Home How Silicon Valley’s Most-Connected Exec Does His Hiring

How Silicon Valley’s Most-Connected Exec Does His Hiring

Auren Hoffman is the CEO of Rapleaf, a personal-data aggregator that has been the subject of a remarkable amount of controversy but is wildly useful as a data provider to must-see apps like Rapportive and Gist.

While Hoffman’s company may know a lot about you as a web user and person, he knows a lot of people himself the old-fashioned way, in real life. Introduced before keynoting at Austin, Texas’s Capital Factory Demo Day as “the most-connected person in Silicon Valley,” Hoffman gave a really interesting talk about how he handles hiring at his company. I live blogged his talk on Google Plus and offer my notes below.

Auren Hoffman on hiring people to work in tech startups.

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation is wrong, but you’ve got to be discriminating on other grounds, Hoffman said. “We discriminate in favor of people who work really long hours” – the people we hire are people who want to work long hours, we tell them how much we work.

A position player (specialist) vs an all-around athlete: they do one thing really well and they are really expensive. For a lot of startups, you think you’re playing football but you’re actually playing hockey. If you know what you’re doing for the next 3 years, hire position players. But if you don’t know what you’re going to do – then you should be investing in really smart people who can move as you do.

Targeting and getting back to people: when you get a resume, you should treat it like it was a sales lead. Get back to them right away, and if they aren’t the right person as 95 or 99% won’t be – let them know right away. They are putting themselves out there, do the right thing and get back to them – it will pay itself back in spades over time.

Successful people work long hours and return calls. “Are they successful because they get back to people or the other way around? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t chance it.”

Interview process: searching for Class A people, how do you do it? Resume, references: sure. The #1 way to know is to have worked with them in the past. Unfortunately you don’t necessarily have that option. A resume is one big lie. Just because they worked at Google doesn’t mean they are good. They are probably more likely to be good but it’s no guarantee.

Instead, ask a person to communicate something really difficult and make things better. If they can’t explain things to you it doesn’t mean they are smarter than you about technology. It’s important they should be able to communicate with you.

The number 1 stat that people brag about that I hate is % of people who accepted a job offer. It should be below 50%. You are making a quick decision, they can do all kinds of due diligence on you – they can make the right decision about you. You want to make sure you give them enough chances to opt-out so you don’t have to fire them later.

After people finish college, they probably grow (in their professional capacity) about 10% a year – learning and earning double in 7 years. As a startup, you can’t afford to do it that way. You need to invest in them and get them to grow faster. Spending time with them is key.

Work/life balance: you can’t change the world on vacation. Gandhi and MLK – those guys weren’t working 40 hour weeks. Maybe you’re just making a photo sharing app but you want passionate people. Look for great people, optimize for working with great people.

Question: How do you grow people faster than 10% in a year? Challenge them, don’t give them anything at their level – but one or two levels above. Try it out, see where they break. Then you know where they’re at. Now we’re going to overcome this next thing together and then let’s find the next breaking point.

Give early employees as much equity as you can – and reup them over time.

On equity and pay: It’s never going to be perfect but you should try your best to do the right thing.

The importance of cultural fit: every culture is different (eg geeky board games, gin tasting or yelling) – hiring isn’t a zero sum game because someone might just not be right for you. There are a lot of people who work at Google that I’d never want to hire – and a lot of people at Google who would never want to work for me.

(Audience question about facilitating growth in remote employees) Growing remote staff members: I don’t know, I think it’s probably much harder. We don’t outsource anything. I’d love to try it some day. But I think you’ll probably need a whole lot more process. Those side conversations don’t happen as much. Doing something after work. Where a lot of bonding might happen.

(Audience question – how do you convince a prospective employee to work for you instead of launching their own startup?) How do you hire someone against their own startup: It’s really hard and I’ve been super unsuccessful. Certain situations I used to try to convince people and now we just say “we wish you luck, we hope you’re super successful – if in the extremely unlikely event that you’re not – please come talk to us.” It comes up all the time because a lot of the best people you want are entrepreneurial.

Tips on transitioning people from big companies to small companies: It’s very hard to be successful in a big company if you’re not a position player. If you’re successful in a big co that’s probably what you are. Some people can do both but you have to spend even more time with that person. Give them lots of chances to opt out.

The biggest trouble in making that transition is telling time, an audience member asserts. Hoffman agrees: at small companies you need people who think in seconds and minutes, not days and weeks or years.

And that’s a wrap – good talk by the CEO of one of the most interesting and controversial companies on the social web.

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