Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Opening My Big Mouth

Engineers generally attend meetups to learn and network with colleagues - not be recruited.  So I try hard not to be that recruiter at the meetup, opting instead to sit quietly and soak up whatever content isn't too far over my head.  Other than a few 30 second sponsor spots for buying the pizza, my meetup speaking history was essentially zero - until a DCTech event last year.

The DCTech meetup generally has three parts - start up demos, panel discussion, and the open mic.  That evening featured some strong demos and a great Big Data panel.  But it was the open mic segment that prompted me to step up and finally speak.

The open mic session went something like this:

"I'm the Founder of Startup A, we do something awesome and we're hiring engineers"
"I'm the Founder of Startup B, and we also do something awesome and we're hiring engineers too"
"I'm the Founder of Startup C,...."

On and on it went.  At least 25 start ups were looking for engineers, and each of the panelists and demo presenters had made similar hiring pleas.  Here we had over 1000 people active in the start up community, but each was already busy with his/her own project.  Seemed like a problem to me. So up to the mic I went.  My message was simple.  

Unless we attract more talented people to the local startup ecosystem,  nothing will get built and we'll all fail.  

The DC startup community has never been more visible, but we're still dwarfed by the sheer volume of IT spend and staffing on the Federal side.  Just this week, I met an engineer who'd worked for a successful startup in college, but upon relocating to the DC area ended up in Gov't contracting.   He thought that's all DC tech was.  When I told him about some of the amazing products being built locally, he was both surprised and excited.  I think there are others like him who, if they had the information, could be very interested in working on the commercial side.

So this Thursday, April 18th, Fluidhire, AddThis and CustomInk are putting on an informational event to help Federally focused IT professionals learn about the commercial/startup scene.  We'll share the upsides, and downsides, of working in the private sector.  We'll provide a basic framework for engineers to learn more about their options on the commercial side and position themselves to make the switch, should they choose to do so.

Some attendees might think the commercial side sounds great and choose to come join us.  Others might think we're insane - and that's OK too.  But at least, for those in attendance, they will know that the DC tech scene has options for them and their colleagues outside of Gov't contracting.  And that's the goal.

A handful of seats are still available for the .Gov to .Com event.  Info and registration at the link below.



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"You know, like Justin"

My first gig in the start up space was as Director of Recruiting for Clearspring (now AddThis). It was an amazing experience and we built a great team, but it was really hard - especially at the beginning. I'd just started to feel comfortable in the role when our VP of Engineering made a request that knocked me right back off balance. The conversation went something like this...

Will: "We need to hire a Community Manager"
Me: "Huh?"
Will: "A Community Manager.  Someone to work with developers and publishers using our widget platform.  A mix of marketing, evangelism, technical support, implementation, and customer care."
Me: "Huh?"
Will: "Someone whom both developers and business people genuinely love talking to. You know, like Justin"
Me: "Ah, yeah. OK. I get it"

Although I still didn't fully grasp the role, I knew exactly what Will was looking for. He was referring to Justin Thorp, officially a Web Developer at the Library of Congress, but unofficially a prominent ambassador for the DC start up scene. Justin was an unmistakable and consistent presence at local tech meetups, where is booming voice, trademark beard, and infectious passion for all things geeky helped establish him as a major influencer, a Titan if you will, in DC tech circles.

Still somewhat confused, and having a large and growing backlog of positions to fill, I chose the direct approach.  At the next evening's meetup, I approached Justin with a simple proposition.  "We'd like you to keep doing what your are doing, just with our business card." He bought in, and a few weeks later was signed on as Clearspring's first Community Manager.

Justin thrived as our Community Manager, impacting our product and our culture.  Through his example, I learned what it means to be part of a professional ecosystem, and the value it creates for your business and those around you.  There is a long list of people who've been influential in getting my business off the ground, and Justin's name is certainly near the top of that list.

Although we don't work together anymore, Justin and I have remained friends, sharing a good number of beers and ideas over the past few years. Tonight we'll share a few drinks at a going away party for Justin and his entrepreneurial spouse Lauren, who's thriving eCommerce start up, UmbaBox, has been successfully courted by the Zappos-infused start up scene in Las Vegas.  Their departure will leave a big hole in DC's tech scene, one we'll have to work hard to fill.

Success is a tough thing to measure, as everyone has their own unique view of what matters most.  But if your day-to-day includes having a widespread impact on those around you, helping foster innovation and success of others in your community, and becoming commonly known as a benchmark in your profession - then you've accomplished something special.  You know, like Justin.

Safe travels, dude.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Living vicariously through clients

Going solo was a great move for me.  I love it.  But there is one big drawback, I don't really build anything.  I consult, broker, and advise - all valuable actions - but as a one man show in a pure services model there is nothing tangible for me to point to.  So I tend to live vicariously though the products my clients build, and get oddly giddy when those products overlap with everyday life.

Last summer, CustomInk did an amazing job on Tshirts for our family beach trip.  And when I purchase a LivingSocial deal, I'll typically share it on social media using AddThis, thus completing a complex multi-client maneuver.   My contribution to these companies is minuscule compared to heavy lifting done daily by their teams, but I take pride in having had some small impact on products that, in return, make a positive impact on my life as well.  That's why I'm so excited to be starting a consulting assignment with a company solving a problem that is a significant part of my personal life right now.

In November, I chose to have a long overdue operation to repair my right shoulder.   Even with an amazing Orthopedic surgeon in a top flight hospital, going under the knife was still a scary proposition for me.   Thanks to the wonderful team which executed my surgery, everything went flawlessly.  But the reality is that adverse events do happen in healthcare, and when they do, the impact can be devastating.

DC-based Pascal Metrics builds technology that identifies, prevents and reduces adverse events in healthcare.  Pascal's clients share stories where their technology has literally saved lives.  Amazing. How many early stage tech companies can say that?

Pascal is a really interesting client for a number of reasons, including true Big Data applications, a progressive tech stack, ridiculously smart people, and a Double Barreled Ping Pong Robot at HQ.  I'm genuinely excited to be hiring engineers, operations, product management, and marketing roles for them - Pascal is definitely worth checking out for anyone seeking a high impact job.

But what is really exciting to me is to be able to impact, through hiring, a company that is improving patient safety and healthcare across the globe for millions of people - including me and my family.

That's cool.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fluidhire Turns 4!

Starting out in the midst of a brutal recession in January '09, I honestly didn't know if I’d make it four months, let alone four years. 

Officially, Fluidhire is a sole proprietorship, but that’s a wildly misleading label. My business would not exist without the professional ecosystem that surrounds it.    

It’s impossible to thank everyone who has  helped along the way, but I’d like to say Thank You to a few people who have made it all possible.

  • My wife, for supporting and staying with me during that first year.  Business was ugly in 09, as so was I at many times.
  • Vern McDonald, for goading me into becoming a recruiter in the first place
  • Brad Thornton, for teaching me how to achieve long term success in this business and how to keep things in proper perspective
  • Rob Eubank, Jon Olin, Jeff Harris and Brian Deblitz for giving me the opportunity to prove I could build something from the ground up
  • Hunter McElfish, for busting his tail and making Ettain Group’s DC office a success
  • Hooman Radfar and Jay Rappaport for giving me the opportunity to fall in love with the start up space
  • Liam Darmody, for being smart and ignoring my bad advice.  Your strong moves opened up big opportunities for both of us.
  • Stewart Allen, Will Meyer  and the Clearspring/AddThis engineering team for teaching me what it takes to hire truly elite engineering talent
  • Ted Leonsis, Steve Case, Revolution Growth, NEA, Grotech,  Novak Biddle and the other investors supporting the DC start up community   
  • LivingSocial, CustomInk, Resonate Insights, Opower, and the many other clients who've allowed me the opportunity to support their efforts in building world class teams  
  • All the candidates who've put their trust in me to help advance their careers and find positions where they can thrive by building amazing products
Thank you to all who've supported me along the way, I hope I can return the favor at some point down the road.  Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and successful 2013!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sooo.....how's your VORP?

I'm a baseball fan, a relatively educated one. The kind of fan who appreciates Nyjer Morgan faking a bunt on one pitch so he can move the 3rd baseman two steps and slap single to left on the next pitch. But I'm no StatHead, that's an entirely different breed.

StatHeads have sliced and diced baseball statistics a million different ways to try and solve a myraid of arguments about players. All have failed, and annoyed many fans along the way.

But StatHeads do have some value. One of their more relevant innovations in recent years is VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player. VORP's goal is to quantify the difference between true "A Players" and everyone else. It's a great way to compare players and a concept that could be applied to hiring and talent management.

VORP is a complex equation based on a simple premise. How much more valuable is a player compared to what a readily available replacement could do in the same situation? Here is an example.

How much better is Albert Pujols than a readily available replacement? According to VORP measurements, over the course of a 162 game major league season, Mr. Pujols contributes 98.6 more runs to his teams offense than what a readily available replacement would. For non-baseball fans, that's a ton of runs.

More runs = more wins = more paying fans = more $$ for Mr. Pujols' employer. You get the idea. Mr. Pujols is significantly better than a readily available replacement and he makes significantly more in salary each year than the average Major League player. That's a good thing.

In HR/Talent Management, I feel like we tend to normalize people toward the middle. I've seen too many times when average employees get 5% raises while superstars get 6%. I've seen true "A" candidates, I mean legitimate One-In-A-Million finds, lost over a few grand because of existing compensation bands or a hiring manager's quick scan of Salary.com.

If the difference between your superstar employee's compensation is within 10% of their readily available replacement's - that's a problem. Figuring out how to calculate VORP for your organization could be part of the solution. It can help separate great employees from average ones, and reward each appropriately. And that is good for business.

Hiring and HR should be talking about VORP during every interview process, salary negotiation, and employee review. It will take a while, but with good data and persistence, VORP could catch on and make talent acquisition/retention much more efficient.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Employment Brand I Love to Hate

I hate the Yankees - with a passion.

Born and raised a Mets fan, I have to hate the Yankees. That's just part of the deal. It burns me that they are on the verge of another World Series appearance.

But as a recruiting professional I have to admire their employment brand. Sure the Yankees pay well (the average Yankee salary is 50% more than the average of the next closest team). But the biggest reason that the Yankees payroll is so large is because is that when the best players in the game have the choice to play anywhere, more times than not they choose to play in pinstripes.

Last off season, the Yankees landed top free agent slugger Mark Teixeira. Teixeira had at least 5 other competitive offers including perennial playoff teams Bostson and Anaheim, as well as his hometown teams - Baltimore and Washington. Teixeira choose to play in New York, despite having to change his preferred number (23) which he had previously worn in honor of his boyhood idol, New York Yankee legend Don Mattingly. This might seem trivial, but many professional locker rooms have had battles over players' numbers.

Ace pitcher CC Sabathia recently choose the Yankees over other offers that would have kept him closer to his family and home in California. Alex Rodriguez re-signed with the Yankees in 2007 despite long battles with the New York fans/media, and the fact that A-Rod will always be second banana to Derek Jeter, who's status as Mr. Yankee forced A-Rod to switch positions from Shortstop to 3rd Base. And all Yankee players have to deal with playing under the unrelenting scrutiny of the New York media, for an ownership family that at times has been overbearing and counterproductive to the team's success.

Why do top players, who have their choice of places to play and will make gobs of money wherever they land, choose to play in the Bronx? Because the Yankee organization has a long and storied history of winning - and great players want to be around winners. 26 World Championships, Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Berra - all winners, all icons, all Yankees. The winning culture and history of the Yankees helps them attract and retain great talent.

I hear a lot of buzz about employment branding, and I'm a fan. Organizations need to figure out what makes them unique, and do a great job of conveying that value to potential hires. But the best employment branding starts with committing the time and resources required to hire and retain great people, building a culture of winning, and then leveraging your success to attract other great people. The rest is just fluff.

Go Phillies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hello Monster? CareerBuilder? Is anybody listening?

What a waste. In the two plus decades since the Web became part of everyday life, recruiting technology hasn't significantly moved the needle. Online tools have changed recruiting, but not necessarily improved the quality or efficiency of the process.

Sure, we don't have to buy newspapers to see job listings or swing over to Kinko's and buy heavy-stock, marbled resume paper. And we have some terrific new sourcing tools, but more often than not, the hiring transaction comes down to the the exchange of static text resumes and static text job descriptions. And that's a shame.

Many progressive companies are trying to leverage the Web to set themselves apart. Corporate recruiting videos have become mainstream, and Peter Radloff at comScore has a good one. But I don't know that there are a ton out outlets for Peter to use his video as an active sourcing tool. Most posting sites are text based and have little or no video integration.

Some innovative job seekers are trying to leverage technology as well. Video resumes are gaining momentum, but have significant hurdles to overcome with employers and recruiters. Maybe video resumes will never replace text, but we need to figure out a way for them to compliment each other and work together.

In what I think is the saddest commentary on the state of recruiting technology, Fistful of Talent's Jessica Lee highlighted an innovative job seeker on her blog. Near the bottom of the post, Jessica includes the resume of a Sarah Barnes, a budding web marketing strategist who tried to create a Web 2.0 resume by formatting it to mimic a Twitter page. Whether or not you like Sarah's attempt isn't really the issue for me. It's that her innovative, Web 2.0 Twitter-ish resume had to be built in Microsoft Word - or risk not being accepted by recruiters or applicant tracking systems.

I think we owe to to creative candidates like Sarah, and to ourselves, to think beyond text and start thinking about ways to use the power of the Web to more recruiting cycles more efficient.

Some entrepreneurs like VisualCV and Startuply are making progress, but I haven't seen anything yet that resembles the next generation recruiting platform. What does that platform look like? I have some ideas. A lot of 'em. Stay tuned.