With so much attention paid to innovations and disruptive business models in the venture capital and startup world, it can be easy to overlook the vital importance of great people.
I keep a quote from legendary venture capitalist Arthur Rock in mind when hiring: “What I’m interested in is investing in people.”
Of course, every company wants stellar employees who are impactful, high performers. Identifying those high performers, however, takes hard work in recruiting, screening resumes and interviewing.
Here are five key attributes that CircleUp looks for in candidates, in no order:
Horsepower: I’ll take intelligence over experience any day of the week. Job descriptions alone can intimidate a lot of people -- particularly younger people, who often feel that they lack the experience that the job description suggests they will need. That’s unfortunate, because I’ve found that most of the time intelligence trumps experience. An intelligent candidate can quickly learn a job and frequently ends up doing it better than someone (less intelligent) who has been doing a similar job elsewhere. Experience is certainly valuable, but brains are the horsepower that drives the business.
Ownership and pride: "Run the mile you are in." This is a distance-running mantra from Runner's World Editor-in-Chief David Willey that I think applies to many aspects of our personal and professional lives. No matter your current job or where you are in your career, are you focused and engaged and do you take ownership? Do you have pride in what you are doing? Do you have pride in your colleagues and your company? “Run the mile you are in” applies not only to distance running; it applies to life, and it applies to how you will succeed -- or not -- as a teammate in business.
Work ethic: What we are doing -- redefining the private equity investing model and bringing fresh capital to consumer goods startups -- requires both smart and hard work. We achieved strong growth in 2013, our first full year in business, because our team works very hard. It’s more than that, really. It’s teamwork that is self initiated. The valued employee is not only the one willing to work hard; she is the employee who searches out ways to contribute most. She should have a work history of having demonstrated not only a willingness to contribute, but a desire to lead, come up with ideas on her own and to grasp fully the feeling of pride in his or her accomplishments.
Integrity: This is an attribute that is not always easy to flesh out. But it is too important to gloss over in the interview process. I try to gauge integrity by asking interviewees for examples of difficult decisions they have had to make or ethical dilemmas they've faced. I'm looking for candid responses as to how they handled these situations. What was their decision-making process?
Teamwork: This is my version of the ‘no jerks’ rule. So much of what we do involves collaboration that we must have team players across our business. It is good for business results and our corporate culture. I’ve met nice people who just weren’t effective teammates, but I haven’t met a lot of great team players who were jerks. This is what Reed Hastings, in his manifesto Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility, calls selflessness. I want people who are ego-less and put the interests of the company above their own and are eager to share information and help their co-workers.
This year, we will hire a substantial number of new employees. We’ve had great success in our first two years recruiting fantastic talent. I see it in our productivity and growth, and in the endorsements we receive both from investors and startups. It is also evident in the engagement and enthusiasm I see among our team members -- smart, hard-working people thrive alongside other smart, hard-working people.
Ryan Caldbeck is the founder of CircleUp, an online social marketplace that supports direct equity investments from individual investors into privately held consumer and retail companies. Ryan started CircleUp after seven years of investing experience in consumer product and retail-focused private equity at TSG Consumer Partners and Encore Consumer Capital. He received his MBA from Stanford and a dual BA from Duke.