Recruiting a rockstar venture design team (Part A): Groundwork

Hey, nice to meet you! Care to fill out a long-a$$ application form for a side project that won’t pay you a cent?

It took over 6 weeks to finalize the Beantown Startup Studio (BSS) team. The recruitment process took so long because I believed that putting together the right team was by far the most important success factor of this effort. And I believed that the right team wasn’t just about finding a bunch of really smart people, but also about finding a diverse group of people who collectively embrace a “psychologically safe” culture.

Overall, 55 people applied to take part, and the current Core Team of 4 was formed through a multistep process involving behavioral and case interviews as well as group workshops to ensure personality and skill fit.

I will share my team formation experience in detail over a series of 3 posts:

  • Part A: Groundwork
  • Part B: Outreach
  • Part C: Selection

This post is the first of this series and describes the groundwork I had to do prior to launching the recruitment process:

  1. Determining the desired team makeup
  2. Updating my LinkedIn profile
  3. Creating the project application form

1. Determining the desired team makeup

My goal was to construct a multidisciplinary team of 4 or 5, bringing not only complementary expertise but also fundamentally different thinking styles. I actively avoided creating a homogeneous team composed of friends or contacts in my existing social circles, instead seeking applicants from all types of backgrounds.

Based on my prior experience working at a company builder in Colombia, I had a broad sense for what activities a startup studio team must be able to carry out:

1st half of BSS

  • Project coordination, ~0.25 FTEs
  • Research & concept generation, ~4 FTEs: primary & secondary research and brainstorming

2nd half of BSS

  • Project coordination, ~0.25 FTEs
  • Business modeling, ~2 FTEs: business model hypotheses testing and customer development
  • Building & testing, ~2 FTEs: rapid prototyping

(Note: For those who don’t know, a Full-Time-Equivalent, or FTE, represents the amount of work that one full-time person can accomplish.)

Given my business and project management background, I estimated that I personally would be fit to take on ~0.25 FTEs of project coordination throughout the project, in addition to~0.75 FTEs of research & concept generation, ~0.5 FTEs of business modeling, and ~0.25 FTEs of building & testing.

Thinking through what roles need to be played and what I will likely contribute to the team helped me pinpoint and focus on filling the largest gaps. Specifically, I realized that I had to make sure to find hipsters (i.e., design gurus) and hackers (i.e., technology experts) who can show strong leadership in the research & concept generation and building & testing activities.

2. Updating my LinkedIn profile

I knew that BSS would be a substantial time commitment for the core team. To persuade people to even consider applying to the project, my credibility was critical. Specifically, I had to convey that:

  • I have the requisite capabilities and experiences to coordinate this effort
  • I am a good teammate
  • I am committed to the project

To do so, I revamped my LinkedIn profile.

I highlighted my academic and professional accomplishments in much more detail (and adjusted the privacy settings to ensure most of my profile is visible to the public), let my personality come through in the summary section, and made it clear that I am “Building a Venture Design Team in Boston” in the headline as well as in the summary. Also, in addition to the 2 recommendations I already had, I asked a former teammate whom I had directly managed to write a recommendation regarding my team leadership.

Updated LinkedIn headline
Updated LinkedIn summary

3. Creating the project application form

I prepared a lengthy Google form which provided a detailed outline of BSS and solicited a lot of info around the applicants’ backgrounds, interests, and skill sets. Even though some of my friends advised that I shorten the form to make the process more organic and reduce the hassle of applying, I decided to stick to this strategy for 2 main reasons:

  1. Screening for commitment upfront. I had encountered so many students on campus who committed to working on a startup but, when things got busy, flaked out on their commitment. I wanted to connect only with those who were serious about undertaking an intense entrepreneurial side project. The long initial form definitely helped as an initial screen.
  2. Showing respect for people’s time. If I was going to ask people to invest significant time for a multi-step selection process, I wanted to make sure that I showed respect for their time by doing my part to be very clear and upfront about who I am, what this project is about, and why I am launching it.

With the right team makeup in mind, my LinkedIn profile updated, and the project form ready, I was set to launch the recruiting process!

Next up: How I marketed the project, found 55 interested applicants, and finalized the Core Team.


Acknowledgement

I would like to thank the following individuals who generously helped me on the team search process in one way or another: Adrian Kwok, Jennifer Xia, Kevin Yuen, Kevin McElroy, Kok Hou Chia, Lukas Keindl, Marcela Perez, Matthew Guidarelli, Peter Deutscher, Sergio Marrero, Shani Carter, Val Lee, Valerie Kramis, Wenyi Cai, Yifeng Wang, Yuri Tomikawa, and Zhihan Ma.

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