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This week I’ll be kicking off the second day of Big Boulder with a talk about how the Boulder startup community has come to be what it is today. Big Boulder is a conference on social data held by our portfolio company Gnip.
Last year Chris Moody wrote a blog post about how companies should pursue thought leadership. To me, Big Boulder is the embodiment of this. Gnip believes that social data will change the world. To that end, they’ve brought together some of the biggest players from social media publishers including Facebook, Twitter, Klout, LinkedIn, StockTwits, Disqus, Tumblr and WordPress. They’ve put together a killer agenda talking about the many uses of social data and how publishers are thinking about it and what is enabling people to do.
Part of Boulder’s ability to grow as a startup community is our ability to bring high-level events to Boulder. To that end, Foundry Group has worked hard to bring and keep Defrag and Glue in Boulder. We’re excited to have Big Boulder as another high-profile event attracting people to our city. This affords more people to see everything Boulder has to offer a startup community and for our community to interact with attendees. I know that some Big Boulder speakers like Daniel Ha of Disqus are also sticking around to speak to the TechStars teams.
If you’ll be at the conference, please come and say hi.
So far I’m pleased with my shift to Maker Mode this summer. I’ve managed to get in a solid four hours of writing on my Startup Communities book each day and will have a full draft to circulate to a small group of people on Saturday. I chose deliberately to skip TechStars New York Demo Day (which looks like it went great) this year, which was a hard choice for me but I just didn’t want to break the flow of what I’m doing. And I’m still running on inbox zero and – other than physical proximity – haven’t heard any concerns about my responsiveness or availability. As a bonus, I’m getting to spend 24 hours a day (except when I’m out running) with my amazing wife Amy.
Yesterday I saw a post from Gnip titled You Are What You Do. Gnip is one of the companies we’ve invested in that I refer to as a Silent Killers - they are building an amazing company by just doing things that customers care about, not hyping themselves, and delivering what they say they are going to deliver, ahead of and beyond expectations. No hype – just substance – and execution.
This was coincidentally followed a few minutes later by an email exchange between Ben Huh (Cheezburger CEO) and Rand Fishkin (SEOMoz CEO). Rand and SEOMoz run on a set of principles called TAGFEE (Transparent, Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, Exceptional) and if you want to see this in action, take a look at the post Rand wrote recently about the financing we led titled Moz’s $18 Million Venture Financing: Our Story, Metrics and Future.
Ben (to:Rand, Brad): Just a random thought… Maybe I don’t have the balls to do it, maybe I just think that I want to run my biz differently, but the more I do this, the more I converge on TAGFEE. Thanks for putting it out there in the world.
Brad (to:Ben, Rand): I am 100% convinced TAGFEE is right. It’s so unbelievably liberating.
Rand (to:Ben, Brad): This email put a huge smile on my face. That said, it’s fucking hard. So hard I can barely believe it. Being TAGFEE yourself when there’s always pressure not to sucks bad enough. But working with a large team and getting managers and individual contributors to act this way (and figure out when/where/how/whether it’s being broken) is the toughest challenge I’ve ever had. Thankfully, it’s incredibly rewarding, too. Oh – and there’s a missing “H” in TAGFEE. For humility. In fact, empathy and humility in potential hires are the best predictors that they’re going to fit with our team and be TAGFEE.
In contrast, I got an email from a VC earlier this week who said “aren’t you worried that one of your LPs will see your post about spending the summer at your place in Keystone?” My immediate reaction was to point him to TAGFEE and say that we try to be 100% TAGFEE with our LPs so I hope they see what I’m doing and appreciate why I’m doing it. I know unambiguously what my job for my LPs is – they give me a box of money and my job is to give them back – over time – a much bigger box full of money. I’m never confused this and I always try to do it in a way that maximizes the size of the box I give them back.
If you line up You Are What You Do, TAGFEE, and Silent Killers you start to get a feel for the type of entrepreneurs we love to work with. An awesome part of it is watching them learn from each other and learning from what they are learning. It informs everything I’m thinking about and the last 24 hours once again reinforced for me the power of TAGFEE and just executing.
Chris Moody, president and COO of Gnip, is back with a guest post in his Moody on Management series. Following are Chris’ thoughts on negotiating compensation with a prospective employee. Enjoy and comment freely!
In my last post, I provided a few tips for job candidates when interviewing at a startup. This week I wanted to cover a simple process for hiring managers to follow when communicating with candidates about salary requirements.
There is the old saying that people spend more time planning their vacation than they spend planning their retirement. I’ve found the same concept sometimes applies to job candidates when thinking about their compensation requirements. As the hiring manager, you need to ensure that a candidate has fully considered their compensation needs before you make an offer. Over the years, I’ve refined a simple and effective approach to facilitating this discussion. I’ve used this technique countless times with great results. The process starts with an email to the candidate:
From a skills and values standpoint, it seems like we are both excited about the possibility of you joining our company. If you agree, the next step in the process from my perspective is to determine if we are aligned from a compensation standpoint. As such, it would be helpful to get the following information from you:
- Current compensation. Please breakout your base salary from any variable compensation if applicable.
- Your view of your current compensation as it relates to your next opportunity. It is particularly helpful if you provide this feedback by selecting from either
a) I believe I’m fairly compensated and would anticipate making the same salary at my next opportunity
b) I’d be willing to take less for the right opportunity
c) I feel I’m currently under valued and looking for an increase of $x in order to be excited about my next opportunity.
If it works for you, I’d prefer to have this communication via email. Over time I’ve found that putting this stuff in writing helps people think about it more before responding.
Of course there are no right or wrong answers. The goal here is simply to get a clear understanding of how the candidate is thinking about their future compensation by using their current compensation as a frame of reference. Best case, the candidate’s expectations align with yours and the offer moves forward with a high probability of success. Worst case your expectations don’t align but you now have a thoughtful starting point for negotiations if you still want to move forward with an offer.
A couple of additional points:
1) Even if the candidate has expressed salary requirements during the screening process or during your discussions, I strongly recommend you have this written conversation as the final step before you make an offer. For example, perhaps your conversations along the way changed their perspective on salary requirements for the position.
2) The key to this approach is to do this communication in writing. I know it can seem silly or impersonal, but it makes a huge difference in terms of requiring people to give thoughtful answers instead of answering on the spot.
Before using this approach I had more than a few occasions where candidates indicated verbally that they wanted $x, we offered $x, and then they responded with “I was thinking about it more and I really need $y to feel good about joining”. Once you hit this situation, it puts both parties in an awkward position and it can be hard to recover. You can avoid this potential pitfall with one simple email.
Oh, by the way, Gnip is hiring!
My long time friend Chris Moody, president and COO of Gnip, has offered to write some guest posts on management – we’ll call the series Moody on Management. In addition to being an outstanding early stage / high growth executive, Chris has made a study of management in startups and is extremely thoughtful about what does and doesn’t work.
His first post is aimed at anyone looking to get a job in a startup and talks about how to be effective at interviewing for a job. Feel free to weigh in if you have other “Stop, Don’t, Nevers” or “Pleases”
I love interviewing people to work at Gnip. Unless I’m having a really crappy day, I enter each interview full of hope and optimism. I’ve done countless interviews in the last 20+ years and I can easily slip into autopilot mode if I’m not careful. In order to avoid this trap, I mentally prepare by reminding myself “today could be the day I’ll meet the next great team member.” I’ve found this mental pep talk helps remind me that there is no better use of my time than investing in the interviewing process. In other words, the next interview could be a company game changer and I need to be 100% engaged.
Most interviews don’t directly lead to someone joining our company. Often the person doesn’t have the right skills or experience. There are plenty of cases where it becomes clear to the candidate that we can’t provide them an opportunity that meets their interest/needs. Both of these outcomes are normal and healthy. Unfortunately, I often find another outcome can occur which is frustrating and deflating. This situation occurs all too often when a person is so poor at interviewing that we’re unable to determine if there is a potential match. I’ll invest up to an hour in an interview trying to peel back the layers. However, I’m frequently unable to get to a substantive layer of discussion that will help both parties determine if there is a potential match. I’ll leave these interviews thinking, “Maybe that person was great, I’ll never know”. Over time, I’ve started to referring to these as the “who knows?” interviews.
The good news is that I think job candidates can follow some simple guidelines when interviewing at a startup that will help avoid the “who knows?”
Stop, Don’t, Never
- Stop selling and start engaging. In order for this to work, we both have to determine if there is a match. The best way for us to determine the match is to have a thoughtful/engaging discussion. If the interview process only involves me asking questions and you giving answers that you think will impress me, we’re going to waste a perfectly good hour.
- Don’t talk in sound bites and buzz words. You might think they make you sound smart, but they don’t because they lack substance. We need to have a real discussion. If you find yourself rehearsing answers before the interview even starts, we’re almost certainly going to have an unproductive meeting. Speak from your heart and your experience not from a script.
- Don’t agree with everything I say. I’m wrong… A LOT. I once went on an all beer and water diet for a week. Challenge me. Startups thrive when each person hired is smarter than the person hiring them. If you agree with everything I say in the interview, I’m left wondering how are you going to contribute when we are working together trying to solve tough problems.
- Avoid talking about past individual results. I know this sounds unconventional, but as the interviewer is often very hard to contextualize how these results might translate to our business. I’m much more interested in discovering what you learned in your last job that we might leverage at our company. For example, telling me you increased sales by 300% isn’t that helpful. Telling me how you learned to handle customer objections around price could prove to be very useful.
- Be honest
- Ask lots of questions about stuff that matters to you. Reviewing a company’s web site before the interview will give you some reasonable background. But, I can assure you that no company web site answers all the questions about a business. It is often the case that an interviewer can learn more about the way someone thinks from the questions they ask than from the answers they give.
- Ask tough questions. You are considering investing a huge portion of your waking hours at our company. Think about the risks and the downsides of the company or the role and freely express any concerns.
- Figure out if our company is a good culture and values fit for you by asking tough situational questions based upon your past experiences. Questions like “Can you give me an example of how the company handled a situation where a customer had a bad experience with the product?” can be very revealing about how the company acts/thinks.
Ask CEOs of successful startups about their biggest challenge and they’ll often cite the inability to hire great people. My theory is there are plenty of great people, but many are just terrible at interviewing. Hopefully these few tips help lead to more great matches down the road. By the way, Gnip is hiring!
There is this magical moment that happens when a startup finally puts the key components together to build a successful business. After months or years of iterating and pivoting, they finally have the right product for the right market at the right price. At this point, the company has to shift gears and change their mindset a little. They need to stop looking for gold and start mining as fast as possible. My friend Chris Moody, President/COO at Gnip, refers to this as the execution phase of a business and there is no better example of execution in our current portfolio than the team at Gnip.
After 2.5 years of product development and varying business approaches, Gnip found their magic moment about a year and half ago. Since that time they have been heads down executing and the results have been incredible.
Today Gnip announced an exclusive partnership with Tumblr. This monumental partnership will give Gnip’s customers full coverage of an amazing source of social data that has never been available. With 50 million new posts per day and 15 billion page views per month, Tumblr offers a huge new data stream for companies to analyze and use to drive business decisions. The fact that businesses will be able to receive this data via the same reliable and scalable Gnip infrastructure that currently delivers Twitter and other important data sources is a major win for the ever growing social data economy.
The Tumblr partnership is the kind of announcement that companies plan their entire year around. However, in Gnip’s case, it is just the latest activity in an impressive series of events that shows the Gnip team knows how to get shit done. It is only April and Gnip has already done the following in 2012:
- In January, Gnip announced an exclusive partnership with Automattic to provide firehose streams of WordPress.com and WordPress.org data to the enterprise. This partnership increased the amount of real-time blog data available for business analysis by 70% overnight.
- In February, Gnip announced a premium partnership with Disqus. Disqus is the largest third party commenting system in the world (I use it on my blog) and the data offers tons of valuable insights to drive lots of cool business use cases. The Gnip/Disqus partnership makes this comment data available in full firehose coverage form to businesses for the first time ever.
- Also in February, Gnip released the first ever commercial Twitter historical product. Gnip’s 30-day replay product allows their customers to go back and replay Twitter history. As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and Gnip’s replay product allows companies to replay the entire Twitter stream for a full 30 days to look for things they might have missed. This product was a monumental engineering feat and a huge portion of Gnip’s customers have already taken advantage of this product in just the first two months after its release.
- In March, Gnip announced Big Boulder, the first ever conference dedicated to social data. Take a look at the list of speakers – it will blow your mind.
- Just last week Gnip announced that they added the largest microblogging service in China to their Enterprise Data Collector offering. Sina Weibo has over 300 million members; brands across the world are very interested in the conversations happening on this enormous platform. Gnip continues to push to increase the number of international data sources in their offerings and Sina Weibo represents a huge addition to their portfolio.
Okay, so the Gnip team is getting stuff done, but at what price? They must be cracking the whip pretty hard and creating a real sweat shop, right? Wrong. In spite of growing their number of employees by 300% in 2011, Gnip was just named The Best Place To Work in Boulder. Not the best startup, the best company. And, the best news of all? They are hiring!