Hiring a VP of Engineering if you’re an early stage startup: Do’s and don’ts

Think about you’re a founder at a hot-shot early-stage startup that’s simply raised a ton of cash. You rent your first excessive profile Vice President of Engineering (VPE) after months of looking, somebody who you fastidiously vetted and got here extremely really useful by credible folks. And, your VPE quits after lower than 24 hours on the job.

Sounds loopy? Properly, it occurred with a fintech startup known as Clinkle, in 2013. Based by a then-22-year outdated Lucas Duplan, Clinkle raised US$25 million in June, in what was then the most important seed spherical ever introduced in Silicon Valley historical past. They closed on a seasoned ex-Yahoo engineering chief, Chi-Chao Chang as their first VPE in December.

Clinkle was a secretive firm, and wouldn’t reveal the true state of its product and strategic street map to an outsider. The founder was solely prepared to let somebody go below the hood after signing.

Chang on his first day discovered the corporate was planning a spherical of layoffs whereas hiring in a bunch of latest senior people, and the product and advertising technique have been in a lot poorer form than he imagined. He wasn’t scared by onerous work or a product that wanted severe transforming. However basic disagreements over the place the corporate was headed weren’t one thing that could possibly be fastened.

The Clinkle story serves as a cautionary story and doesn’t apply to the overwhelming majority of searches I’ve labored on within the USA and Asia, although I’ve seen many conditions the place a rent will get dragged out.

A VPE is likely one of the most important (and costly) hires that an early-stage startup could make, and getting it proper can save founders plenty of heartaches and stress down the street. The expertise pool for technical leaders can also be smaller and extra untested in Southeast Asia, which makes it tougher.

So let’s spotlight some key Dos and Don’ts when hiring your first VPE.

Let’s hear the do’s

Do be very clear on what you want from this rent:

As a founder, ask your self, what ache factors ought to this rent remedy? What initiatives are caught on the back-burner till you fill this function? These two questions will take you a great distance towards writing an efficient job description.

Being clear on the particular deliverables will will let you work out what are onerous necessities, vs nice-to-haves. I like to make use of the next desk:

Breaking down necessities into discrete classes forces you to drill down on the important areas. This can assist in writing a extra considerate job description to flow into to your community and recruiters.

On the identical time, be lifelike as to what a VPE can do. A VPE’s foremost job needs to be to give attention to the folks and processes to construct a scalable, productive and completely satisfied engineering organisation.

Relying on the stage, this particular person could possibly be given a Head or Director of Engineering title. That is completely different from a CTO. who’s normally somebody within the founding workforce with a robust technical background that’s in a position to get the preliminary structure and product off the bottom and set that roadmap.

Do have your pitch down for a technical chief:

For candidates who’re in excessive demand, you might have one shot to make a primary impression. For collection A/B firms, the founder/CEO ought to all the time take the primary assembly. This allows you to put your finest foot ahead in articulating the corporate mission and the way essential this function is. It additionally permits you to study and calibrate the perfect match on your firm.

For technical leaders, be ready to speak about why what you’re constructing is technically difficult and fascinating. One of many key duties of a VPE is that can assist you rent and retain engineers. They should really feel assured they’ll go on the market and promote that.

Additionally Learn: 5 productiveness instruments for busy startup founders to remain targeted in 2022

It’s all properly and good to focus on what a collaborative tradition you might have and the way you present free lunches, however what most gifted engineers actually need is to work on one thing complicated they’ll dig into.

Do go onerous after the parents you need:

For prime-quality candidates, i.e. people that individuals you belief discuss with you (whether or not it’s a recruiter, VC or somebody in your community),  go after them! This isn’t the time to take a seat again and assume “Oh in the event that they’re , they may come again to me”. Attain out straight, and rapidly.

Once we have been hiring Uber’s first CTO, founder Travis Kalanick took it upon himself to relentlessly hunt down sturdy candidates. The candidate lives in Seattle and couldn’t discover time to come back to San Francisco within the subsequent few weeks? No drawback, Travis would get on a airplane the subsequent day and fly to fulfill them in particular person. You could not be capable of persuade or shut the candidate  however you’ll have left a robust impression, constructed a relationship, and that particular person might refer another person to you.

As soon as you are feeling you’ve discovered the precise particular person, go all out to shut them, being versatile on compensation as wanted, getting their household’s buy-in, and so forth.

Don’t be afraid to ask for assist and name in favours, ask your VC, recruiters or board members to speak to the folks you might be concentrating on. Busy candidates can typically be extra conscious of an electronic mail from a identified VC versus an unknown founder.

Founders in our portfolio typically ask me learn how to interview folks extra senior to them; I can then join them to seasoned VPEs to assist them put together for such interviews. Folks will be remarkably beneficiant and infrequently flattered to be requested for assist.

Now, onto the don’ts

Don’t conceal (all) the dangerous stuff, be clear and trustworthy:

Tying this again to the Clinkle debacle, don’t attempt to hoodwink candidates and inform them you’re additional alongside than you might be, have extra funding than you might have secured, or that you simply don’t have any technical debt. The reality will come out  and also you desire a candidate to pay attention to what they’re moving into earlier than signing on the dotted line.

Typically founders really feel like they should solely present the good things and conceal the stuff they’re actually anxious about, for concern of scaring away candidates. Belief me, any skilled chief may have seen their fair proportion of loopy, chaotic, screwed up conditions. And you may construct belief early in case you can embrace these and make them a part of fixing the issues.

Don’t rule out individuals who aren’t out of your tribe:

Cultural match and chemistry are extraordinarily essential. In the end that is somebody you’ll be working with intently and there must be a ton of mutual belief and respect. However typically “not a cultural match” turns into code for “this particular person doesn’t look, act or really feel like me, subsequently they have to not be certified”.

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Wanting folks out of your tribe, eg: identical college, identical background, identical intercourse   is pure however will be harmful when hiring your first exterior senior hires and attending to a various workforce. I’m inspired that I see this difficulty much less in Southeast Asia, by advantage of there being a lot richness in range and the rise of distant groups.

I as soon as labored with an early stage fintech agency with a reasonably cookie-cutter, the non-diverse engineering workforce of 20, trying to rent their first VPE. They have been callous and in my opinion, disrespectful when assembly with some (certified) candidates.

The CEO would present up late for conferences and typically lower the assembly quick after quarter-hour when he felt the “chemistry wasn’t there”. When pressed what precisely that meant, it appeared to come back down as to if the candidate was somebody he would wish to seize a beer with, and didn’t converse English with an accent.

It’s not unsuitable to depend on intuition. Our intestine typically tells us issues that may’t be rationalised. But in addition bear in mind (particularly if you’re a younger founder) that the stuff you search for and are snug with might lead you to exclude individuals who may really be nice for the job however simply aren’t the “kind” you might be used to.

And whether or not you might be discriminating towards and ruling out folks as a consequence of your unconscious biases. Take a beat to consider why some candidates resonated with you and never.

Don’t maintain out for the Unicorn aka Purple Squirrel:

Again within the 2010s in Silicon Valley, we’d discuss with a candidate who ticked EVERY SINGLE BOX {that a} founder wished as a unicorn,  elusive and legendary. These days the time period unicorn is used extra to explain firms with billion-dollar valuations, so I’ll revert to a different lesser-known time period, the Purple Squirrel: that is used to explain sought-after candidates with the proper, however typically unimaginable, a mixture of abilities for a given job.

I as soon as labored on a seek for a really engaging Collection D firm the place it took us over two years to search out the precise VPE candidate. Throughout that point I went on maternity depart twice!

Did they find yourself with an incredible candidate? Sure, however the course of was so lengthy as a result of we had a really lengthy listing of goal “attain” candidates (each single VP at Google and Fb) and there have been too many individuals concerned within the choice making, which made it simple to search out one thing unsuitable with each candidate.

For founders in Southeast Asia, the place the market is much less developed and there aren’t as many of us who’ve efficiently scaled a number of startups, don’t get overly targeted on particular model names, paper {qualifications} and pedigrees.

Google, Apple, and so forth have been as soon as startups however now are huge public firms. Hiring an ex-Googler doesn’t assure high quality and won’t ship the skillset your startup wants. Hiring somebody who is superb at managing a workforce of 100+ engineers is probably not the precise particular person to handle a workforce of 25 engineers.

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So, let go of the thought of the proper candidate and focus extra on relevant abilities for the function — this can be by way of precise hands-on {qualifications} and likewise in persona and method.

Do you want a scrappy problem-solver, an agile workforce participant, or a deadline-driven technician? Take into consideration how “is aware of learn how to mentor and make folks really feel heard” could also be extra of a draw for a VPE function in your organisation than “is the perfect coder the world has ever seen.”

Remaining ideas

In summation, an incredible VPE that’s proper on your organisation could make the distinction between success and failure on the early stage. So, look past simply technical abilities and mirror on the standard of their character, and all the time do your reference checks and backchannels!

I welcome feedback/suggestions/questions which I’ll digest over time, attain me right here at LinkedIn.

Disclaimer: Any content material offered on this submit are views of my very own and doesn’t characterize the views or opinions of Monk’s Hill Ventures and its associates.

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