Takeaways from a private dinner with a group of experienced startup executives
Last month, I helped Basis Set Ventures organize a private dinner for women executives in technology, in partnership with First Republic Bank. As we surveyed our group’s roles and shared experience we centered on a guiding topic for the dinner: building and optimizing a successful team. For our group, this meant a combination of hiring well and positioning remote teammates for success. Given how universal this challenge is, we wanted to share some of the biggest takeaways from our ongoing Women in Tech dinner series.
How to overcome hiring challenges
For growth hires in early-stage companies, the advice from the group was to, first of all, double down on growth channels that already work, then test other opportunities. For example, if word of mouth is the historically successful channel, focus your hiring on a growth person who has a track record in that. Another piece of advice was to separate lead acquisition and brand development as disciplines and also in terms of hires. Find growth hires at growth hacking conferences (good folks go there to learn), via Reforge (a continuing education program in growth) and by working with agencies (e.g., Forshay.com for sourcing growth marketing and growth strategy executives and Wearerosie.com for sourcing content from individual professionals to be used in growth marketing).
For those who were looking to specifically hire female engineers, sourcing was noted as critical. Inbound won’t magically work here; Grace Hopper is the golden standard but has started to become oversaturated — it may not be worth the energy for super early stage startups. Reach out to prospective candidates with a personalized blurb that shows how your company will be different — ideally, the outreach comes from a founder. The group also emphasized measurement of the recruiting funnel: one example was a board-level metric of diversity hiring reported alongside things like ARR, which naturally focuses the leadership’s attention. Once you’ve defined the metric, apply problem-solving skills to it — map out the recruiting funnel and troubleshoot the challenging spots!
We also heard some great points around general sourcing strategies: listing all your open reqs on your site (doesn’t sound like it will yield much, but you’d be surprised), as well as federating those job reqs to LinkedIn (directly or via your Applicant Tracking System), and hiring great people from your customers and vendors.
How to make remote teams more effective
We were surprised to hear that pretty much everyone in the room had remote teammates or teams in their company, validating the trend that remote work has finally arrived.
One big reminder we heard was that mindset is way more important than tools in making remote work function well. Most communication, collaboration, and other tools used by companies these days are built for distributed teams, but they alone won’t make your remote efforts successful.
Here are some tips:
- Approach office management from the perspective of, “what if you don’t have an office?” What if you have no mail system (use something like Earth Class Mail), what if you have no printer (DocuSign all contracts), what if you have no physical whiteboard (“install” virtual whiteboards like Trello and Miro), what if you can’t share your knowledge with your colleagues over lunch (write out your best practices). If you’re already highly remote, it may be easier in some ways to act as if you’re fully remote: just pretend you are so you can really make the remote teams’ experience excellent.
- Deliberately engage people who rarely meet or will never meet. Folks create monthly online contests, give a stipend for virtual happy hours (picture it: four folks sign into Zoom with their local alcoholic beverage of choice in hand), and add a budget at the company level for travel — once you have remote/distributed teams, this has to be a line item.
- Think like the remote employee(s) when structuring your all-hands meetings. Have everyone join the all-hands from their own laptop — even if they’re co-located — so no one feels left out, or try the radical “put the CEO in a separate room from the HQ team to level the playing field for remote employees asking questions in the All Hands Q&A.”
- Be engaged and flexible when managing remote teammates. NEVER blow off your 1:1s with remote direct reports, have daily standups on Slack and instruct people to tag you if they’re blocked, hold structured performance reviews for all reports every 6 weeks so people know where they stand.
- Gracefully handle the inevitable time zone differences — trade off which team / timezone has the morning vs. evening meeting slot, block off specific times for meetings with this remote timezone only, log on from home for a couple meetings in the early-morning hours, record bigger meetings so people can watch them later, set the right expectations at hiring, and protect dinner time for folks with kids and weekends for folks with no kids.
This post was written in collaboration with Lan Xuezhao, founding and managing partner at Basis Set Ventures