In this article we offer some advice to software Founders on how to think about their search process and how to hire the genuine groundbreakers ahead of the competition.
The tech sector and, by extension, the venture eco-system are heating up in New York. Pitchbook have cited New York as the #2 VC ecosystem (behind the Bay Area) in terms of deal value and count and the New York Times has reported that major tech firms Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have taken space for up to 20,000 workers on the West Side. With the VC dollars piling in, software companies are benefitting and the number of these companies that have genuine potential to win globally from a New York base has increased significantly.
This presents an interesting challenge for executive recruitment in software. These companies require executives who understand their business model, buyers, cadence and have experience in scaling at pace. However, with so many earlier stage companies in one eco-system, the demand for commercial leadership that would perfectly suit your business and stage outstrips the supply. Our suggestion is to apply the principles of focus and depth of understanding of the businesses in the target market and the candidates themselves.
When searching for talent, the ultimate objective remains the same as it has always been: to make a hire that fuels your growth and adds a level of capability not previously possessed. The best hires always match on to the unique identifiers of your business; they understand your price point, buyer, stage and anticipated journey and your core vertical(s). Analyzing the universe of potential candidates with these criteria in mind will allow a smaller list of core priorities to be produced. The search should be focused, and the scarcity of talent should not prevent this; it will lead to standing out ahead of the competition with the most valuable, relevant – and rare – people. For example, in New York there is a dense concentration of software companies selling to financial services. However, your search should be more focused than that. Does your business provide a heavy in data analytics or does it focus on process automation? The vertical may be the same, but the sales process and buyer will be different. We’ve seen a few companies make hires from later stage software business, such as MongoDB and AppDynamics, as they are renowned for their sales process. However, these hires haven’t always worked out as their processes are not necessarily transferable to any company and it may be that people leaving mature businesses such as these find it hard to adapt to earlier stage environments.
Go deep and specific on identifying prioritized areas of expertise from potential candidates on as granular a level as possible, and pinpoint where they may come from and what the hook for them would be. In what is already a scarce market, the amount of talent then available may seem alarmingly small. However, by zeroing in on those with the ability to intimately understand the core of your business, you will be executing your search with a more focused and efficient methodology, and you’ll be spending more time focusing on converting the candidates that can be truly transformative in your business.
After identifying those rare talents extremely well suited to your business, the need to stand out in the face of intense competition is even more pronounced. Each approach should be carefully curated around the individual and focus on both the unique identifiers of your own business and the unique drivers of potential candidates. This means going deeper than surface requirements and delving into the details of why a move to your company is the best decision, when considered strategically against competing career options.
Significantly, the approach advocated for here does not mean aggressively selling. It is a process which starts from the first contact with your recruiter and a thread which should be continued right the way through a process with yourself and your management team. The imbalance between demand and supply for talent in the New York market means that an individual is likely to be approached alarmingly frequently. By tailoring the approach to the individual’s experiences and taking the time to understand what they wish to achieve with their next career move, your proposal changes from one of the many to a stand-out offer.
Be curious about understanding as much as possible from a candidate, beyond “I want to join a Series A business and drive their first $25M of ARR”. Are there particular products or missions that they will be particularly drawn to? Do they most enjoy working with extremely technical founders or do they prefer complimenting a more commercial CEO? On culture and decision making, do they prefer companies where thoughtfulness and inclusivity is the norm or do they prefer a bias to action, iteration and results? Expect your recruiter to get detailed feedback at each stage after the candidate has met your management team. Not just “yes it went well”, but drilling into how and why, and using that to tailor the experience and manage expectations for both your management team – so they know which messages to reinforce and where the real interest lies – and candidates. Above all else, this is good relationship-building and often the act of caring and taking the time to understand a person is a big differentiating factor in and of itself.
If you have confidence in your analysis of what makes a particular candidate a high priority target, the time spent adapting each individual approach is readily justified. By understanding in the greatest detail possible what a person is seeking to achieve at that point in their career, you can reinforce that your opportunity will be the most likely to help them get there. This will increase your chance of securing their talent and begin the process of inspiring them towards success.
Other practical advice
Consider exceptional potential. A candidate’s experience is of great importance and there are always certain non-negotiable points. However, certain aspects, such as scale, are often areas where candidates may be able to step up and perform well without having held that precise level of responsibility before. When dealing with potential, it is vital to understand their calibre and their appetite to learn. Do they exhibit adaptable traits and are they coachable? Have they had exceptional mentors? Have they been top performers, and importantly do they understand the component pieces around why they were a top performer? If so, in a market where talent is scarce, you may be get ahead of the competition by trusting in someone who can demonstrate that they have the potential to do well. After all, everyone in an executive position had to be given the chance to step up by someone at some point in their career.
With this advice, we are not advocating a lack of volume or a lack of speed. Those qualities are as important as ever and recruiters need to cover as much ground as possible to know that any recommendation they make is a strong one based on the data. We believe that a more scattered approach could work to ‘an’ outcome, but you wouldn’t be giving yourself the best possible chance of securing the best possible executive for your business. Furthermore, this advice is not about having one strategy, sticking to it, and then giving up if it hasn’t worked. You can have multiple strategies throughout a search process and consider a range of comparative options in candidates. Our advice simply suggests that in any strategy, think about how you identify your priorities by understanding what makes your business different; think about how to make individuals feel special and unique; and then think about how you align your organization to make sure that these messages are reinforced honestly and consistently right the way through a process. Focus and depth are the key principles here and by applying them you will beat the competition and be able to get on with the work of growing revenue and hitting that next milestone.