MohrDavidowMeets: Gaining an Edge of Talent

September 25, 2013

As venture capitalists, we meet a plethora of talented companies and operators on a daily basis and are lucky to include a select number of those companies in the Mohr Davidow Ventures’ family. Our interactions with members of the MDV portfolio facilitate an important knowledge transfer, and we must admit that our greatest teachers are often our entrepreneurs. However, from artificial intelligence adtech companies to innovative retailers changing the way women buy shape wear to lenders of SMB loans, our companies all share a consistent challenge in scaling their companies: identifying, landing, and retaining quality talent. 

In response to the quantity of feedback about the challenges of hiring and also the preciousness of our portfolio companies' time, we launched #MohrDavidowMeets. #MohrDavidowMeets is a series of hosted events that provide a platform for sharing knowledge, not just between partners and entrepreneurs, but also, with external thought leaders and best-of-breed peers. The goal: have meaningful dialogue with members of the Mohr Davidow Ventures network that can help our portfolio companies frame and tackle big problems. 

September 24th, 2013, marked the first #MohrDavidowMeets: Gaining an Edge on Talent. The evening's two panels had a bifurcated focus: How to Differentiate Good from Great Candidates and Executive Search: How to Ensure Search Success. Moderated by Mohr Davidow Ventures General Partner, Katherine Barr, these panels, exclusive to representatives of MDV portfolio companies, presented the opportunity for thought leaders in the search space to give their honest perspectives on hiring stronger+better+faster+smarter.

With over 30 start ups in attendance, #MohrDavidowMeets welcomed over 70 people to its Sand Hill Road headquarters. The night began with dinner in the back lot, which was transformed into a cool outdoor terrace. Guests noshed on food truck delicacies from local mobile favorite, MogoBBQ, and sipped chilled Coronitas and sparkling sangria with fresh fruit. Portfolio companies, including Adamas Pharmaceuticals, Bandpage, Healthtap, Hotchalk, Infusionsoft, SIPX, and Zuckerberg Media mingled with panelists from Pandora Radio,eBay, Tesla Motors, Google, Uber, Ticketfly and elite retained search firms, True Capital, BridgeGate LLC, Vantage Partners, Schweichler (SPMB) and Calibre One.

The first panel featured hiring experts from some of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. With regards to pinpointing the great candidate vs. the good candidate, all panelists pointed directly to deciphering the alignment with their company’s culture. Thuan Pham, CTO of rapidly scaling personal transportation company, Uber, stressed, “We prioritize cultural fit through giving candidates real projects. We're looking for A-players that are invested in the product, not just people who want to make money.” A resounding consensus arose on the topic of setting a new hire up for success. VP of Talent Acquisition at Pandora Radio, Sarah Wagener, shared her company’s thinking and structure behind Pandora U, an opportunity for all new hires to engage with the founders of the company, learn about the history, and instantly feel part of the team from Day 1. Todd Carlisle from Google actually quantified the importance of a great first day: “We found that, if these four things didn’t happen on a Noogler’s [New Googler] first day, their productivity level decreased by 20% six months later.” The four things enumerated seemed like no brainers: 1) Correct name badge 2) Working access card 3) Working laptop 4) Meet/Greet with manager at the end of the day. During the Q&A portion of the panel, Retention Science CEO, Jerry Jao, asked a question that many of the attendees were eager to know: how can startups with limited budgets and minimal frills compete with the Googles, Ubers, and Pandoras of the Valley? The response from Tom Brown, Hiring Director at eBay, “Small companies can personalize offers based on each candidate’s individual motivations and lifestyle; big companies can’t. In the age of customization, that’s definitely an edge.”

After exploring hiring from the trenches, the next panel’s participants represented the other side of the human resource equation: top recruiters from world class retained search firms Calibre One, Schweichler Price Mullarkey & Barry, Vantage Partners, BridgeGate LLC, and True Capital. These veterans of search emphasized key practices to ensuring a successful search from a time, human capital, and quality perspective. Steve O’Deegan from Vantage Partners encouraged companies to “treat retained search firms as partners, not vendors. Buy into the partnership aspect so the recruiter is invested in the search.” Although admittedly more costly than a contingency recruiter in upfront costs, retained search recruiters not only can save the opportunity costs of identifying, sourcing, and interviewing the wrong candidates, they also become an investment in amplifying your company’s message. “Hire a search person who is genuinely excited about your company’s value proposition and who can/wants to sell it to top executives,” advised Steve Popper from Schweichler. The investment in a retained search firm becomes a marketing play as recruiters represent your company’s interests in growth to top talent. Audience members from Infusionsoft openly shared their recent CFO search experience with a retained search firm, and reiterated the importance of choosing the right partner. “We’re extremely happy with our new CFO,” beamed CTO Marc Chesley of Infusionsoft. When searching for executives that can drive companies to the next level, retained search firms can justify their costs if the hiring company values the partnership.

The evening concluded with a chic milk, cookies, & caffeine bar in Mohr Davidow Ventures offices. Elizabeth Patterson, Chief Talent Officer at Mohr Davidow Ventures shared, “One way that we can support our 80+portfolio companies is to help educate them so that they can build phenomenal hiring and talent development practices within their companies. We’ve definitely helped to lay that foundation tonight.”

Missed the event? Although the program was closed to Mohr Davidow Ventures portfolio companies, the live tweets can be found at #MohrDavidowMeets. Also, we acknowledge that two and a half hours will only make a dent in your hiring challenges, and we encourage you to continue the dialogue online on the MohrDavidowMeets LinkedIn group. Many thanks to our guests and panelists for a very insightful conversation. We look forward to seeing you at the next #MohrDavidowMeets.