Besides our amazing keynote speakers, this week’s conference features great curated panel discussions. Meet the participants ahead of the event.
By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)
Some things always stay the same at event Women 2.0 conference — high flyers deliver keynotes, lunchtime mentoring offers support and advice in an intimate environment, and our PITCH competition highlights awesome early-stage, female-founded companies — but we’re also always looking for fresh ways to make the event even more valuable for our community.
That’s why we decided to introduce curated panels for the first time ever this year. Drawing on the principle that two (or more) heads are better than one, we decided to pick the brains of veteran investors and top tech journalists to help us select some of our panels and guide participants’ in-depth discussions of pressing issues in the industry.
So who have they invited to share their experience and insight with our audience? This week we’re highlighting some of the participants gathered by Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee for her curated panel, “Women at the Top: Executives at Unicorn Companies and How They Do It,” which will discuss who to build a career as a startup executive and what it takes to scale companies once you do. Meet Bill Beer, a managing partner for Daversa Partners.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers who might not be familiar with your work?
I am the Managing Partner in the San Francisco office for Daversa Partners. We work with the top private companies and their venture backers on critical executive searches. We have helped build exec teams for some of the tech industries most successful growth companies – AirBnB, Square, Pinterest, Twitter, Yelp, Zynga, Groupon, Uber, Dropbox, Zendesk, Palo Alto Networks, Spotify, SoundCloud, DocuSign, Twilio, Lending Club, Marketo, Trulia and Tumblr to name a few.
Do you find more senior folks are interested in working in startups these days then in the past?
This is a very complex question. We are at an interesting inflection point in the market – there are huge opportunities to join startups that have the chance to be giant companies, but we also have some giant companies (Amazon, Google, Apple, etc.) that pay incredibly well, are amazing places to work and do a great job at retaining their talent. So some of the private companies in this market – Dropbox, Pinterest, Uber to name a few of the yet to go public companies – offer very compelling opportunities for very senior executives. With the incredible growth of many startups over the last five to seven years and the incredible wealth creation we have seen related to that growth, I think the risk profile for senior execs is pretty high at the moment. And that is exactly why Amazon, Google et al have upped the ante in terms of their retention efforts.
What’s more common in your experience, hiring executive talent too early or too late in the growth of a startup?
The much more common experience is hiring exec talent too late. This happens for a number of reasons. Recently, companies have scaled so quickly such that you can outgrow your leaders in a matter of months. We have seen such explosive growth that companies get crushed by their own success and then play catch up with exec talent. This is especially true in operational areas like HR, Finance and Legal. Product, Engineering and (where applicable) Sales are pretty obvious areas of focus for growth companies. But often HR and Finance are addressed after the growth so the incoming exec will have to back track to put foundations in place while also dealing with growth in real time. It is also common for talent and aptitude to hide management deficiencies. Management at scale is hard – understanding process, metrics, talent development etc are scale issues that many entrepreneurs or early stage execs are not equipped to handle.
The less frequent cases of the over-hire too early in the process occur when you have a very high potential startup with realistic chances for serious growth. The need for the exec hire is clear, but the criteria are based upon the anticipated growth many quarters down the road. For example, a company is early in its revenue cycle, but the company believes they will have the chance to be at $200M in revenue in the future. So the focus is on the exec who will scale at $200M, not the exec who will ensure that you get there. Like anything else in life and business, most companies have stages and each stage can call for different types of leaders. The art and the science (and lots of luck involved as well) lie in knowing what you need for each stage.
For those dreaming of careers as a startup executive: what’s one piece of advice you’d offer?
The most important thing is choosing people above all else. Work with people that are a great fit for you, and your chance of success will increase dramatically. Startups require so much time, energy, passion and commitment. They are emotional experiences and your co-workers are like family members. Choose your family wisely. Investors get to bet on many different companies but employees/executives get to pick one at a time. Pick the people wisely. Then come things like role/career fit, market opportunity, stage, opportunity cost etc.
What’s one topic you’re excited to talk about at the conference?
It is very easy to get caught up in the transactional nature of what I do. My firm and I are incredibly busy with many important searches at any given time. Our clients are incredibly demanding, recruiting great candidates is wildly difficult and it is a highly competitive market for talent. So, getting the chance to step back and talk about the industry and my expertise without it being tied to one particular search is always refreshing. I love working with Aileen Lee – I have helped build exec teams for a few of her portfolio companies – so the chance to be on a panel she is moderating is really fantastic.
In terms of one topic that I’m excited about, I believe I have a pretty great view on what it takes to build successful careers in startup companies. I am privy to the conversations between CEOs and their boards in terms of how they view talent and how they make hiring decisions. So I am excited to share that view point.
Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.