The Talent Playbook: Strategies from Head of Talent in VC Funds across the World — Part 2
Venture capital (VC) firms play a crucial role in identifying, investing and nurturing high-growth potential startups. But in order to do so successfully, they need to attract and retain top talent who can help these companies achieve their potential.
This is where the role of Head of Talent in VC firms comes in. By building strong employer brands, using data to inform hiring decisions, investing in employee development, and promoting diversity and inclusion, Head of Talents help their portfolio companies attract and retain the best talent. This, in turn, can lead to the success of startups and the growth of the overall VC industry.
In this two-part series, join me as I explore the strategies aimed at identifying and nurturing top talent for portfolio companies employed by Head of Talents in leading VC funds across the world.
If you haven’t read Part 1, access it here.
#5 Tanaz Mody (Lerer Hippeau)
How did you begin as a Head of Talent at Lerer Hippeau?
I’ve been with the firm now for a little over seven months. Before this, I worked as a Chief People Officer at various early-stage companies. I was involved in companies from their early stages, sometimes even as a founding team member, all the way to joining at Series B.
I have experienced different outcomes such as exits, acquisitions, and even closing down companies. I have seen growth spurts and other challenges of early-stage companies. My interest in continuing to work with early-stage companies at scale led me to VC with Lerer Hippeau, which invests in early-stage companies from seed to Series A.
What inspired you to pursue a career in talent management, and specifically within a VC fund itself?
My role involves two main focus areas: people operations and talent.
I was inspired to go into this field because of the importance of having a people leader for early stage companies.
Founders often need guidance on how to hire the right people and plan their organization strategically. I want to help founders be more thoughtful about who they bring onto their team and how they assess culture.
Early stage companies can fail if they don’t have the right people in the right seats, and this can lead to people debt.
People debt is costly in terms of time and productivity, and it takes a toll on the whole team. As a result, I’m driven to lay strong people foundations from the start.
What is your top secret when you interview potential candidates within these two spheres?
I believe that drive is crucial when it comes to early-stage investing. While past experience is valuable, it is essential for candidates to have a strong motivation for joining an early-stage company. When I was hiring for a firm called Mechanism Ventures, I spent a lot of time trying to understand why candidates wanted to become a CEO. In my current role, I look for candidates who are passionate about joining an early-stage company and willing to ride the rollercoaster of uncertainty that comes with it.
There are many reasons why someone might be driven to join an early-stage company, such as the company’s mission or their own career growth. Working for an early-stage company can also provide exposure to different areas beyond one’s normal scope of work. For example, I have been asked to step into a sales funnel and increase sales, even though I work in people management. It’s important to recognize transferable skills and be open to working outside of one’s comfort zone.
To determine a candidate’s motivation, I engage in conversations that go beyond their background and skills. I try to understand what drives them and whether it aligns with the mission of the company.
What challenges have you faced in talent management so far in your role in VC? And how have you overcome them?
I believe one of the reasons I am a good fit for this role is because I have worked in various industries, which has helped me understand different landscapes.
However, this also presents a significant challenge in talent management. For instance, I recently spoke to a company in the science space that is still in stealth mode. As they consider growing their team, I have to be mindful of their unique needs. Unlike tech talent, not all professionals sit on LinkedIn. Lawyers, attorneys, medical professionals, and security experts, for example, may not be readily available on this platform.
Moreover, not all search firms work across the board, and networking becomes essential to recommend the right firms for different industries. As a generalist firm, working across various industries presents challenges that require a lot of navigation.
Where do you see talent management heading in the coming next few years?
I believe talent management needs to continue evolving, and platforms like LinkedIn are helping with this process. I think we will become more efficient in how we search for people, with a validation process that confirms an individual’s skills, possibly through LinkedIn or another tool.
Networking and recommendations will continue to play a critical role in the hiring process, and there will be a better system to validate people’s technical abilities before interviewing them. The networking effect of recommendations is where talent management is headed, with a focus on more meaningful connections rather than ad hoc ones.
In terms of transparency, recommendations and referrals need to provide significant insights into an individual’s capabilities and not just their name.
The current system of tagging people for job openings on LinkedIn does not cut it. There needs to be a volume way of having your networks speak on your behalf, which would be beneficial in improving diversity and inclusion efforts.
The network effect is significant in how people get jobs, and technology needs to step in to widen the scope of opportunities available.
Tanaz is the Head of People Operations at Lerer Hippeau, an early-stage venture capital firm founded and operated in New York City since 2010. She is an experienced Chief People Operations leader with a demonstrated history of working in the Venture Capital and tech start-up space. She was previously Chief People Officer at HQ, a Digital Currency Group subsidiary and VP of People Operations at Mechanism Ventures.
#6 Nico Blier-Silvestri (Dreamcraft Ventures)
How did you start in talent management and why specifically in VC now?
I‘m Nico, a French man who’s been living in Denmark for 10 years. I have over 20 years of work experience, mainly in big companies like HP, Informatica, and Yahoo. For the past 15 years, I’ve been working in HR, starting with headhunting and internal recruitment, and then expanding my knowledge in people and culture management.
When I moved to Denmark 10 years ago, I had a hard time finding a job due to the language barrier. One of the few opportunities available was with a small startup called Trustpilot as their first internal international recruiter. This job allowed me to build my skills in a startup environment, and I eventually became instrumental in growing the company from 25 to 250 employees in just two years.
After Trustpilot, I worked with other successful startups in Denmark, like Falcon Social, Unity Technologie and Peakon, and even started my own business for four years. Currently, I’m working with DreamCraft, a venture capitalist firm that invests in pre-seed and seed rounds for early-stage startups in Denmark.
What inspired you to make that switch from startups into talent management at Dreamcraft?
There were a couple of factors that influenced my decision. Firstly, as an operator, I had the privilege of working with some outstanding startups without having to interact with venture capitalists (VCs). However, when I founded Platypus, I had to deal with VCs frequently.
Although I initially found the job fascinating, my experience with VCs was that unless you were in the top 1%, raising funds can be challenging. I had to chase them, which was a lot like a dating game where I wasn’t the prettiest girl in the bar. Some of them could be quite unpleasant, to be honest. My co-founder and I used to refer to them as vampires.
Secondly, while working on Platypus, I had a conversation with Carsten, one of the partners at Dreamcraft. They were considering investing in us, and Carsten wisely suggested that Dreamcraft was interested in developing a platform. This suggestion planted a seed in my head, and when things didn’t go as planned with Platypus, I had another conversation with him. He mentioned that Dreamcraft would be looking for someone with founder experience to lead their people and culture department.
Given my extensive experience as an operator in successful startups, I felt confident that I had the necessary knowledge to succeed in the role. Furthermore, having been a founder myself, I understood the challenges founders face and could be a supportive presence. It seemed like a natural progression in my career. I never intended to start my own business, and I had no desire to become a VC, but I am enjoying my current role a great deal.
What is your top secret when you interview candidates?
My role in Dreamcraft involves building the company’s people and culture. It’s a small startup of 12 people, so my focus is on setting up the basis for how we rent, recruit, retain, assess performance, and promote the behavior we want to see. I also work on the portfolio company and act as a consultant for their people and culture needs. This involves working with different industries, locations, and problems that each company faces.
To recruit for Dreamcraft, we have a set of core values (down-to-earth & progressive) that influence every aspect of our work. During the interview process, I don’t like to call them interviews. Instead, I like to have a conversation with the candidate where they have the chance to ask me anything they want for the first 10 minutes. This allows me to break the ice, answer truthfully, and get to know the candidate’s values and what’s important to them.
I try to understand how the candidate works, scouts and sources talent, and how they function as a person in relation to our values. It’s critical to see how we can work together as two people.
Externally, I consult with portfolio companies on recruitment processes, such as branding, where to look for talent, the first outreach to candidates, and how many interviews to conduct. I don’t believe in conducting six interview technical tests and everything for startups.
Are there any specific challenges you faced in talent management in Dreamcraft itself? And how have you overcome them?
As someone working in the VC industry, I do manage some people, but not everyone reports to me. However, as part of the people and culture team, I support personal development within the organization.
One of the main challenges we face is the fast-paced nature of the industry. While I believe the world will move towards a four-day workweek, it’s just not possible in our industry because we need to be fast enough to stay competitive. To address this, I have regular one-on-one meetings with employees who don’t report to me, where we go for a walk and discuss their performance, frustrations, wins, and losses.
We also talk about how they’re feeling and provide feedback. It’s important to manage their feelings and coach them to be better at what they do. For example, if I notice an employee is great on the phone but struggles during presentations, I’ll give them feedback and coaching to help them convey confidence and improve their skills. Ultimately, it’s about helping them achieve their goals and become better at what they do.
How do you see the talent management role evolving in the VC industry in the coming years?
I believe that the industry will shift towards more hands-on coaching for founders. This could involve regular check-ins with the founder, like weekly phone calls or walks, to discuss their well-being and mental health, which is often overlooked in the industry. Rather than simply hiring staff for the founder, talent management should focus on coaching and mentoring the founder to build their own network and skills.
As someone who has experience with both positive and toxic workplace cultures, I believe that talent management should also focus on helping founders define and cultivate a positive culture within their organization. This includes challenging them to consider whether their current culture is truly the best for both themselves and their employees, and how it might impact retention.
To be effective in this role, I believe that talent managers should have operational experience in building companies, specifically in HR or as head of people in companies with fewer than 50 employees. By understanding the founder’s perspective and having firsthand experience in managing multiple aspects of a growing organization, talent managers can better support the founder’s growth and well-being.
Nico is originally from France and now based in Copenhagen since 2012 after living on 3 different continents. He is the Platform Partner at Dreamcraft Ventures, investing in tech-driven companies from pre-seed to series A in the Nordics and Europe. He has 15 years of experience in HR as he was formerly the Chief People Officer at Revolut and Director of Talent Acquisition at Peakon.
#7 Fred Callaghan (EVP)
How did you end up as Head of Talent at EVP?
EVP is an Australian venture capital fund that specializes in investing in early-stage B2B SaaS companies.
In August 2020, they wanted to create a high-touch talent service for their portfolio and hired me, who had a background in headhunting for boutique executive search firms, to set up and lead the talent function.
What inspired you to pursue a career in talent management?
If you interviewed 10 recruiters, nine of them would probably tell you they fell into recruitment. Coming from the UK, I studied a humanities degree and had a great four years at university. However, I realized that unless I wanted to become an archaeologist, my degree wouldn’t necessarily be helpful for getting a job in another field.
So I fished around and eventually stumbled upon recruitment. It wasn’t a deliberate choice to pursue a career in talent management or recruiting, but I found that it was a good fit for my skill set. I’m someone who enjoys working closely with people, and now get to spend most of my day talking, advising, assessing, and solving problems.
Talent management involves collecting information across different aspects and putting them together to draw a conclusion. I find it similar to puzzle-solving, where you’re trying to match up patterns of experience to find the best way to capture a skill set. The irony is that a lot of this I learned from my degree!
Overall, I think talent management has been a nice fit for me, and I’m fortunate to have landed in this career.
Can you share your top secret when you interview candidates for the portfolio?
A lot of my time is spent interviewing candidates for our portfolio companies. I usually take a conversational approach and talk through their backgrounds and motivations.
When you’re doing interviews all day every day, it can be easy to forget that while that might be your fifth or sixth meeting of the day, it could be the most important one for the person on the other side of the table. It’s important to remember that you’re dealing with someone’s career and to take appropriate care & attention.
Hence, I try to ensure that the experience is positive, not just transactional, but that there’s a good degree of information flow both ways. This may not be a groundbreaking secret, but it’s an effective approach that seems to have worked out so far!
Is there anything that you specifically look out for in a candidate when hiring for EVP?
There are certain things that I look for as green or red flags, depending on how they’re handled. At a basic level, I want to see if they have done any research on our company. Have they spent time on our website and learned about our business and specialty? Are they prepared with actionable intel? This indicates how invested they are in the process and our company.
When it comes to more complex aspects, it depends on the role. Generally, we look for problem-solving ability, intelligence, communication skills, and personality. The ability to have difficult conversations and effective communication are important as well.
However, different people within the fund, such as the partnership or investment team, may have slightly different criteria for the interview process.
This highlights the need for a robust hiring process that gathers diverse information from the candidate and provides them with the necessary information to make an informed decision.
In the VC industry, where contrarian and innovative thinking is highly valued, it’s crucial to assess candidates for different things and allow them to showcase their strengths through the hiring process.
What are some challenges you faced in talent management? And how have you overcome them?
As someone in a recruitment-heavy role in a VC fund, time management has been the chief challenge. With different models and approaches in the talent function, it can be difficult to provide each business with an effective amount of time and resource, while ensuring a genuine value add. We work as a funnel for them, filtering out candidates and presenting the right ones at the right time to avoid any repetition or mismatch.
To my mind, the worst thing that could happen is a portfolio company rejecting a candidate for being a bad culture fit. This is a tricky part to get right since we have different businesses with slightly different cultures.
We strive to bring in candidates with the right skills and expertise, but ultimately, those that fit the business and are right for their journey. The key is to have an effective screening process in place and ask the right questions to make informed judgement calls.
How do you see the talent management role evolving in the VC industry in the coming years?
It’s a great question, and there are a few different factors to consider. Each VC firm approaches talent management differently, and there are different strategies being used across the industry. However, it’s still a relatively nascent part of the industry in Australia and I think we’re all constantly evolving to some extent.
This is coinciding with the tech industry down under becoming more popular generally. All this means a growing competition for talent. This is a macro challenge that all startups will face. I think one of the main evolutions will be how VCs approach this challenge; accessing & hiring the best available talent. In a country of 25m people I doubt we ever see talent management in VC on the same scale as in the US but there’s certainly a lot we can learn from them — perhaps most importantly in how they treat talent acquisition. In Australia, recruiting can still be seen as something of a dirty word, whereas in the US & Europe, it’s an essential part of business growth.
Fred is the Head of Talent at EVP, an Australian Venture Capital firm where he works with their portfolio of software & marketplace startups to support them in attracting, hiring and retaining exceptional people. He held previous Director roles at Options Group and Human Capital respectively and graduated from the University of Exeter with a Masters in International Relations.
#8 Anne-Sophie Delage (Breega)
How did you start off with talent management and what was your journey leading up to Breega?
My journey in talent management started over ten years ago, primarily in HR and recruitment for tech companies. I have always been involved in building HR teams from scratch, especially in European startups, both in France and Singapore and I am also a coach which enabled be to learn a culture of complexity, change and communication.
After returning from Singapore, I wanted to continue working with small groups, which led me to apply to Breega in September 2020. Breega invests in early-stage startups, both in and beyond Europe, with a focus on tech companies in various fields such as robotics, HR tech, FinTech, InsurTech, and Proptech.
As a Talent Manager at Breega, I work on the Scaling team, which is responsible for helping startups build their operational foundations. The Scaling team is made up of eight experts, including HR professionals like myself, as well as specialists in growth, marketing, branding, communications, and business and governance.
Breega’s founders are entrepreneurs themselves, which is why they initially hired only entrepreneurs for their investment team. They recognized a gap in the VC space where funding is available but support for startup development is not, which led them to build the Scaling team. Our goal is to help startups scale by providing the necessary operational support, including HR foundations.
Overall, my journey in talent management has led me to Breega, where I can use my experience and expertise to help startups build successful companies.
Could you share a little bit more on your top secret when you interview? Like, let’s say, these two buckets of people?
The top secret I use when interviewing is my scorecard. We all tend to rush into recruiting without taking the time to properly prepare. By building a scorecard, we can assess whether a candidate is the right fit for our company and whether we are the right fit for them.
The scorecard includes the job description, questions we will ask each candidate, and the competencies we are evaluating, including knowledge, hard skills, soft skills, and values.
I believe in value fits over culture fits, as you want people who will bring something to your culture, not just fit in with it.
Building a scorecard takes time, but it’s quality time that will ultimately lead to a better recruitment process.
Are there any challenges you faced in talent management in Brega and how have you overcome them?
One of the main challenges we face is the subjectivity of people when it comes to hiring, promoting, and salary increases. Some people believe they don’t know anything about HR, while others believe they know everything. Building an approach that includes everyone fairly is difficult, as HR needs to balance building a framework with personal and professional development.
To overcome this, we build an HR roadmap at the beginning of the year to provide visibility on what will happen. We communicate this to everyone and adapt as needed throughout the year. This helps us stay on track and avoid going in every direction.
Another challenge is the fast-paced environment we’re in, especially with everything happening around us, like bank failures, COVID, and changes in the startup ecosystem.
To overcome this, we stay connected to the ecosystem, read articles, and work with counterparts in other startups and scaleups to understand what’s happening and get new ideas. We also use tools like Figures in France to understand where the market is and adjust our salary grades accordingly.
Finally, there’s a paradox in our space where there’s a scarcity of tech profiles while unemployment rates can be high in some countries. At the moment, we see large tech groups dismissing many people, which presents an opportunity for tech startups and scaleups to welcome seasoned professionals. However, there are questions about value fit and adaptability from a large group to a small startup.
Overall, these challenges require transparency, communication, and adaptability to overcome.
How do you see the talent management role evolving in VC in the next few years?
The talent management role is evolving towards more organizational design, including roles and responsibilities within the company. This includes building the org chart for the next few years and defining the roles and responsibilities of the founders, C-level executives, and teams. Anticipating growth and avoiding rushed hiring is crucial to prevent inefficiencies and the need for future dismissals.
The talent management role is becoming more focused on serving the business and guiding decisions based on the anticipated evolution of the company’s structure. This shift is moving the role away from pure HR processes and more towards being a key player in the success of the business.
Anne is the Head of Talent at Breega, a €500M AUM fund investing across Europe and internationally, focusing on pre-seed to Series B stage. As part of the Scaling Squad, she helps portfolio start-ups, operationally & strategically on HR Foundations and am also in charge of HR internally within Breega. Previously, she started and led the Technology Digital Innovation Practice across South-East Asia with Lincoln in Singapore and was formerly a Talent Manager with Kyriba.
✋ Hi, I’m Daryl. I’ve spent the last few years working in startups all across the world, deep diving into verticals such as Generative AI & Future of Work and speaking to the very best in the space.
🌐 Across the World in Venture is a repository of articles, where I sit down together with Founders/Venture Capitalists (VCs) across the globe to better understand venture investing in different geographical regions around the world, bringing to light untold stories of under-represented founders and investors.