3 Recruiting Tips from the Founders of Nextdoor & Yammer

recruiting_tipsLast week Greenhouse held a panel discussion titled “A Founder's Role in Recruiting Top Talent” at the Social+Capital Partnership offices, and we had a great turn out. Founders, CEOs, and tech leaders from early to mid-stage startups joined us to discuss the challenges founders face when it comes to recruiting top talent. I sat down with Adam Pisoni (CTO and Co-founder of Yammer) and Prakash Janakiraman (CTO and Co-founder of Nextdoor) to discuss their experiences building their companies. Here are some key takeaways from our discussion:

#1 Accept that “Chief Recruiter” is your real job title.

When you’re a founder, your job quickly becomes less about building a product and more about building a company that builds a product. That means that all the things you think you should be focused on are actually the things that you'll hire other people to focus on. The people you hire, and how successfully those people work together, should be your priority. As Adam put it, “Companies rarely fail because of the technology -- that, you can fix. They fail because they don’t focus on all the other things that are so important, like who you hire and how well they can all work together.” He says that as a founder, your number one job should be recruiting and helping your employees be better at recruiting.

#2 You need strong hiring principles.

Another thing that came up with both Adam and Prakash was the idea of “being principled.” With so much competition for talent, especially in engineering, both founders agreed that you must have strong hiring principles. One area where this can really be meaningful is with salaries. Often candidates come through expecting certain salaries and benefits–you know that they have other opportunities–so how do you manage expectations and still compete for the best talent? According to Prakash, you have to have principles that are very well communicated and that would pass the “printer test” - meaning, if you left a paper in the printer with everyone's salaries, it wouldn’t cause an uproar, because it’d be fair. Prakash says, at Nextdoor, they have worked hard to implement clear and fair compensation principles.

For Yammer, one of these principles was "promote fast", no matter your experience, employees have the ability to quickly prove themselves and to be rewarded accordingly. Their goal was to make it clear to everyone that it’s an even playing field, helping everyone to see promotions as fair. The panel also emphasized that “fair does not mean equal” -- it’s appropriate for top performers to be rewarded and to receive benefits that others don’t. This principle helps reinforce a culture of performance and accountability.

#3 Culture must be explicit to hire the right people.

Culture can take many forms and is often conflated with ping-pong tables or catered lunch. According to both Adam and Prakash however, culture is core to getting the right people in place and it needs to be clearly defined and communicated to everyone in your company - even as it evolves. Prakash pointed out that “as a founder, you know everything–why decisions are made, etc.–but as the company gets bigger not everyone fits into one conference room anymore, so it’s your job to distill the values of the company. You’re inviting new people to be a part of your family so all your employees need to get it.”

Adam and Prakash both offered some ideas on how to make culture explicit. At Yammer, there was a “spirit-lead” for engineering who helped the team focus on not “over-indexing” technical skills, making sure other attributes like being “intellectually humble” or a candidate’s understanding of how their job impacts the business were represented. They mapped out their core values, and made it clear to everyone how important those values were. They put time and effort into defining the culture and empowering team members to be better interviewers, and collaborators in the interview process.

These are just some of the big ideas that came out of the discussion. We will continue to explore a founder’s role in recruiting and how that role evolves as a company moves from a startup, through the growth stage, to being a mid-sized company and beyond. Stay tuned for more founder insights, and subscribe to our newsletter for more content like this!

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Talent Operations