Navigating the complexities of hiring executive talent involves addressing various challenges and implementing strategic solutions. In this insightful article, Jonathan Meyrowitz, Vice President of Talent & People at Up.Labs, shares his expertise on the key considerations when hiring top-tier executives for portfolio companies. From managing time commitments and on-site communication to targeting the right personas and utilizing effective sourcing tools, Meyrowitz provides a comprehensive perspective on the intricacies of executive recruitment. Explore the valuable insights presented here to optimize your executive hiring process and build a high-performing team poised for growth.
1. Consider the Time Commitment
To attract and hire top executive talent you sometimes need to relocate them. But relocation can indeed be a big hurdle: Convincing executives and key personnel, especially those from established companies to uproot themselves from thriving hubs like San Francisco and venture into less central areas can definitely be challenging.
Drawing on his wealth of experience, Jonathan Meyrowitz shares how he deals with the inherent challenges in persuading professionals to make such a significant move.
“When you hire high-level executives and product roles or engineering roles, or business operations roles, you have to let them be adults. So in a lot of cases where you may have a company that's founded in, let's say, Montana, those people are going to have to realize that if they're going to attract and retain top talent, they're going to have to acquiesce on the on-site side to a certain extent,” he notes.
So when working with portfolio companies, for him the key strategy is to really understand, upfront, what the time commitment would be. In this context, Meyrowitz finds it important for founders to understand that to form, norm and storm their teams have to spend time together in a room, especially when they have stage zero to one product.
“I think it's figuring out what that timeline looks like upfront, being extra communicative about it and then going out there and finding the best talent. You should also realize that the best product person that's going to drive your valuation up 10x in the next 3 years isn't going to be located within a 50 mile radius of your office and that you have to be somewhat flexible,” he adds.
Thus, the first step towards getting an executive talent would be to determine the time commitment, communicate that properly and then only start looking for the talent. By communicating openly about expectations and being flexible in accommodating the needs of top executive talent, companies can overcome the challenges of geographical constraints and build diverse, high-performing teams that drive growth and innovation.
2. Ensure the On-Site Communication
On-site communication is key in the ever-evolving landscape of building and scaling businesses. Depending on the diversity in business models and stages, varying degrees of hands-on involvement may be required at different phases.
Referring to this, Jonathan emphasizes the role of communication especially in the early stages of companies: “I'm in the world of building products that have half or zero product market fit. And in that case, being in-person and figuring out where the product is going for the next 18 months is really important.”
At the same time, he notes that on the execution side flexibility is still important. According to him, in a skill and growth mode, startups need to find great people to execute and so in that lens - especially on the execution side - they need to be flexible about where the best talent is. In this regard, Meyrowitz also emphasizes the potential cost savings.
But, according to him, the situation is a little different when it comes to leadership: “From a leadership perspective, find people who are either near if you're in a major metro or willing to come in a few days a week to make sure everyone is ideating and on the same page and get that facetime. Otherwise, be very, very flexible and look nationally for that leadership talent or internationally, depending on what your business is.”
What's more, Meyrowitz notes that from a funding perspective, physical presence is also something that investors often consider: “Outside of the founders who founded the product they're going to want to see people who are coming from blue chip backgrounds. And in most cases, if you're adding an external founder, or a non-founder technical role - but still in that seed, very early stage - they're gonna want to see someone that they want to invest in on paper as well as in person.”
Thus, one of the important aspects to consider when hiring executive talent is to choose a work model that ensures on-site communication, optimizing both remote and in-person collaboration based on the unique needs and stages of a growing business.
3. Target the Right Persona
Obviously, not everyone would leave their stable job, agree to salary reduction or be willing to commute from major hubs like the Bay Area or New York to lesser-known locations like Montana.
In this context, Meyrowitz underscores the importance of finding the right person—a professional who not only understands the value proposition of joining a startup but is also willing to take on the associated risks.
Referring to this, he delves into the specific challenges faced when attempting to recruit individuals from prestigious backgrounds such as FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google). Convincing someone to leave a stable, well-paying position for a role in a seed or early-stage startup is indeed no small feat.
“So, what I found is that to begin with, it's a conversation to have with, let's say. a FANG background engineer, who then has been in maybe a zero to one startup or wants to try to be in a zero to one startup. It's a hard sell already to say: “Hey, you're making double the base salary, come and take a risk.”
This, according to him, requires a nuanced approach, appealing to those who are not solely motivated by immediate financial gains but are eager to invest in the future—both for the company and themselves.
Back to the issue of the willingness to commute to less favorable areas, he adds: “So I think that person who's willing to take the compensation risk is also the same person who says: “Yeah, I'll fly to Nebraska every two times a month because I am investing in this product. I'm investing my time, sweat equity, and my potential earnings over two or three years.” So I think someone who's risky and is willing to take that 50% cut and cash comp, and is willing to travel is the right persona.”
To conclude, there will always be those enterprise personas who won’t understand the value proposition of joining early stage startups and who would prefer depending on their retirement plan. But if you’re looking for the right executive talent for your startup, go for the ones who are willing to take the risk and make the jump.
4. Look for Unique Qualities
Executive talents making the leap from major tech corporations to the uncharted territory of early-stage startups - aside from the foundational trait of risk-taking - should also possess other essential qualities and traits.
In this context, Meyrowitz places a spotlight on curiosity—a trait he considers non-negotiable in the startup environment. The ability to ask questions, explore uncharted territories, and approach challenges with an inquisitive mindset becomes a key indicator of compatibility with the fast-paced, ever-evolving nature of startups.
Meyrowitz further expands on the importance of constructive critique and the ability to move swiftly: “I think [you should go for] people who can constructively critique their own work as well as others. And then [another important quality is the ability to] move very quickly: you don't have time to wait for a 90-day OKR check-in or 360 feedback on an annual review - that's not in the speed that startups are working. If we waited for that, we'd be dead in the water.”
Thus, in his opinion, it's always important to have constructive, radical feedback with partners that you are ideating with. Otherwise, you won't be able to sprint as fast, which is very important in the world of venture capital. “So, I think it's someone who can communicate well, and can share that feedback constructively,” he concludes.
In the absence of a traditional playbook, the ability to collaborate, ideate, and form a cohesive team becomes paramount for navigating the uncertainties of the startup journey. In essence, the triple C mantra—Curiosity, Candor, and Communication—emerges as a guiding principle in the pursuit of assembling an executive team equipped to thrive in the unpredictable, yet immensely rewarding, landscape of early-stage startups.
5. Use the Right Sourcing Tools
Finding the right talent is easier and more efficient with the right tools.
One of the most powerful tools for sourcing executive talent, according to Meyrowitz, is Crunchbase. This unconventional approach stands out in the realm of talent acquisition, offering a cost-effective alternative to traditional recruitment methods.
In fact, with all its unique features, Crunchbase emerges as a treasure trove of insights when seeking executives, particularly founders or individuals open to new opportunities.
But before even starting your search using the tool, the first step is to understand the persona of the talent you’re looking for. “When you’re recruiting people, or when you're creating a sales pitch for your company, you always have to think about who the customer is, what their personas are, etc. So if I'm out there, looking for someone who has been a founder - whether they're in a CEO or product role - I want to look for people who might be generally more available than people who are very happy in their jobs,” Meyrowitz notes.
Next, you can use the platform’s ability to provide information on recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and company sizes to pinpoint candidates who may be more available or open to new challenges.
This strategic use of filters, such as searching for individuals who have successfully sold their companies of 100, 200 people to a major enterprise organization, proves invaluable for venture capital professionals like Meyrowitz, aiding in identifying top-tier blue chip talent for portfolio companies.
“Utilizing these filters for $45 a month in the pro version is obviously a lot more cost efficient than spending 10,000-11,000 a month on a full recruiter,” notes Meyrowitz emphasizing that Crunchbase offers unparalleled insights, allowing recruiters to gain a deeper understanding of a candidate's background and track record.
“You can even boolean search in company descriptions of data and automotive, which is something you cannot do on LinkedIn,” he notes, adding that you can also send a message to the relevant executive talent - especially after being acquired 18 months ago - and see if they are interested in doing it all over again.
Moreover, Meyrowitz points out the seamless integration of insights on Crunchbase, eliminating the need to scour past employees on LinkedIn to identify founders, since the platform provides all the term sheet details along with the LinkedIn links to founders’ profile.
Crunchbase's comprehensive approach streamlines the executive search process, making it a go-to platform for those seeking top-tier talent without breaking the bank.
6. Hire Responsibly & Communicate Transparently
The narrative of a talent slowdown and recession may often be overstated and not always be based on data.
The reality is that many companies still keep publishing a crazy number of vacancies. Referring to this, Meyrowitz notes that only as of the end of October 2023 - in a seven day period - there were close to 98,000 new recruiter jobs posted on LinkedIn. The problem with this is that very often these very companies let their employees off shortly without assuming any liability.
“People are using PEOs and they're figuring out ways to limit their liability, especially in mid-sized to small companies. But the other side of it is that you have 98,000 open LinkedIn jobs - who are recruiters - right during the tech layoffs,” he notes.
Meyrowitz advocates for a proactive approach to headcount planning, stressing the need for a substantive plan at least two quarters before posting job openings. While acknowledging the unpredictability of the business landscape, he underscores the difference between occasional uncertainties and systemic issues stemming from poor planning. He calls for organizations, especially in well-led entities, to move away from reactive hiring approaches that result in layoffs and organizational challenges.
In this context, Meyrowitz also cites instances of many companies’ lack of foresight: “Let's use an example: there's a very popular exercise equipment company that went through a very large round of layoffs, then rehired a whole team of recruiters just to lay them off. So again either that's very poor planning and that comes from the top or it's just things that can happen. So I do appreciate the transparency and a lot more companies saying: “Hey, this is a temporary role: we're going through growth,” he notes.
Overall, Meyrowitz thinks that with all the layoffs the candidates’ sentiment towards stable work is going to change, with many more of them willing to take a risk to work in startups.
“I deal with the most volatile commodity in the world, which is other people. And if you can limit your risk profile, then you have people who are happy. Where there's consensus around it and it's stage-gated which means small companies like us might be coming for the big boys’ lunch, and if people feel like the risk profile is worth it anymore, or they're not being promoted, which is a huge Happening in FANG right now, then they're gonna come work for personas like us. So I think you'll see a pretty paradigm shift if things don't change,“ he concludes.
In summary, despite claims of a talent slowdown, numerous companies continue to post a significant number of job openings, raising questions about the transparency and responsibility in their hiring practices. The prevalence of layoffs and reactive hiring approaches underscores the need for organizations to adopt proactive headcount planning and strategic workforce management. As the job market evolves, there is a potential shift in candidates' willingness to take risks, favoring opportunities in startups. This reflects a changing landscape, urging companies to adapt to shifting expectations for sustainable talent acquisition.
As the business landscape evolves, the dynamics of executive hiring demand a proactive and strategic approach. Jonathan Meyrowitz's expert insights shed light on critical aspects such as time commitment, on-site communication, targeting the right personas, and leveraging powerful tools like Crunchbase. By hiring responsibly and communicating transparently, organizations can overcome challenges and align their talent acquisition strategies with the dynamic needs of the market. As we anticipate shifts in the talent landscape, adopting these proven strategies ensures a resilient and forward-thinking approach to executive hiring in the ever-evolving world of business.