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At Techstars, we often hear from startup founders that hiring is one of the most challenging things to do right. We recently held an AMA on this topic (Ask Techstars: Hiring & Culture – Scaling Your Startup) with me (Sabrina McGrail, VP of People at Techstars); Emma Straight, Sr. Recruiter at Techstars; and Natalie Baumgartner, Founder & Chief Psychologist of RoundPegg, a company culture and engagement tool.

This post is the third in a series of three with Q&A excerpts from this AMA

While companies’ values can differ, have you seen any “value norms” or commonalities across companies who have a very healthy or sustainable culture?

Natalie: We see every combination that you can imagine. When we started Roundpegg, we thought we may see consistencies across an organization or a role, but the data does not support that concept. We know from research literature that there are not right or wrong cultures. What we know is that there is no certain type of culture that predicts high performance. What predicts this is culture alignment – you understand your core values, and everything you do, how you hire, develop, mentor, guide, engage your employees. When the values are aligned, those organizations are way more profitable. The alignment predicts these performances, not the type of culture.

Emma: What I have noticed in working for organizations, is that when the executive leadership has a good understanding of who their employees are, they value their employees and show it. Employees care more if they feel that they are valued too. This makes companies perform better, and that is true in life too.

Sabrina: Humility as an organization and being able to admit when you could have done something better is key. Being able to have these discussions and being comfortable with changing after hearing feedback is really valuable.

Any tips for looking for candidates/recruiting with zero budget to do so?

Emma: Networking is really important, just being out in your community. There are many events you can go to, but just walking around and going to coffee and talking to people and getting involved online is good. Networking as much as possible is key. LinkedIn is a great way to reach out too. Use the network to the best of its ability. Put out what you want specifically is important. Most people are not natural networkers so you have to lay it out to them. Be really appreciative as well, like buy people coffee if they send you a referral, etc.

Sabrina: This comes up a lot in program when we meet with companies. Networking is a key thing I talk with companies about. Understanding what your sell is as a business is key too – why should people leave their job and come work for you? You need passion for what you are doing and get the message right. Understanding your competition and the different companies in your ecosystem – get a better sense of how they are hiring because you are looking for the same people.

How do you ensure your idealistic management approach stays alive when new people coming on board?

Natalie: Having a foundational element early on, like, “this is how we do things here”, is much more straightforward because it is aligned with your culture. This way, you don’t have to have the conversation or reinvent the wheel each time because you have your houses in order and your foundation set. The other thing that I would mention too is don’t make it complicated, keep it really simple, like, “here is how we approach leading our people”, and make sure it is tied to your culture and provide a few bullet points.

Sabrina: Take advantage of the management talent that you do have, that you believe in, and highlight them the right way. Try to hire good managers early on and train your managers early on so that you have people that can then be trusted with challenging management conversations and help to develop a mentorship program from within. It’s not always an HR discussion because a lot of companies won’t have an HR department early on, so try to identify the best management talent that you have.

Emma: Make sure you have a few key managers at the beginning who have proven themselves as people managers. Be able to assess this early on, and make sure that they want to be people managers.

Best tip for hiring and building a team [rapid fire]?

Emma: Make sure that whoever you are talking to in whatever setting, you are putting your best foot forward. Be positive and appreciative. You do not want to make a bad impression because people talk and word spreads fast.

Sabrina: Figure out what is important to you and important to those around you. What do you care about and stand by it because people will tell you it’s wrong along the way.
Natalie: Do the work as an organization, understand what your values are and the glue that holds you and your team together.

Click here to listen a replay of this AMA.

Join us for our next Ask Me Anything session with David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars – June 23rd at 10am PT! Ask anything about startups, fundraising, accelerators, and more! REGISTER.


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Sabrina McGrail Sabrina McGrail
As Vice President of People Ops at Techstars, Sabrina is responsible for all things talent, culture and human resources across the organization. Her focus is mainly on internal talent acquisition, retention and organizational development within Techstars. Sabrina received a BA in Communications and Information Technology from UMass Amherst and is now enjoying her time living in sunny Boulder, Colorado. @sabrinamcgrail