In the war for talent, love is a weapon

Recruiting is harder than ever. Everyone is talking about it. I see it in our portfolio, I hear about it from friends who are building companies and it is an on going discussion with other investors. There are New Rules for the New Internet Bubble and it is driving a War for Talent that is being fought with hiring perks worthy of coverage by the New York Times.

To win a war you have to win hearts and minds

Fighting the war for talent with iPads, doggie day care and mac cinema displays may get you warm bodies, but it will not attract the superstars you need to build a great company or to create the great legacy that Nat mentions in his discussion of recruiting and spawning a “mafia.” For that, you need love.

Eric Koger, CEO of our portfolio company ModCloth, once told me there are three types of employees at every start-up:

  1. Those who can scale with the organization
  2. Those who can’t
  3. The special few who scale faster than the high growth company they are a part of

I think he is right and I think the best companies in the world are the ones that attract a greater proportion of people in group three than their competition. This group is always a few steps ahead of the organization and represents the future leaders of the most critical parts of the business. These people will challenge everyone, including founders, to be better and push to think bigger. This group is the foundation of success and the key to scale.

These are the people you need at every level and recruiting efforts should focus on winning their hearts and minds to win the war for talent.

In 1999 we decided to get serious about footwear at AND 1, the industry was crazy and perks and compensation packages were outlandish for developers and designers. We opened an office in Portland and started recruiting a group of designers and developers from Nike and Adidas. We could not compete on perks or benefits. We could not offer the support staff or systems they were accustomed to and there was significantly less job security.

What we did offer was a culture of best idea wins with no ceiling on their role or level of responsibility. We offered a very clear attitude and approach that started with the consumer, ended with our CEO and touched everyone in between. We offered them the chance to push the limits and make mistakes and the promise of support so long as they did not make the same mistake twice. We offered a place to work harder than they had ever worked in the pursuit of something they believed in more deeply than they thought possible while having more fun than they could imagine having at work. We did not sell perks; we sold the vision. We did not convince them to join us with compensation; we captured their imagination with our conviction. They were compelled to join our mission and the decision was made with their hearts more than their heads.

Collectively this group changed the face of the company and created hundreds of millions of dollars in sales over their time at the company.

I don’t believe the best people, the transformative minds, care about the iPad or the free snacks as much as they care about the mission. They know a start-up is a place to go all in, not a place to take a job. They want to absorb everything they can, contribute everything they have and immerse themselves in the mission. Some will eventually start their own companies but the best training is not introductions to investors or lessons on how to raise money. The best way to prepare to #beafounder is to experience the singular, all encompassing pursuit of a mission motivated by an irrational love.

To recruit the best, to win the war, fight with love, not money.