Following our Series B, I’ve been working closely with Sequoia and have been fairly impressed by the efforts they’ve collectively — board member, team and network — put in. It’s been only 4 months, and some would say we’re still in the “honeymoon” phase, but so far I’ve found them to be hands-on, yet not intrusive, fully aligned with my vision for the company, and always willing to spare time and effort to help the business. In an attempt to assist and calibrate the expectations of other entrepreneurs, I’m detailing how they help and the value I’m getting from their efforts.
Hiring is the lifeblood of any company, but for a startup it’s the variable that correlates most with speed of execution. Bryan Schreier, the Sequoia partner who became our newest board member, made it clear early on: we should set realistic yet ambitious goals for hiring, and be very focused on meeting them. To help us meet these goals, Sequoia does all of the following:
- For critical positions, they send over curated lists of potential candidates on whom they have information (positive feedback, mutual connections, etc.), and introduce me to those that would be good fits for the roles. They have access to a big pool of professionals, all at different stages in their careers, and can make connections that our internal recruiters or recruiting firm might have missed otherwise.
- For positions we had not hired for before, they provided detailed interviewer guides, so that we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel: when to hire for the role, what to look for, how to assess, etc.
- They lend a hand to close candidates who are on the fence and might need some extra push to make their final decision. Bryan has already met with a dozen candidates and called a dozen more. Investors position themselves as semi-outsiders with perspectives on an array of companies, and can help candidates see the opportunity to join Front in a new, better light.
- They helped us make progress on our compensation philosophy, providing the benchmarks we needed and valuable input on how to position ourselves in the job market.
Beyond hiring for managers and individual contributors, an area where they really shine is in helping me build an executive team — one of my core responsibilities as the CEO of Front. In my first meeting with Bryan, I let him know that hiring executives was my #1 priority. I needed to fill 4 positions: Sales, Engineering, Product and People, and I needed to make the hires yesterday. He simply said: “I’ll lead the search for a VP of Sales.” Four weeks later, Travis Bryant joined us as our Head of Customer Growth. Here is what Bryan and his team do to help me find great executives:
- They introduce me to the best recruiters.
- They introduce me to A+ executives currently working at other companies (in their portfolio or not), so that I can calibrate my search, know what to look for, and maybe get a referral or two from them.
- They participate in all the calls we have with our recruiting firm. They set clear expectations in terms of volume, quality and pace. Once the target list is ready, they directly go after candidates who aren’t responsive, to make sure they at least give us a meeting.
- They meet with candidates, sometimes even taking the first meeting, both to assess the quality of an applicant and start selling them on the opportunity.
On a number of topics, Sequoia is providing a level of operational help that I didn’t expect. Here are a couple of examples:
- Company positioning
Since Front is a horizontal product (it can be used by so many different teams for so many different use cases), positioning is something we’ve been struggling with for a while. Sequoia sensed that, and recommended that we partner with a specialized firm that could help us finally make progress in this area. They introduced us to 5 firms with which they have direct or indirect experience.
- Business operations, finance and forecasting
This one is helping them as much as helping us, since investors will be consuming a lot of the reporting that we will be producing internally. That being said, because they have extensive experience in this area and can easily benchmark our work against thousands of other companies, their help on the matter is very precious. Andrew Reed, the other Sequoia partner helping us more directly, comes on-site a few times a month to go over reports with our in-house sales and biz ops leaders and provide hands-on assistance.
- Data Science training
A few Sequoia partners come from Facebook. A big belief they’ve developed there is that, to become the best at something today, you have to incorporate data science into your processes. They share their learnings and best practices during workshop sessions that our employees are welcome to attend, and are available to answer more specific questions that anyone might have on the matter.
Coaching me to be a better CEO
One of my jobs as CEO is to make sure that everybody in the company is growing. I make sure that executives, managers and individual contributors alike get access to the resources they need to learn, build skills and improve. However, it’s nobody’s job to make sure that I keep growing ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Thankfully Sequoia sees it and they make sure that I have resources available to get better at my job:
- They introduced me to great CEOs and founders who’ve been in my shoes before, like Zoom’s Eric Yuan and Qualtrics’s Jared Smith.
- They introduced me to a coach, to work with me on areas of development.
- I have a weekly call with Bryan to discuss pretty much anything that’s on my mind at the time.
- I know they hold seminars, and judging by the rest of their work I’m sure those are very high quality. I haven’t attended one yet but am looking forward to.
As a closing thought, one last thing that I’ve noticed is how fast they reply to emails and return phone calls: almost always immediately. That might sound trivial, but over hundreds of conversations, it adds up and really makes everything move faster. I’m sure they are using a great email tool 😇