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People, Culture, Talent & Teams: A crash course for startups


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People, Culture, Talent & Teams: A crash course for startups

  1. 1. People, Culture, Talent & Teams: A crash course for startups 1 Raffaele Mauro Partner Primo Space Deep Tech School Milan September 2021
  2. 2. Technology Finance & Venture Capital Policy Innovation 2
  3. 3. What I’m going to talk to you about today 1. Hiring philosophy 2. Screening and selection 3. Motivation and management 3
  4. 4. Context 1: The role of the CEO Three priorities: 1. Vision 2. Fundraising 3. People & Culture • Do not delegate final decision on teams ! Everything works if you take care of those pillars. 4
  5. 5. Context 2: How tech entrepreneurship works VUCA • Volatility • Uncertainty • Complexity • Ambiguity Þ “We’ll have one job description in future: creative, adaptive problem solver.” (Neuraltheory/Vivienne Ming) 5
  6. 6. Startups challenges and leverages Challenge: Hiring and motivating highly talented people with but without the same financial leverage, stability and structured career progression of a large company / organization. Leverages: • Impact and big challenges • Intellectual stimulation + selected people & environment • Horizontality • Flexible time and office conditions + freedom / self organization • Quick growth • Stock options 6
  7. 7. General selection Key selection criteria: 1. Motivation + Background: • Demonstrable passion for the specific area of activity • Potential > Experience! 2. Behavioural Traits: • Fluid intelligence and flexibility 3. Character / Personality: • “High ambition with low ego” • You will develop new technologies, products and strategies to disrupt frontier markets …. ... and perform data-entry, lift packages, clean up rooms, etc. 7
  8. 8. General selection – Senior staff Key selection criteria (in addition to the previous ones): 1) Reputation • People look at him/her for advice and mentoring • Professional network to be leveraged 2) Skills and experience • Worked at challenging projects • Built something from scratch • Growth mindset 3) Autonomy and independence • Good at self selecting objectives and prioritize • Good at self management • Good at managing other people 8
  9. 9. Tips for sourcing scarce skills in a competitive market Failed startups • Failed startups could have great teams and fail for other reasons (inexperienced founders, bad investors, market timing, etc.) • People with startup experience often have the right mindset and are ok with uncertainty & ambiguity Peer-recommendation • Great minds think alike • Good to offer perks or cash bonuses if an employee recommend someone than pass the selection criteria Communities • Sometimes non-professional and non trivial topics (gaming, niche programming languages, etc.) 9
  10. 10. Diversity is key: Why Pros of diversity • Ethically desirable (no need to explain) • Increase performance: resource in complex problem solving • Increasingly needed for fundraising and ESG regulation • Reputation and communication Cons of diversity: • Hard to manage in terms of habits and communication patterns • Could reduce speed and “camaraderie” (needs to be engineered) Pros > Cons ! 10
  11. 11. Diversity is key: How - 1 • Diversify yourself: Explicitly avoid to hire copycats of the founders (very common!); • Psychological ecology: Team members compensate each other in terms of strengths / weaknesses; • 360° diversity: Differences in professional background, gender, nationality and ethnic background, lifestyle, beliefs, family, socioeconomic status, age, communication style, career objectives, personal interests. • Please note: Diversity is an indirect by-product of selection philosophy, not of direct interview questions ! (which could be disrespectful / illegal / inadequate) 11
  12. 12. Diversity is key: How - 2 Specific tools: • Internal communication: (example) Gender neutral terminology, be carefool about jokes (religion, ethnicity, geographical origin, etc.); • External communication: Extra attention, very easy to generate indignation on social media; • Participation in diversity initiatives: (examples) SheTech, Girls in Tech, etc; • Recruiting from non-traditional channels: (examples) Non- traditional colleges and degrees; • Training for the team: (example) Internal workshops on diversity; • Take inspiration from ESG frameworks and standards • Collect and report diversity metrics: At least internally. 12
  13. 13. Planning Hiring requires time! 1. Definition of the job requirements 2. At least 2-4 weeks for collecting applications 3. At least 2-4 weeks (months for complex selections) for selection processes and interviews 4. Communications to selected and non-selected candidates • Reply to them all. More detailed / personalized feedback for candidates in the final stage of selections. 5. Time for resigning from other positions, typically 1-2 months at least. => Safe to plan at least 3 months before 1st day on the job 13
  14. 14. Selection process Origination • Proactive search, referral, job posting, self-application. • Examples: website, LinkedIn, event and conference presentations, posting with academic career services, alumni networks, etc. Screening • Filter weak and untargeted applications Active Selection • Typically 3 macro phases are optimal 1. Take home exam: testing skills, judgment and motivation 2. Interviews with peers + technical interview (if pertinent) 3. Interview with manager Offer • You are selling yourself as an employer Onboarding • Strong predictor of future motivation and performance 14
  15. 15. Job Description Example 15
  16. 16. Examples of Interview Questions Motivational Questions • What is XXX (our company)? Why XXXX ? Why now ? • What did (and didn’t) you enjoy in your academic and professional career ? (be specific about tasks, courses, people, etc.) Technical Questions • Open questions: (example) What is an NPV in corporate finance ? • Open questions: (example) Why Tik Tok is successful ? Behavioural Questions • You are the Country Manger at (well known startup) Italy. What are your priorities ? • You are the CEO of our company. What will you do in the next 2 years ? • How did you behave in (difficult or conflictual situation) in the past ? Values • Tell me about someone you admire: you would like to be like him/her in 20 years. Could be non- famous or an imaginary character. Avoid common answers (Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, etc.). Creativity • The Zombie Apocalypse is starting in Milan. What would you do ? Notes: • Always leave space for candidate’s questions 16
  17. 17. Onboarding Physical • Physical space in the office • Computer • SWAG Immaterial • Welcome pack: presentation about the company, clients, org chart, policies, industry research reports, etc. • Email and access to IT platforms Relational • Welcome email to whole team • First day of introduction + tentative work plan + lunch with the new team members + (optional) announcement on social media • First week: 1-1 with key people and training • First month: 1-1 outside the core team and assessment 17
  18. 18. Culture & Values Culture • Company DNA, relatively stable in the long run • Evolves with challenges, failures, growth, internationalization Not corporate vaporware but something material • Values as a tool for decision making in ambiguous situations • Ambiguity force hard choices with no 100% right decisions and multiple conflictual priorities • Values and culture make “the wave function collapse” 18
  19. 19. Compensation Base compensation • At startups typically below market standards, in particular in comparison with consulting / finance / big tech • Exceptions for scarce profiles (developers), senior managers, scale-up phase Bonus • Good for retention and performance • But be careful about impact on team collaboration! • Typically for sales and business development positions Stock options • At least for early employees and key people • 4-year vesting • Option pool: typically 10-20% Indirect compensation • Work environment, perks, food, unlimited vacation, training, budget for conferences and books, retreats, field trips, sabbaticals, etc. 19
  20. 20. Teambuilding Retreats (annual, semestral or quarterly) • Not in the office environment • Opportunity for socialization and informal exchanges • Great chance for discussion what is “relevant but not urgent” Lunches and dinners • Good also for periodically gather remote workers Teambuilding day • Escape rooms, games, etc. Community work day • Once per year, 1 full day of team work donated to a charity • Environmental work, helping fragile communities, etc. • Sense of purpose, great for teambuilding Professional Coaching • If you have resources 20
  21. 21. Inclusion Ordinary decision processes: • Iterative discussion and feedback loops ---> Easier to spot hidden errors and wrong habits ---> Diversity as an explicit enabler of high performance • Consensus whenever possible ---> Of course achievable only with small teams • Ownership of results ---> Key process need to have a single point of reference Strategic activities: • Everyone included in discussions about office strategy, evolution and growth • Everyone allowed to access budget information • Everyone included in hiring processes 21
  22. 22. Feedback Quarterly feedback • 1-1 With manager: motivation, objectives, team dynamics, necessities, training and special needs, etc. • 1-1s With team members Reverse feedback • Managers should always ask for feedback about themselves and P2P feedback, non only top down Yearly career conversation • At least once per year a safe space to ask questions and discuss career evolution, performance, job title and pay upgrades Other considerations • Performance is collective for most of the tasks, often collaboration > individual performance • Feedback should be transparent (no taboo topics) and constructive, with actionable improvement plans • Negative feedback always to be delivered in private 22
  23. 23. Career progression Provide growth opportunities • Careers in startup cannot be linear and clear like banking/consulting but there are some tools • Examples: More responsibilities, provide A-Z responsibility for projects or processes, job title evolution, compensation evolution, etc. The more you approach the scale up phase, the more you need career planning • Note: If employees leave to start their own startup, consider to invest in them 23
  24. 24. Underperformance and firings Underperformance • Early detection is key • Assess root causes and potential external drivers (processes, managerial failure, team dynamics, etc.) • Provide clear feedback • If underperformance endures, improvement plan with clear timeline and / or relocation to another internal team Firing (for underperformance, not failure of the company or illegal behaviour) • If underperformance endures, firing is undelayable • Try to depart in a good way 1. Do not personalize, a great employee in organization A could not be not perfect for organization B 2. Help the person to find another job 3. Allow enough time + If needed, severance package 24
  25. 25. Training Mandatory training • Safety • Industry specific regulation (example: fintech, etc.) Job—related training • Virtual and online external classes • Internal training • Participation to industry events Self training • Individual budget for books, conferences, courses, etc. Peer to peer training • Let the people teach each other any kind of skill or passion, even if not work-related • Great for teambuilding 25
  26. 26. Examples of great team selection and management Italian tech companies • Bending spoons Italian historical cases • Olivetti US companies • Netflix US historical cases • Bell labs • Apollo program Finance • Bridgewater associates / macro hedge fund Military • Navy Seals – Team 6 • Israel Unit 8200 for cyber intelligence / cyberwar 26
  27. 27. Thank you ! raffaele.mauro@primo.vc 27
  28. 28. Raffaele Mauro Raffaele Mauro is passionate about technology, policy and global finance. He is General Partner at Primo Space, a venture capital fund focused on the new space economy. Previously he was Managing Director at Endeavor Italy, a global organization that provides access to smart capital, talent and markets to scale-up companies, Head of Finance for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Intesa Sanpaolo and worked at venture capital funds such as United Ventures (formerly Annapurna Ventures), P101 and OltreVenture. Raffaele holds an MPA from Harvard University, a Ph.D. from Bocconi and attended the Singularity University Graduate Studies Program at NASA Ames. Raffaele is a member of the Kauffman Society of Fellows, the “Young European Leaders – 40 under 40” network, the Aspen Junior Fellows group and the Young Leaders group of the US-Italy Council. He is also mentor at TechStars and Mentors4U, member of the executive committee at the Global Shapers Hub - Milano, a World Economic Forum community, and invested in high growth companies such as Multiply Labs (YC 2016) and Strive School (YC 2020) and Serenis Health. Raffaele is a publishd author at Harvard Business Review Italy and wrote the books “Hacking Finance” and “Quantum Computing”. @rafr 28