This article was written in partnership with Heather Johnston, Corporate Venture Designer and Entrepreneur, as part I of an upcoming series: Corporate Venture - How to Successfully Blend Startup & Enterprise.
A year into Moonrise’s life as an independent startup owned by a Fortune 500 corporation, we realized the majority of our team had previously worked in a vc-backed startup or another equally ambiguous environment. This was intriguing as we didn’t set out to hire candidates with those credentials. We also noticed that most team members that didn’t “stick”, regardless of reason, had never worked at a startup and didn’t anticipate the depth of change. Simultaneously, we interviewed high potential entrepreneurs who self-selected out because we didn’t offer equity compensation.
How should a corporate venture navigate these waters? How do you identify the right talent?
Typically, we had two types of team members that could be categorized by individual risk tolerance and experience.
Startup Operator: The risk tolerant, entrepreneurial candidate
One key to Moonrise’s success was finding entrepreneurial employees that were 5-10 years into their career. These candidates sought us out when they were climbing down the “go big or go home” mountain and were seeking flexibility and financial stability vs. 18 hour days and the rare exit event. Most had families or other commitments at this point in their life and were seeking a different employment risk profile than in their early 20’s. They still craved a challenge and the experimentation of startup life.
How to Attract a Startup OperatorAny good recruitment strategy needs to be targeted to the type of person that you’re seeking. To attract a startup operator, it’s critical to be very clear up front with the benefits of corporate venture.Extensive design research typically precedes the “build” decision of a corporate venture and startup operators will recognize this value. The refinement of target customers and the “job to be done” is hard work. Startup Operators also liked working in a startup environment that could leverage corporate resources. This can mean easy access to target customers for real time feedback if user/customer lists are shared between the venture and the corporate entity. At Moonrise, our target users were well defined and our team was passionate from day one about providing work-ready individuals living paycheck to paycheck with access to supplementary income.
How to Identify a Startup OperatorBeyond their skills and work experience, you’ll recognize a startup operator by the questions they ask you. These might be questions such as:Is there an equity component to the compensation?When does the startup plan to scale?Have you reached PMF?How does the approval process for capital vary from the traditional VC pitches?I don’t need to come to the office on a set schedule, right?How many people on the team have worked in startups?
How to Evaluate a Startup OperatorTo understand whether a startup operator will be a fit for a corporate venture or intrapreneurial environment, ask questions such as:What kinds of work cultures have you found to be especially frustrating? Why?What attracts you to this opportunity? How do you see it being similar to your previous work? What differences do you anticipate?Describe a major issue you’ve faced in getting a product to market. (This could be creative, development, legal etc.) How did you remove those barriers? (Listen for the difference between collaboration and just going ahead despite a rule or barrier.)If they’ve had any corporate experience, dig in as to their experience there and what they recall from that time.
Corporate Adventurer: The patient, corporate candidate seeking excitement
A candidate may come across your desk who has worked within innovative business units at a large or mid-sized company. They are seeking out your corporate venture because they want something more exciting. The problem with most of these applicants is that they are accustomed to a structured environment and having well-defined job responsibilities.
At a corporate venture, it will be incumbent upon the team member to be self-guided, ask for help, and openly communicate with the founding team. For example, someone hired as a Manager of Operations could find themselves cold calling if sales needs extra support. These variations in expectations will happen and candidates need to thrive on change.Over everything else, it is important to let this candidate know they may not have a job in a year. This is the truth. There is inherent risk in corporate venture. If a candidate cannot move forward knowing this reality, then they are not a good fit.
How to Attract a Corporate Adventurer
Corporate Adventurers are often compelled because they’re interested in something more adventurous. Telling them about the variety in day-to-day operations will appeal to the right person.The flexibility and casual environment is often new to a Corporate Adventurer. These are great perks to show off to high potential prospects. This doesn’t mean the work will be easy or the days will be predictable. Instead, they’ll create close bonds with their teammates while working together on interesting problems at a faster pace.
How to Identify a Corporate Adventurer
Beyond their skills and work experience, you’ll recognize a Corporate Adventurer by the questions they ask you. These might be questions such as:What is the career trajectory for this role?How many direct reports would I have?Where do you see the company a year from now? What is the 5 year strategic plan?What type of health, dental, vision plans do you offer? Do you have a 401k match?
How to Evaluate a Corporate Adventurer
To understand whether a Corporate Adventurer will be a fit for a corporate venture or intrapreneurial environment, ask questions such as:In your most recent role, what percentage of your time was spent on strategy and what percent was spent on hands on tactical execution? What did you delegate to your team?What type of work cultures have you found to be especially frustrating? Why?Describe your thoughts and approach to meetings.What attracts you to this opportunity? How do you see it being similar to your previous work? What differences do you anticipate?Describe a major issue you’ve faced in getting a product to market. How did you remove barriers? (Listen for the difference between waiting for permission vs. getting creative.)
This post is part of the series: Corporate Venture: How to Successfully Blend Startup & Enterprise. This series will continue with ideas on hiring founders, blending Corporate Adventurers and Startup Operators, compensation, building a culture with intention and other challenges. Please reach out with questions or suggestions!