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Devang Mehta

Devang Mehta – Venture Partner, Anthill Ventures.

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What is an Ideal Startup Employee Profile?

The Hiring Nirvana: startups that hire the right people are the ones that can successfully navigate through the myriad problems that occur in a typical lifecycle; and by extension, are the ones that realize favorable outcomes for VC investments. Which is why VCs should definitely endeavor to help fill in key positions - especially at the C-level if required - and to build/refine an efficient hiring culture in their portfolio companies for entry- and mid-level positions.

I firmly believe that startups that hire the right people are the ones that can successfully navigate through the myriad problems that occur in a typical lifecycle; and by extension, are the ones that realize favorable outcomes for VC investments. Which is why VCs should definitely endeavor to help fill in key positions - especially at the C-level if required - and to build/refine an efficient hiring culture in their portfolio companies for entry- and mid-level positions.

There are 2 critical skills that almost every employee in a startup, especially in a Technology startup (and I will focus on Technology startups in this write up), should possess - Good Analytics (or at least an Analytical bent of mind) and Effective Communication.  Analytics is important because every function in a startup involves some critical thinking. Many job functions - Marketing being a good example - were more art than science in the past; but are decidedly more analytical now. Marketing activities today -- analyzing website visitors, customer scoring, designing marketing automation campaigns, etc involve a heavy dose of analytics. A similar situation exists across other traditional, non-analytical job functions like Sales and even HR now involve a strong mix of analytics of regular activity. I don't of course need to dwell on job functions like Engineering and QA, that involve deep technical expertise by default - indeed, the need for critical analysis has become greater here.

Ability to Communicate is another highly sought after trait for startup employees. Here, the trait is inevitably found in business facing functions like Sales and Marketing; however, it is imperative that technical folks also are able to communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders. Internally to be able to communicate product features, timelines, and benefits in a way that can effectively be relayed to the outside world. And externally through technical papers, blogs, presence at premier conferences via Keynote addresses and other events to show off (in a good sense) technical chops and team pedigree. All in a way that makes the startup more alluring to the ecosystem.

An extension of the skills described above and one way to summarize these is that an ideal startup employee should be 'salesy' - not necessarily a Sales Manager that opens doors and closes deal - but one that can sell the vision of the company to anyone they meet. That anyone being friends, family, investors, acquirers, potential employees, BD partners, interns, students, outside PR agencies, industry bloggers etc - essentially anyone they meet! This is because a startup needs help in ALL these areas - sales, marketing, attracting investments, building channels, effective content strategies, hiring (often inexpensively) talent for various functions, creating impactful  PR, viral social media, and so on.  And, there are not enough people in these startups with specialized functions to address these tasks - at least not in a full-time capacity.

The right culture is of everyone wearing many hats; and doing so with aplomb and willingness. Such a culture ensures that all functional areas get attended to effectively (no downtime for example when someone goes on vacation) as there is always a critical mass of skills available to address any task. Ideally, and this might sound a bit odd, is if this pedigree gets combined with some unique hobby or prior success in a non-corporate setting: Chess grandmaster, playing a musical instrument at an international competition, a tri-athlete - you get the drift.  An impressive combination of the above identified skills creates that necessary - but perpetually elusive - "X-factor" in a startup - one that immediately impresses and interests any new person that gets to know about it.

So, what lessons can we draw from here? Hire right, Hire smart. Pick people with most if not all of the traits described above. Build a team that has the credentials that will make you gush when talking about them - imagine being able to say "Our Marketing Head is a Harvard MBA and long distance runner; our CTO a gold medalist from IIT, Mumbai and played chess at an international level with a rating of 2200 in her heyday; Our VP of Sales speaks 12 languages and has travelled 46 countries. Every person in the building can flawlessly communicate both the high-level architecture of the product as well as the ROI for each of our top 10 customers. We hire from these 12 premier institutions, but more importantly, each employee brings in at least one distinctive skills that makes them a rockstar in their peer group"

This is Hiring Nirvana!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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