Video Of The Week: Albert Wenger on Startup Recruiting

A few weeks ago, my partner Albert gave a talk on Startup Recruiting in the USV Event Space. It’s 45mins long but there are some real gems in here.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Dave Pinsen

    How would it work if USV considered investing in Albert’s wife’s business? Would he have to recuse himself from that decision?

    1. fredwilson

      yes, absolutely.

      1. William Mougayar

        A bit like Kitchensurfing where Joanne/you were early investors?

        1. fredwilson

          no, that is very different. disclosure vs recusal

          1. LE

            In the 80’s we were sued by the Labor Department (Elizabeth Dole’s name was on the lawsuit as plaintiff which was pretty cool since Bob was a big deal at the time.). [1] My father in law (at the time) had just installed a system into the head of the regional US labor department office’s house.When he heard about it he said “oh he likes me I’ll talk to him about dropping it”. (I laughed at that one big time).Needless to say the guy immediately recused himself from anything to do with it.It was amazing that my father in law would have thought that. But then again that was the way he did business at the time he just had no experience with the government.I was able to negotiate the government down to 50% off the penalty (17k in 80’s dollars). Then after they agreed to that I said “and 5 years to pay it out”. To which they agreed.But I have to say that dealing with the government was tremendously difficult it was like negotiating with an immovable rock.[1] We gave employees breaks but they weren’t long enough breaks. There was no rule that you had to give people breaks but if you did they had to be at least (iirc) 15 minutes and we were (iirc) only giving 10 minutes. The labor depart office was a few blocks from our office and a disgruntled employee walked over and complained. And it was an easy audit for them since it was so close.

        2. LE

          Remember that like the Roy Scheider character in “Jaws” Fred is the chief of police. [1][1] Scene where the wife asks if he can (iirc) open the shark up and he says something like “sure I can I’m the chief of police”.

  2. William Mougayar

    Recruiting is so important, that you must be ahead of the curve, or you risk not being able to advance quickly because you don’t have the right talent or enough talent. I experienced that dilemma, and it can become a very serious weakness.I have 5 AB’s:Always Be recruitingAlways Be fundraisingAlways Be selling/marketingAlways Be taking care of employeesAlways Be servicing your customers/users

    1. awaldstein

      So what are you not always doing?That’s not really a joke 😉

      1. Richard

        I dont see these as a to do list. Think of it as an “Always on in the background list.”

    2. LE

      You should work two vowels into that so that it can be a pronounceable acronym.Recruting(vowel) – word that means fundraisingSelling(vowel) – word that means taking care of employeesServicing.Actually the “t” at the end is probably better than the “s”. So swap those.

      1. William Mougayar

        How about fundraising. Ted Livingston from Kik says he focuses on the 3 P’s: People, Product, Pesos.

    3. Matt A. Myers

      By “always be” I would say it can also just be “always thinking about” – as to be integrating related thoughts into your road map / plan development, etc..

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes, that’s right.

    4. Dave Pinsen

      You should add a sixth:Always be commenting.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Always be visible. Which the commenting ties into.

      2. William Mougayar

        Commenting is like socializing. “Often”, not always…as in shaken, not stirred.

    5. Donna Brewington White

      As someone who worked with you to help do recruiting, I can say that I learned some things from you.

      1. William Mougayar

        We were trying to catch-up. And what we did helped to fill the candidates funnel in a big way.

    6. Jay Oza

      What about Always be learning?

    7. Richard

      Albert missed one: Always include philanthropy.

      1. William Mougayar

        that comes after success, no?

        1. Richard

          Startup philanthropy can start on day one.

  3. Richard

    8 minutes into it .. Awesome.

  4. Richard

    Nugget of the Year.

    1. William Mougayar

      Yup. Brad Feld calls it “doer-ocracy”.

      1. Richard

        This topic deserves a few blogs.

    2. jason wright

      an old bavarian motto?

      1. Richard

        Interesting? How did you come across this?

  5. Anne Libby

    This is fantastic, thank you.Most notable for founders — how early you guys like to see process and structure. Many people want their companies to be “flat.” (Some citing — perhaps naively — Valve software.)What do you think about this?

    1. Brad Dickason

      Structure and process doesn’t necessarily imply hierarchy within an org.Organizations like Valve and Github who are remarkably flat still have strong organizing principles (or how groups form and work together) and significant process in place. At Github, for example, their process is evident in the Pull Request workflow they use and all of the tools they build.I thought Project Phoenix, the book Fred recommended, summed this up quite nicely:Automate away tedious tasks, use whatever system suits your org to keep track of work that’s going on and continuously improve.Those principles can apply for a company of any size.

  6. William Mougayar

    This was a great presentation. Are the slides available too?

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I took screenshots of most of the slides. Although I noticed that on at least one there was a bullet point at the bottom that wasn’t in the close up.

      1. William Mougayar

        Albert may share the slides. I just pinged him.

  7. awaldstein

    Good one. Thanks Albert!Speaks a lot to the ecosystem of place since networking for talent is simply part of daily life as Albert makes very clear and I can attest to.For me building my offices where both the customers and the talent are is decision #1. The type of customer you sell to may be more specific than the type of talent you need to recruit.

    1. John Fazzolari

      Very true. I believe the targeted customer approach and building things for specific, vertical markets that you can sell to is key for many early stage startups. Especially, bootstrapped ones founded by first time entrepreneurs. Love the idea of competing by doing things that nobody else is doing early on. The customer you sell to should be specific and look at your company as one with little to no competition. It’s easier to capture a larger share of a smaller market in the beginning. The type of talent you need to recruit is also probably working with or for that target customer.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      “networking for talent is simply part of daily life”There is a lot of artificial activity in recruiting and hiring. Being transparent and authentic — and as “human” as possible does help, but I would love to find ways to make it more organic, relational, and a natural part of business life.

  8. sigmaalgebra

    Some good stuff.The best part was at the end, the blond with thenice smile!I’m not thrilled by the push for both “culture” and”diversity”; to me that combination looks like aconflict and awkward, wasteful, and dangerouspushing sand against the tide. Instead, just ‘gowith the flow’, that is, what comes easily and isnatural from the industry, business, town, state,country, etc.So, for my company, the ‘culture’ will be mostly UScitizens with good college backgrounds in STEMsubjects and a lot of interest in computing andbusiness. So, right, a job ad for my company wouldread:A good college background in a STEM subject and alot of interest in computing and business.Some unspecified qualifications are to be good withtyping, reading, and writing, especially oftechnical material, good ability at teaching,working on teams, and, hopefully, leading teams, andto be bright and good at learning new material.That’s it. Not looking for ‘rock star developers’or ‘marquis’ executives.Then, right, along the lines of one of Albert’scomments, likely there will be few or no women inthe ‘culture’. So, if the women want to havebackgrounds in humanities subjects and beconcentrated in ‘human resources’, accounting,publicity, customer service, event planning, andlegal interface, then fine with me!Here are some lessons from what I’ve seen in officesof organizations:(1) In recruiting the most important quality ofpeople is that they have nothing seriously wrongwith them. E.g., in a car analogy, I don’t mindthat a car can go only 120 MPH instead of 220 MPH,but very much I don’t want it to catch fire,explode, and burn.So, the selection procedures should start withpeople with essentially good backgrounds, e.g., agood college record in a STEM subject, and, then,concentrate on detecting and then selecting outpeople with something seriously wrong. Myexperience is that what’s left should be at leastuseful and quite likely sufficient.(2) I believe that hiring for high technicalexpertise is rarely necessary.In my startup, such expertise is my responsibility,and I don’t expect anyone else in my company to havesuch expertise.For highly technical topics that might be abottleneck, can make good use of experts, in house(e.g., me) or from outside, who can providedirection, leadership, expertize, and/or teaching.When a person has worked their way through some suchtopic — e.g., using social media for publicity, afirst cut on how to get Web site ads and ad revenue,data and customer service back to the advertisers,how to automate software installation andconfiguration of a large room full of servercomputers, how to do real time system monitoring andmanagement of such a room of servers, how to monitorthe performance of SQL Server, how to handle LANsecurity — then they should write a paper informingothers so that they don’t have to reinvent thatwheel. Also the exercise of writing down what waslearned stands to help the person who did the worklearn and retain the material better.So, yes, some skills I want to recruit for includetyping, reading, and writing.When we want to automate the problem detection inthe monitoring, leading that work is part of my job,and there may be fewer than a dozen computer scienceprofs in the country who could read my math on thatsubject! So, again, that technical expertise is myjob, and I can’t hope to hire for it. No, Icouldn’t hire a CTO for it, either. And, no, that Ido know how to do some of the work of a CTO doesn’tmean that I should give over the power of the CEO tosomeone else — I’m not that gullible!(3) The talk had too much respect for really good,senior, or top people.My experience is that, except for some quitespecialized knowledge, anything a top person couldbring to my company any good employee could alsoprovide in a few months of learning possibly withsome ‘coaching’. I’m big on coaches but not on bigexecutives.In particular, I’m not big on handing out to othersa lot of power over a big part of my company.(4) While my company is solidly in ‘informationtechnology’, I intend to have people learn the moretechnical aspects of the work after they are hired.E.g., I don’t expect a new hire to be able toprogram AVL or Red-Black trees on a white board. Onthe job, such a tree will be in a class library.For understanding the importance of O(ln(n)), theycan learn that on the job.For my company, ‘software development’ is mostlyjust learning the syntax and semantics ofMicrosoft’s Visual Basic .NET with if-then-else,do-while, call-return, try-catch, Redim, and the.NET Framework with ASP.NET (no, not using MVC),IIS, ADO.NET, and SQL Server. So far I’m making nouse of Visual Studio or any IDE, see such tools asclumsy and often quite inefficient with benefits notworth the learning time. Right: I have essentiallyno interest in Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, C++,Linux, ‘open source software’ (OSS), GetHub, no-SQL,Scheme, Haskell, or Lisp. Yes, at one point in my’code base’ there is a little C code, but thatwork’s long since done, and there is little need formore usage of C.Actually, I have very little respect for ‘expertisein the technical aspects of practical computing’ andnot much more respect for ‘computer science’. If mycompany needs some advanced expertise in computerscience, then either I will provide it or we willhire a professor for a day to give us an overview,list of good references, and tutorial.If a candidate saw some lectures on ‘machinelearning’ and liked them, then maybe they are notbright enough for my company! A new hire who cantalk about the pros and cons of maximum likelihoodestimation and the dangers of taking the ‘best fit’and what to do about them would be of more interest!There is much more to advanced technical knowledge,but in my startup that part is mine and already donefor now and nearly done for the future.

    1. LE

      The best part was at the end, the blond with thenice smile!There is truth to including a pretty girl in order to get a man engaged with your product or service.Auto manufacturers did quite well with this. I used to go door to door with my girlfriend which automatically put the homeowner at ease (I was getting car detailing customers in high school and college). Rather than just me, a guy. It worked very well. Saw Deniro last night in a spy movie where he did the same thing to gather some intel.That said I wonder why ziggeo didn’t do a better frame grab of Albert in order to better draw people in. The frame grab that is there is drab.Something like what I’ve attached below.

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Drawing more attention (or creating temporary value) can occur in multiple ways – though it depends on how engaged the person currently is.- SnapChat leverages value through the heightened excitement of the ephemeral.- Loudness (or brightness visually) attracts another set.- Timing, as exampled by SnapChat, is important. How long an impact lasts is important too.- A beautiful women with a smile and potentially other imagery that’s attractive to a certain demographic will be over-stimulation or a turn-off to others.If someone is more engaged with content already then the more subtle and more nuanced is what is what will be valued and attractive to the viewer.

  9. jason wright

    was Albert on avc’s radar long before he came to the partnership? how did you recruit him?i must congratulate him on the quality of his spoken English.

    1. fredwilson

      He ran an incubator in NYC in the late 90s called LC39Brad was on the LC39 boardSo Brad was the one who introduced me to Albert

  10. Steve Lerner

    I find it interesting that he is a supporter of hiring friends as I come across many more who advise strongly not to do it.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I wonder how much this has to do with the stage the company is at.

  11. Donna Brewington White

    This is really helpful information — even for an “outside” recruiter who wants to excel at helping startups hire. I know I am biased, but this topic can’t be talked about enough.One of the key take aways is that retention is a form of recruiting. Maybe one of the top 10 things I would yell from the top of a building.It’s more than having a great culture — which is important — it means that to the best of your ability, people are thriving. For many, this simply means that they feel like they are an important part of something important. This means a lot more than what you keep in your office frig.Another key take away for me is the important reminder that recruiting is different at different stages of building the team. The nuances here are critical. Also if you are aware of the stages, you can hire strategically at each stage with the next stage in mind.Recruiting and hiring should be done with a lot of awareness and strategically.I like what Albert had to say about using recruiters — and about hiring this role internally sooner rather than later. This is strategic thinking. Especially if this person can be a utility player in some way until recruiting is fulltime. And think more creatively about how you work with outside recruiters. Structure the relationship so that they are partnering with you rather than competing with you. Contingency recruiting models can lead to the latter. And as Albert said, don’t just think of recruiters as people to fill jobs, but in helping to build your funnel — or bench.The one thing Albert didn’t stress but if I was a CEO or head of talent somewhere it would be top priority: Make recruiting a team effort. Everyone in your company should be a talent scout; if nothing else, adding to the list of people who might be interesting.

    1. pointsnfigures

      thought about that. Does your team know who to recruit better than an outsider? Sort of like good viral marketing. Your customers bring the best next customers.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        “Does your team know who to recruit better than an outsider?”Team may not know “how” to recruit better than an outsider, or have the space. Not thinking of it as either-or. Recruiting needs to a be multi-pronged, multi-layered effort. The benefits of enlisting the team are not just in the hiring result, but also in the team-building, culture-building result.

  12. feargallkenny

    Great presentation with some cool nuggets but as a contingency recruiter I disagree fairly strongly with lumping all contingency recruiters into the same bucket. There are some excellent contingency firms in NYC that are highly ethical and provide great ROI to their clients. Contingency based firms treated the right way can absolutely be as effective as a retained search firm without the quirky economics. The key to getting the most out of a contingency firm is to have great communication and to give them a fair chance of ROI by limiting the amount of firms you work with on a given search to two firms. That way there is fair competition to provide results and plenty of incentive to dedicate time to a search as there is a solid chance of ROI. The classic mistake is to hire too many contingency firms because it looks free until the hire is made.

  13. pointsnfigures

    This is a great book on personnel. It quantifies a lot of the hiring process. One intriguing theory is The Risky Hire. Should you hire the safe person, or the one with higher variance? Higher variance can bring you greater gain. Works well if you can terminate them quickly if they don’t pan out. Written by Mike Gibbs (UChicago) and Ed Lazear (Stanford). Has the quantitative and economic chops.

  14. feargallkenny

    Interesting at 04:21 re founder vesting- Would love to see advice from Fred about founder vesting when it really matters – i.e. at the potentially dangerous initial handshake between two founders when they say “let’s do this!” with an assumed 50/50 split….as opposed to down the road when the VCs see them and the regrets about not putting in a vesting schedule are already there!

  15. Ciaran

    I read the headline too quickly and for a second wondered “why on earth is Fred Wilson posting about the Arsenal manager.”

  16. Elizabeth Hitchcock

    So wise, Albert – thank you (!!!) and thank you Fred, for posting. Many of the concepts seem to be applicable to new ventures /initiatives within established companies, as well as to starts ups.Loved comments on:1. Culture. This “life blood” aspect of the startup and organizations of all sizes could often use more focus. “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.” – Peter Drucker. “The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.” Gerstner, IBM.2. Allowing VCs to weigh in on sales, marketing and operational hires as startups grow. Great to tap folks knowledgeable in their areas of expertise.3. Diversity (think IDEO) – yes! We tend to be comfortable hiring those who look, sound, think like us. Swimming against the current of one’s comfort zone can be challenging, but the returns can be exponential.4. Don’t lose the early candidate diligence and get “star struck” when bringing in senior leaders.When is Albert’s next video? Thanks!

  17. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I got a lot out of this. I particularly appreciated the three example questions to use for assessing for culture. (Hunter Walk was talking about this same thing over at his blog.)Anybody else have questions they recommend that are effective for evaluating culture fit?

  18. Joseph K Antony

    Peculiar…There is no audio… all..for me. Has it faded out over time? Or listening from too far away? :=)