Beth and Jenna discuss how seed-stage companies can make diversity a priority from day one, the right questions to ask references, and how to hire a great Head of People.
Insights from Beth
On Supporting Homebrew Companies
- "My role is to work with our teams and be a strategic advisor on all things talent. My job isn’t to execute on the searches but to really teach founders how to fish. It’s a mix between strategy and tactical teachings and responsibilities."
- "One of the myths I hear often is that when you are a seed stage company you have to hire fast and furious just to get bodies in. That's not the case. You really need to get people in who know how to function in a very ambiguous environment. Especially at early stage companies, it's not about breadth of knowledge. It’s about depth. People need to know their function and how to manage themselves. There is no hand-holding in startups."
On the Importance of References
- "People can always tell you that they are great at something and talk a big game. The best way to prove that is through back channel references. For us, it’s about connecting the dots. Learning about someone's past enables you to understand if they are is capable of growing in an environment with little structure."
- "I always ask questions about a person’s hiring abilities. If they are going to be scaling a team, you need to know what kind of success they have had hiring in the past. If they are going to be scaling a team, I want to know who has followed them in their career; From department to department and more importantly from company to company. If they don’t have a good answer for that, I have no idea if they are going to be able to come to a startup and build a great team. This is critically important when you are hiring for a leadership position. If a team member can’t attract talent, how are they going to help you scale?"
On Culture, People Ops, and Retention
- "A great Head of Operations or Head of People has strong experience scaling companies and has worked at places with really strong culture where people are happy and engaged. It has to be a place with good retention and creative benefits....They view themselves as a business partner to the leadership team. They are not a transactional person in the company. They are really a partner to the CEO and COO. If they don’t see themselves as a true part of the leadership team they are not someone that we would consider."
- "In my experiences, companies with great retention really train people on how to be good managers, keep a pulse on their employees, and know how to keep people happy. People are happy when they are engaged and feel valued...There should be a clear path for individual contributor roles, not everyone wants to be a manager. For those who do, the biggest investment you can make is giving them the right training. People have to learn how to be good managers. It doesn’t come naturally."
- "If you ask a founder who their top employees are and they can’t tell you when they last touched base with them that is a huge red flag. In the early stages of growth, in order to make sure that people are happy and you are going to retain them, you must be having regular one-on-ones. That is the only way that you are going to know if people are engaged."
On Diversity and Inclusion
- "It is going to be much easier to bring on diverse team members moving forward if you are very intentional about diversity and inclusion from the start...We have a company that is all male engineers at this point. They made an offer to a female engineer and said that if she doesn’t accept their offer they are going to put a moratorium on hiring until their first female engineer does accept. It doesn’t get any more intentional than that. We have founders at Homebrew who are really making a commitment in terms of diversity."
- “When you are a seed stage company and you want to hire fast, you go to your own network and hire people that you trust because they are a known entity. If you source from your own networks you are going to get PLUs - People Like Us. You run the risk of not tapping into networks with people from different backgrounds. This is how companies end up as a team of engineers who all went to Stanford and look the same. You can go to organizations and places to find people from underrepresented groups. You are getting phenomenal team members with the same functional experience but they are from a totally different background.” (Here is a great list from Beth and the Homebrew team)