Posts Tagged: talent

Talent, hard work and luck

The Black Swan (Taleb book)

The Black Swan

“Hard work plus luck is what gets you a jet instead of just a BMW.” (Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan)

Start-up success typically boils down to three elements: hard work, talent, and luck.  Yet when we dissect the successes and failures of other start-ups, we tend to focus on the hard work and talent of the team, completely disregarding the important role that luck (or the lack thereof) may have played.

Luck definitely played a huge role in my career, both on a company-level as well as a personal level. In the early days of AbeBooks, our company got lucky twice. Luck struck first when Barnes & Noble approached us to become a reseller of the books of our sellers.  This immediately doubled revenues of our sellers and attracted more inventory to our site. And then luck came again, when Amazon bought our competitor Bibliofind and folded it into the main site. This led most sellers to leave Bibliofind and join AbeBooks.

I’m certain that without both of those events, AbeBooks would most likely never have become the uncontested market leader in the used books space. And while one could argue that our hard work and talent created the right environment for Barnes & Noble to approach us, I have no doubt that both scenarios could just as easily played out another way…completely altering the course of events.

And I also got lucky a few times on a personal level. Back in 2003, I felt like leaving AbeBooks and starting something new, but my parents convinced me to stay at the company. That proved to be the right decision, as most of the success of AbeBooks (including the ultimate exit to Amazon) came in the subsequent years and defined my career.

What’s the moral of these stories? Don’t underestimate the power of luck in shaping the future of your start-up. For some this may be unnerving…after all, luck may play such an important role, yet we cannot do anything about it. However, instead of worrying about luck or fate, focus on what you can control. Aim to create the right environment for luck and its opportunities to take hold.

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Announcing our latest investment: GroupTalent

There’s a talent drain facing the tech industry today. We frequently hear about companies that can’t find enough skilled developers and positions are left unfilled for months. That’s why I’m particularly excited to announce Version One’s investment in GroupTalent, a talent-as-a-service platform that focuses on hard-to-fill software design and development roles.

GroupTalent matches companies with technical team members on demand. A hiring or project manager can fill a highly-technical role within 48 hours…which can make a huge difference to a company struggling to meet a product milestone or ramp up quickly. GroupTalent offers a pool of more than 4,000 curated developers and designers and already has a loyal following of early customers including Timbuk2, Crowdstrike, and 1-800-Junk.

Version One led the seed round alongside our friends at Founders’ Co-op. Menlo Ventures and angel investors also participated.

This is an exciting investment because GroupTalent offers a unique marketplace solution that capitalizes on two key trends. First, more and more highly talented technical people are monetizing their talents outside of the traditional full-time career track. And second, companies need quicker and more efficient access to technical talent in order to keep up with the pace of innovation.

Tomorrow’s economy is going to be fueled by a more fluid and often project-based workforce. GroupTalent’s platform helps make this contract economy work for both the talent and hiring companies.


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Hiring for Startups 101 – filling the funnel


[This is the first post of the “Hiring for Startups 101” blog series]

I often hear from startups that they don’t see enough (quality) candidates for their open positions and most of the times this is largely due to their passive approach to filing the hiring funnel. Posting ads on Craiglist and other job boards makes sense but is usually not enough in a generally tight market for talent where the best people don’t even look for jobs. Here are a few ideas to pro-actively fill the top of the hiring funnel:

  • “Always be hiring”: take every and any opportunity to position your start-up as an interesting company to work for – be it at general networking events, presentations you give, or in media pieces.
  • Go where the potential candidates hang out: there are meet-ups for Ruby developers, interaction designers or PR and communications people. There is Startup Weekend, co-working spaces, local hackathons,…. You get the point.
  • Offer internships: offering internship positions is one of the best way to build a long-term funnel for any position and a great way to get to know quality candidates very early in their decision process for their future job.
  • Build up enough internal resources for talent acquisitions: finding great candidates is often all about hustling and you need the appropriate time and resources within your company to pro-actively identify candidates – think about an internal position within your start-up that does nothing else than focusing on identifying great potential candidates though web research (and check out how aggressively Google is using contractors to do that).
  • Use your own employees for referrals: many companies have traditionally leveraged their existing employees to identify suitable candidates but there are now many software tools (e.g.; Careerify; Entelo; TalentBin) available that make “social recruiting” less of an effort for your employees.
  • Recruiters: most of the time recruiters are too expensive for start-ups and should only be used for very crucial senior hires. But in case you hire a recruiter, go for a boutique firm that really understands startups and not necessarily the big brands in executive recruiting that might not give you the attention that you need. And look out for recruiters that have adopted their pricing to the financial abilities of start-ups and offer flat search fees (often below $10K per position).

Identifying great candidates and filling the top of the hiring funnel is mostly hustle – don’t wait for great candidates to come to you but use as many outreach strategies as possible to find them.

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“Tell me who your friends (advisors, employees,…) are and I will tell you who you are”….

“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are” is an old saying that has some real truth to it – but it is not only valid for your private life but might also be a very useful guideline for professional situations. Interpret it in the broadest possible sense and it might help you evaluate people and opportunities very quickly:

  • I found that one of the strongest indicators of a founder’s / CEO’s talent is his ability to attract top-notch talent very early on. So if you are considering joining or investing in a start-up, I would do a lot of due diligence on the quality of the team, especially its key members.
  • Same holds for advisors that are associated with the company you are looking at – do they have really smart, respected and committed advisors or is it the same list of advisors you have seen at many other start-ups who are lending their name for a few percent?
  • And what other start-ups is the CEO / founder close with and being considered a respected peer?

So the next time you have to evaluate a person, focus less on university degrees and past professional experiences and rather on the quality of people that this person is surrounding himself with – it might be the much more valuable signal!


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