MBA Mondays: Where To Find Strong Talent

One of the most vexing problems entrepreneurs face is where to find strong talent for their companies. The kind of people you want to hire for your company are in short supply and they are rarely out looking for a job. You have to go find them and recruit them to join your team. But where to look?

Here are some suggestions:

1) People you know and people your team knows. This is the most obvious but also often the most fruitful source of talent. I know an entrepreneur who asks everyone he hires this question on their first day on the job, "who is the most talented person you have ever worked with and whom you would love to work with again?." He then adds that person's name to his list of people he is trying to recruit to his company. It is that kind of dedication to sourcing talent that is required to build the strongest team.

2) People who work for your competition. I often tell entrepreneurs that they are overly focused on their competition and that they should spend less time watching the competition and spend more time focused on their own game plan. But there is one place that watching the competition closely pays off. If you find a sales talent who keeps winning deals from you or a product talent who is making your competitor better, you should see if you can recruit them to leave your competitor and join your team. There can be issues with non-competes but the truth is that non-competes are often unenforceable unless they have been properly structured and most are not.

3) Companies that have been recently purchased. When a company is sold, the team is in play. Buyers know this and structure the deals to lock up key employees. But the combination of having had a decent payday on the purchase, having to wait a bit for the stay package to pay off, and the dread of working for a big, slow, bureacratic company is often enough to cut them loose. When a company sells, find out who the stars are on that team and go after them. It might take a bit of time to get them, but keep trying. They will free up in time.

4) Other parts of the country and the world. This is particularly true if you are operating in a hypercompetitive talent hub like NYC or Silicon Valley. The best talent is often locked up by the big companies in the neighborhood. I have seen our portfolio companies do incredibly well by locating super talented folks working in other parts of the country or the world and relocating them to NYC of SF. They find these folks on places like Stack Overflow, Behance (both are USV portfolio companies), Dribbble, and GitHub. Relocating someone from another part of the country often means making their relocation painless with financial incentives and also things like helping a spouse find a job. Relocating someone from another part of the world means all that plus navigating the immigration system. It is painful to do all of this but it is often worth it to get the right type of person for your company.

5) Colleges. You cannot fill your entire company with young folks graduating from college. You will need people with experience and management skills on your team. But you can supplement senior talent with people just starting out in their career. And the one pool of talent where everyone is looking for a job is the senior class at a college campus. I had an investment in a company back in the 90s that had a high paid sales force that wasn't getting the job done selling the company's product. The CEO fired the entire sales force and replaced them with an army of smart, inexperienced college grads who were hungry and scrappy and sales took off. That move won't work for everyone but it sure worked for that company. It is often surprising what young folks right out of school can do with the right management.

If you want to focus some of your recruiting efforts on college grads, I would encourage you to set up an internship program for students to work at your company prior to being hired. There are all sorts of ways to do this. One of our portfolio companies offers seniors in college the opportunity to work for them 10 hours a week during senior year. They then offer the best ones full time jobs upon graduation. There are also programs like HackNY that can bring great summer interns to your company.

6) The big companies in your market. This one is a little dangerous because you can find a lot of people "resting and vesting" in big companies and you don't want to hire that kind of talent. But the fact is that when companies like Google, eBay, Yahoo, and yes, even Facebook, get big, they become the wrong place to work for the scrappy fast moving entrepreneurial types. The early employees get itchy and can be cut loose. Focus your recruiting efforts on folks who have been at these companies three years or more because at that point they will have vested into the majority of their initial stock grant and will have weaker "golden handcuffs."

7) Your investors. The truth about venture capital firms is that as much as anything else, they are recruiters. I don't think a day goes by in our firm where someone isn't doing some form of recruiting. People who want to get their "resume on the street" will often come by and let us know they are looking around. We get tips from all across our network that someone is good. We reach out to them, take them to lunch, and get to know them. And then we route all of the talent we are seeing to the places in our portfolio where they are the best fit. If your investor isn't helping you find talent, then they aren't doing their job.

So those are some places to go to in order to find strong talent. Don't expect that you will be able to find people easily. Recruiting is a full time job for many people. Even if you can't make it your full time job, you must work on it every day, and be thinking about it all the time. You need a strategy, a process, and a committment to the process. It will bear fruit over time if you are patient and committed.

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