt Hoffman [00:08:17] It’s such a it’s such a great point. One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen Early Stage company makes is they hire for the person they hire for a very specific need instead of figuring out what is the company need, what is the organization need, what are the success metrics and the outcomes we’re trying to do and it hire for that. So build out the organization and figure out what gaps need to do rather than just I need this person, I need this person. And it’s a much more strategic view that will get you a better long term stability. And that’s where you can really bring in outside expertize to say, oh, you need to do this. Here’s a good way to do that. Here’s a good example of what good looks like. And you can assess your candidates in that way.

Maren Kate [00:08:51] And lastly, with hiring a big mistake we all make sometimes is referring too much on referrals. But you really want to have this tripod effect. You want to do outbound sourcing, which is you or someone on your team going through angel list, LinkedIn going to meet UPS, then you want to have inbound, which is just putting your job out there and putting it on job board aggregators like ZIP recruiter or specific job boards like built in New York that are very tied to a specific thing. And then the last piece, be referral and you want to run all three of those at once. That’s incredibly important. And the one thing that huge take away, if you take anything away from the hiring portion of this is reference checks. Make sure when you’re close to the end of your process with a few candidates that you talk to, people they’ve worked for, people they’ve worked with and people that reported up to them, that shows a ton.

Matt Hoffman [00:09:45] Yeah, there’s a huge difference between how people show up in interview and how they show up in jobs and you can design really good questions, etc. But actually speaking to people who’ve done that is a really helpful way. Getting that 360 perspective do in a transparent way, always let people know who you’re speaking to and why, but getting that objective. Perspective is really important.

Maren Kate [00:10:02] Absolutely. And the third stage.

Matt Hoffman [00:10:06] So a lot of people think that the hiring process ends when they sign the offer, and that’s that’s actually not the case. In fact, the biggest way that you can set up a great hire for success is never really thoughtful onboarding system in place. Right. And it makes sense if you think about you spend all this time, all this money to get them in the door. And then so many companies, especially early stage, just leave them to their own devices or it’s like, here’s your computer if you’re lucky. Right. Here’s your email. If this if it’s set up and then you’re not really showing them how to do it right. And so you want to really make sure that you’re investing the time in setting them up for success. There’s a couple of great ways to do that. The first one is, is to be really clear about what success looks like in the job and the same way that an employee would have, you know, a performance feedback conversation after a certain amount of time. And you want to set goals. You want to make sure that any new person joins has a clear understanding of what good looks like and that you or the manager is having regular feedback conversations to get them completely aligned with what success looks like. Right. And taking the time to, you know, in the way that we said think about what success looks like when you’re starting the hiring process. Now that you’ve done that work, share that with the person you hired. Right. And then how do you make sure that they fit into the organization or set up success? Right. We’ve seen great success results come up with a buddy, someone who’s been there for a while and kind of understands the unspoken rules and norms about how to operate. And the company helps them figure those things out. That works really well, making sure they understand the unique language and unique culture and your organization, that stuff that doesn’t just happen. You really want to be thoughtful about helping people understand what that looks like and how to communicate and how to be successful in the organization and then give them access across the organization. What tools do they need? What systems do they need? How do they connect to the right people? Some of the best onboarding processes I’ve seen as a person will have their first two weeks laid out in a schedule before they even get there. And it can feel overwhelming like you get in, your email is full and you’ve got all of these meetings, your calendar, but you also know that you’re setting up the time really, really well. So they’re meeting with all the key stakeholders as soon as possible to really give the context and the framework for all of the things that are going to be learning from. So they’re not just drinking from a fire hose, there’s a container around it. There’s a framework that helps them be much, much more successful.

Maren Kate [00:12:13] Yeah, absolutely. So just kind of in summary and then we’ll open up to questions and figure out your culture first, spend the time and energy it takes to make that at least a version, one your culture will change over the next five, seven years. But get that version one and that should be you, your co-founders. Early employees put together a hiring process and follow up whether you’re hiring an intern or a VP of Ops. That’s incredibly important. Make sure you’re doing your reference checks at the end. And then lastly, like Matt said, get onboarding down to at least basic science where people feel engaged, involved, and it all should tie in. At the end, they were going to be productive members of your team.

Matt Hoffman [00:12:56] That was our Rapid Fire. We know we set this up as a Q&A. I want to make sure we have time to do that. So please ask us lots of questions.