The Startup Recruiting Podcast

Episode #18: Lindsay Grenawalt of Cockroach Labs on People Operations and What Makes it Different than HR or Recruiting  

Lindsay Grenawalt is the Head of People Operations at Cockroach Labs. Previously, she was the Vice President of People Operations at Yext where she served on the management team since 2013. During her time at Yext, the company grew from 168 to over 440 employees. Prior to Yext, she was the founding recruiter at Google Ventures (GV) where she led the East Coast recruiting practice for the $1.5 billion dollar fund, placing executives in engineering and product management at the 150+ portfolio companies. During her time at Google, Lindsay was a recruiter for the Google New York Engineering office. So if you don't like this episode, it's not the guest.


At the time of Trello's acquisition by Atlassian, over two-thirds of its staff worked remotely. If you think recruiting and engaging workers is hard enough when they're all coming out of the same city and working in the same office, imagine what an added layer of complexity must come with Trello's setup. However, not only have they made it work, they used it to their advantage on their way to a multi-hundred million dollar exit. Michael talks about what they do and why it works in this episode. 

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Tech and VC has not had a good year HR-wise, because so many employees and founders have had bad years for so long. Things have reached a breaking point recently, and those who are trying to fix the problems are scrambling for answers. I reached out to Beth Steinberg, former SVP of People at Brightroll, to ask what could be done to prevent situations like Uber and what we've seen out of the VC world. It was a thoughtful discussion and a good start down the path to learning more. I'll be dedicating a lot of time over the next few months to more conversations about creating cultures of respect, dealing with employee issues, and improving behavior in the tech community. 

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Daniela Perdomo covers a lot of bases when it comes to bring a diverse perspective to the CEO position--she's female and she grew up in another country. That doesn't necessarily mean she doesn't have to work hard to be intentional about creating a diverse workforce--particulary when she's hiring for her engineering  heavy staff at goTenna, a telecom hardware startup in Brooklyn. It was exciting to hear her discuss the issue as her lead seed round investor over four years ago and especially as she has now become one of the few female CEOs to break through to a Series B investment. 


Daniel Chait was consulting for banks when he first realized how broken the recruiting process was. The information about what kind of people the bank needed never found its way to interviewers, and the front lines of the recruiting process found themselves ill-prepared to evaluate candidates. In this interview, he talks about his view of the recruiting process from the perspective of someone who has built software to solve a lot of the problems that he saw when it came to getting organizations on the same page around hiring. 


Vivek Sharma has been running Movable Ink, a 150+ person company in NYC for almost seven years, but in many ways, he's just getting started. The company is always hiring and each day, he's perfecting and learning new ways of not only identifying talent, but maintaining and developing it. They say the best new customer is the one you already have--and the same can be said for employees. In this podcast, Vivek talks about identifying the kind of talent who can stick with you over the long term and how to provide them new challenges and opportunities to grow. 

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Liz Wessel co-founded Wayup to make hiring interns and entry level employees easier. It's an area of recruiting that has traditionally been dominated by big companies that can afford to have a physical presence on college campuses across the country. These days, not only do startups not have the budget for that, but larger companies don't find it the most efficient way of targeting either. Based on this experience, Liz shares her tips for managing new employees in their first job or internship and how startups can make that onboarding successful. 


Before this interview, I might have said that Brad Hargreaves is an expert in starting companies--that is until he told me that his current startup, Common, is the first time he intentionally tried to start a big company. So how does an entrepreneur who "accidentally" stumbled into General Assembly, the hugely impactful education business, wind up winning in businesses where he isn't the category expert going in? He recruits help, obviously, but how can he figure out if the help knows more than he does or if it's right? That's what we discussed in this enlightening episode.  


There aren't many areas of cutting edge tech more competitive than computer vision and artificial intelligence. Companies like Google, Snap, and Facebook among others  are all vying for the kinds of engineers and PhDs that will change the way you and machines see the world, literally. Not only is the actual tech difficult, but recruiting for it against these companies with nearly unlimited warchests is even harder. Clarifai's founder Matt Zeiler shares with us how he convinces talent to join this burgeoning leader in the space. 


Hagos Mehreteab has been a founder, a CTO, a recruiter, and now he combines all those skills into one as "Head of Organizational Engineering" at Codecademy. Basically, as it relates to the people side of the business, he turns all of the whack-a-mole type things that come up at a startup into measurable, repeatable processes. When you think of it that way, it makes sense that you'd put someone technical in that role. Even when it comes to people development and soft skills, if you're going to do something at scale, you're going to have to make it scalable, and that's what this former engineer has done at Appnexus and is now up to at Codecademy. 


Employee evaluations can be useful tools for both employees and employers alike--but they can also be an administrative time suck.  How do you make them work for everyone so that they help startups make sure they have the best people performing at their best--and making improvements when necessary?  Matt Hoffman from DigitalOcean will share what he's learned and you can evaluate him in the comments.  


Do Something has a reputation for having one of the best company cultures around--but when I say "best", I mean consistent and pervasive--not necessarily one that works everywhere.  That's what struck me when I spoke to Aria Finger.  I could imagine people listening to this podcast and applying for a job there right away, or saying that they could never work in this kind of environment.  It isn't for everyone--and that's the point.  One of the strongest filters of a recruiting and hiring process should be the company culture.  Not everyone should get excited to work there--because then your culture probably isn't very strong.  I talked to Aria about all the care and feeding that goes into this and how she maintains it as CEO.  

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Employees of take a pledge.  It's a lot different from their options agreement, or their non-disclosure agreement.  It's about what kind of people they want to be to each other as co-workers.  In the case of, that means joining a particular kind of mission.  While lots of companies say they have a mission, very few get their employees to state what it means to be on that mission--and that agreement is at the core of how onboards their employees.  It's a powerful and inspiring statement and we discuss how it effects their recruiting process.


Doug Chambers knows just about everything you need to know about getting a building off the ground--but building a team around a tech startup was new ground.  He had a construction background--hammers, nails and hard hats, not 1's and 0's.  So when he first started out, there a lot of lessons to be learned.  He discusses those in the podcast and the key attributes from his evaluation criteria that he holds all new hires accountable to.

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Episode #3: Adam Price at Homer: What They Didn't Teach About Hiring When I Got an Aerospace Engineering Degree

Homer Logistics is the most efficient last mile delivery network in the world--built on advanced routing technology and data science, together with industry leading people processes built to minimize turnover.  It wasn't an easy infrastructure to set up, and Adam Price has learned a lot of hiring lessons along the way.  He talks about turning gut checks into more effective screens, the hours he spends reference checking, and the role redesign process he kicks into gear when someone doesn't work out.


Shan-lyn Ma is a thoughtful, product oriented CEO whose entire career path feels like a lead up to assembling a great team. While she may not have known she would build Zola early on, she certainly knew the value of recognizing talent in others, and being someone people wanted to work with. We also talked about how to balance the idea of keeping the bar high with the pressing needs of a startup.


I've known Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, for years.  Etsy has a strong reputation for their company culture, employee diversity and creativity.  We discussed how this has become a recruiting asset for the company and what strategies have made Etsy one of NYC's most talented companies.