Make them an offer they can’t refuse

Ankur Capital
Oct 19 · 5 min read

We were listening to Jack Hidary talk about how vision impacts the talent a company attracts. He used the example of Tesla and Fisker. Tesla sold the future and Fisker sold a bridge to the future. One retained its talent in tough times and the other didn’t. The rest is history.

Talent is the one ingredient that makes or breaks a company. It is the complex beast between you and your vision. We have seen the comings and goings across dozens of startups including our own (yes, a fund can be a startup too). Different recruiting styles, different requirements, different companies, different outcomes. Is there a code on how to do this that lets a startup founder crack it? We had Mohit Dubey (CEO, Chalo.com), Mekin Mahehwari (Founder, Udhyam.org) and Roopa Kumar (Co-founder, Purple Quarter) — talent hunters, directly and indirectly — stop by and share their learnings. It was an information packed session to answer burning questions from over 100 entrepreneurs who joined us at Ankur Capital Dialogues.

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Here’s what we learnt…

  1. Know what you want: Perhaps the most difficult part of hiring. You have to know what you are looking for, not just in terms of skills. You will be building a billion dollar enterprise to take on the world, so the people you welcome onboard have to be aligned with you on a personal, holistic level. Yes, it gets personal.
  2. No outsourcing: Remember when you outsourced dating to your roommate? Hiring and dating are similar. There are no quick fixes. Getting to know the other person, and for them to know you, is critical. Especially, if you are looking for something long term. It is hard work so roll up your sleeves and get to it. Mekin leveraged his network, his friends and asked for the best recommendations. Mohit remembers reading up extensively on how to interview since in his early days. He was hiring people who were subject experts in areas he was almost clueless in. Mohit read “WHO: The A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, which he highly recommends. The marketing heads that he subsequently rejected recount his interview process as being more thorough than that of a marketing agency’s.
  3. Hire a partner, a problem solver, and treat them as one: Hiring a person with a high sense of ownership who thrives on problems. They will be the one you walk across the desert to meet. Mohit, with many startups under his belt, believes that you have to woo people, especially the first 50 people (including cofounders). He has always offered attractive stock options to quantify his willingness to partner. After getting them to bare their soul and seeing a light in them, he knew that they valued sharing the rollercoaster journey that entrepreneurship is.
  4. Money is important but vision and challenge beat it hands down: What you want to build is important. The vision, the complexity of the situation is what gets a truly great candidate excited. Most people after a certain stage and age in their lives are motivated by — as Abraham Maslow would call it — self actualization needs. For an engineer, this will tantamount to the depth and breadth of the problem you are solving. Roopa sees the conversation turn vapid when a bright eyed engineer hears that the startup that wants him/her is really just a tech enabled play. She has countless examples up her sleeve of people who have left plush corporate jobs with highly aspirational lifestyles to join a startup only for the complexity of task at hand. These are the kind of people, the ones you surely want to build a rocketship with. You don’t want people who come with a sense of entitlement or have to be handled with kiddy gloves even if they have built a legacy.
  5. The eyes light up rule: Feeling a resounding passion for your vision from the other side is an absolute imperative. If Mekin didn’t feel the energy from a candidate when building out Flipkart, he said no. He believes that the assessment process has to be very alive. It can be much more beautiful and engaging than transactional. Roopa, with a success rate par excellence, likes to assess the candidates and their profiles deeply to get to what motivates them, what makes them tick, their threshold for pain (surprising, yes!) and a golden metric — their emotional quotient. This is the most difficut component to evaluate, but one that she believes in and gives her customers a 1 year guarantee on candidates (with, of course, conditions applied).
  6. Set up processes early on: Flipkart had a stringent interview process where everyone had a veto, and where Mekin exercised his veto right a few times. It’s never too early to set up processes, Mohit chips in. He believes that even if you are a 15 member team, you have to lay down quantifiable metrics — both on the hard and soft skills, that the team identifies with while assessing if a person fits in.
  7. Detox: These are very common follies founders commit — which if left unchecked rock and capsize the boat with very few saviours. What if you realize you made the wrong decision? Mohit as a founder takes a strong stance and has asked a person to leave after 3 days of joining, with their dignity intact of course. He just knew that the culture and skill fit was not right. Mekin, who in an unusual career graph transformed from engineering head to CPO, has taken a softer approach in the past — he will rotate the person in question in various roles to find a fit, failing which he will have a heart to heart and let go. Is the culture fit really so important? Can’t we hire abrasive toxic rock stars who will move the needle weekly only cause they will? Since each startup hire has an impact on the DNA of the team, it can be downright damaging to partner with people who have a mindset, value and belief system that does not match yours. While a single fish can’t create ripples, a big fish in a small pond can and will destabilize it — for the better or worse.

Catch the full video on YouTube and join us for another exciting edition of ACD. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you want to share a business plan or partner with any of our portfolio companies, please reach out to us at info@ankurcapital.com. We might make you an offer you can’t refuse!

Ankur Capital

Venture Capital — Seeding Startups, Building India

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