The hiring market has gone full cycle in the last 18 months. In Spring of 2020, millions of people were plunged into unemployment or other forms of job insecurity as companies around the world instituted layoffs, cut compensation, and instated hiring freezes in a rush to preserve capital.
Today, as the economy roars back, hiring is once again a top priority. Already beset by a perpetually short talent supply, many tech companies saw outsized business gains during the pandemic and resumed hiring activities relatively quickly after the initial pause.
But while today’s tight labor market is reminiscent of the pre-pandemic competition for talent, it’s hardly business as usual.
Along with the obvious changes to the recruiting and hiring process brought on by the widespread shift to remote work, the events of 2020 prompted many people to reassess how they think about their careers, their work-life balance, and their tolerance for risk. This is especially true for people working – or considering working – at startups. Today’s employees have much higher expectations around compensation and benefits; how employers adapt to uncertain market conditions; their ability to attract and retain diverse talent; and how willing they are to incorporate new policies and standards to reflect the changing world.
As I mentioned in an essay last year, startup leaders took those concerns seriously and were quick to respond not only with things like more generous benefits packages, but with a greater degree of transparency and honesty when communicating with candidates. That flexibility and openness is attractive to candidates, and we were pleased to see that many people were still very eager to work at startups even when the fate of the economy was less certain. That trend has continued to this day, as many smaller private companies are successfully luring top candidates away from the biggest businesses in tech.
Still, demand far outstrips supply. Most of the CEOs and hiring managers I work with tell me that finding, hiring and retaining great team members is among the top concerns that keep them up at night.
At a time when talent is the top commodity and employees have more leverage than ever, how can startups attract the best candidates?
While recruiting has never been – and will never be – an easy problem to solve, there are a number of tactics you can take to increase your chances of landing the best candidates. Companies that are most successful at landing top candidates in today’s talent wars tend be those with a built-in culture of recruiting. That is, they view hiring and team-building as a core, ongoing strategy instead of approaching each hire as a one-off transaction. In practice, this means they have a repeatable, scalable system in place for every step of the hiring and recruiting journey process, from sourcing and interviewing to discussions about compensation.
Abnormal Security CEO and co-founder Evan Reiser joined me on the Greymatter podcast to discuss this topic. This episode is part of Greymatter’s Brain Trust series. You can listen to the podcast here:
Glen and Evan, thanks so much for being with me today. Let’s hear a quick introduction first.
I’m Glen Evans. I’m a partner for Core Talent at Greylock. We support our companies with great talent advice and early introductions for key roles as they’re looking to scale from their early days.
Hi, my name’s Evan Reiser. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Abnormal Security which is a cloud native email security platform that protects enterprises from targeted email attacks, things like phishing, fraud, and social engineering. We’re a pretty young company. We’ve only been around for about three years. We’re about 300 people today, growing to 600, and we currently protect about 5% of the Fortune 500.
I’d like to start off with a real high-level overview of the overall hiring and recruiting landscape in today’s environment. Glen, I thought that you could get us started?
I think the number one thing that we’ve all experienced since March, 2020 is the unexpected pandemic, which I think shifted a lot of the dynamics with talent and hiring.
Most things are now remote or remote-friendly, so companies have had to change their approach and where they find talent, how they assess them, attract them, et cetera. And I think probably the number one thing most CEOs and companies I’ve been working with, what keeps them up at night is finding, hiring, and retaining great people.
And then coupled with much larger funding rounds that are happening faster and earlier, I think that has created a lot of pressure for companies to scale and hire quickly. And all of this has now culminated into a very competitive hiring market.
And so you work directly with the companies in the Greylock portfolio, including Abnormal Security. And Evan, you are firsthand experiencing this at your company. How would you say that’s changed since you’ve started the company, I guess four years ago, three years ago?
Yeah. I mean COVID-19, the shift to remote work, that’s the biggest change I think we’ve seen in the talent market in probably the last 10 years. And I think that three years ago, if you were a high potential candidate, if you found a place that had a good team, good culture, good compensation, good mission, that was pretty rare. If that company happened to be nearby you, it was a definite place to go work. And now, like with the shift to remote work, every individual candidate has 10X more job opportunities.
And so now, those fundamental requirements are not good enough. It’s like, Well, how good is the team? How good is the culture? What is different from this company versus the thousand other people that are trying to recruit me? Especially for technical roles or sales roles that are in very high demand. So I think there’s been a huge shift for everyone in the world in the last couple years.
"Any company that thinks that what they used to do two years ago is going to work in the new talent market is gravely mistaken."
Now, Glen, you’ve led recruiting at some of the biggest tech companies that are around today: Facebook, Google, Slack, so you’ve helped companies scale their teams from small to thousands. And now you’re also working with startups who are starting with maybe a handful of people, then a couple dozen, and then starting to get into the hundreds. So I want to hear from both of you what it’s like to have a system in place that can scale with the company.
Yeah, that’s a good point. One of the things I’ve learned pretty early in my career is if you have a clearly defined process early, it can take you to great places from a hiring standpoint.
So for example, I know Facebook in the very early days had very clearly defined interviewer roles, questions to ask, what good answers are, what poor answers are, and they kept it very organized and structured. And what that led to was in the early days of creating a kind of a viral culture of recruiting – It’s everyone’s job, it was organized, it created a good experience for candidates.
Over time as you add more people, that’s harder to maintain. So having documentation, having interview training, all of those things helped it scale to a place where they kept the bar very high and brought in a lot of great talent.
That’s one of the key things I would recommend to any company starting out early. And I know Evan and Sanjay and the Abnormal team did that very well in the beginning, so maybe you can touch on that, Evan.
Yeah. I feel like over the course of a startup journey, there’s some things that change and some things that stay the same.
What stays the same is you always need to be really actively looking for a good mutual fit. It’s not good enough for a candidate to be good for you. You, the company, also have to be great for the candidate for it to work. You’re always going to have to have real high clarity in what the job is to help make sure you’re doing thoughtful assessments, and also thoughtful matching of that mutual fit.
Then third, you really have to differentiate the company. Why is this really a better place to work than other places?
So I think those stay the same in the startup journey. I think early on, you can make a lot of recruiting progress. You’re trying to hire one or two people a quarter by using just a lot of time, energy, passion, to kind of recruit people to that early stage startup.But then when you start growing to 100, 200, 300 people, and now you need to start hiring 50, 60 people a quarter, it’s no longer good enough to just work super hard and be passionate.
If you think about how you build a recruiting engine across the company, that requires everyone to be aligned on the importance of recruiting, and requires the company to invest in compensation, in actually making the company a great place to work – whether it’s the culture, or the systems, or the programs. And as Glen mentioned, you need to start formalizing that recruiting process so you can provide an A+ candidate experience, but also make sure that you’re fully assessing candidates to make sure that they are a good fit for the company as well.
Yeah. And I would actually just add one other thing: It’s critical that you don’t settle for a hire. The process will help define the bar, but a mis-hire can set a company, a team back for a long time. It’s very painful to unwind a bad hire. And so I’d recommend to anyone to really keep that standard high and do not settle for talent. Even though it’s hard to find certain types and certain people, you should never settle.
That’s totally right. And sometimes, it’s very easy to imagine what the cost is of not hiring someone, but it’s hard to imagine what is the cost of really finding someone that’s not a great fit for the company. And I’ve personally made this mistake a couple times. And in a lot of the cases, the candidates were really qualified for the work we had to do, but we weren’t actually qualified for what they really wanted to get out of the job; what they aspired to do.
Sometimes that’s a very dangerous situation because it can kind of work in the short term, but it won’t work in the long term. And then you end up taking maybe six months or 12 months of debt, and now you’re a year down the road back to zero because you didn’t find the right person for the role, and where you could really kind of live up to their aspirations and motivation. So it’s extremely costly to have the wrong person in the role versus just not having someone in the role at all.
Right. And so getting that right really starts with the very beginning of finding the right people in the first place, even before you start the interview process.
So I’d like to hear from both of you, how you start sourcing and searching for new candidates. Glen, maybe you can start because you’ve done it at so many different levels.
Yeah, it starts with really understanding what you’re looking for, and I think a lot of people just kind of rush to start sourcing. But [you need to] really understand the skills required, where these people might be working, what domain they’re from, et cetera, and then you can start mapping out where they are.
"The best people are already working, and that's why it's also such a competitive market, and it’s why people are getting hit up left and right for job opportunities. So you have to map where they are, come up with a strategy, and come up with compelling messaging and ways to attract them to at least have a conversation. "
And once you get them into a meeting or a call, then you can dive in further.
Yeah. Evan, walk us through what sourcing and finding some of those early hires were like.
Yeah. When you’re a 10-person startup, you really want generalists that can deal with ambiguity. And then as you grow you want more specialists that can scale as the company gets better. So I really agree with what Glen said: You have to be really intentional and thoughtful about what’s the job you really need, otherwise you will be fishing in the wrong ponds.
I think the common pattern we’ve seen is that we try to look for people that are smart, humble, and hungry. And that combination has kind of worked out really well for us so far.
The tactics in terms of how to source changes over time. Early on when you’re a no-name startup that no one cares about, it’s really important to leverage your personal network and the investor network. I know we work really closely with the Greylock recruiting team and they probably introduced us to a hundred different people along the way, and we end up hiring maybe 20 of those folks. That was really important for us when, again, no one cared about who we were, we had zero credibility, especially as just as a new company in cybersecurity.
In the middle zone, you’re kind of grabbing the low hanging fruit. You only need to hire maybe a couple people, so it kind of works. And then once you get above maybe 100 people or so, all the easy stuff is done. You have to think about how you find people that’ve never heard of you, and how do you really communicate why you’re different, and how do you build this high-scale recruiting engine that’s not just a couple LinkedIn mails, but it’s re-targeted ads and dedicated career sites and dedicated sourcing staff.
And that’s an engine you have to build up over time. It would be inappropriate on day one, but really appropriate once you’re post-product/market fit and you need to start hiring 50 to 100 people per quarter.
I’d say the only other thing I’d add there is based on how competitive the market is, you probably want to think about opening roles earlier than you normally would. Maybe even a couple quarters ahead of time, just because it takes even longer to hire whether you’re hiring a recruiter, a salesperson, an engineer. And especially as it gets more specialized, you’ll want to open these roles sooner if you can.
I agree. That’s actually probably one of the mistakes we’ve made, is when you’re growing very quickly, and we’re growing by about 4X per year, the future comes way faster than your intuitions think it would be. And there’s probably many roles where as soon as we had the person in the building, we’re like, “Oh my God. We wish we hired this person six months ago.”
One pattern I think me and the entire company have felt susceptible to is just being three months too late. Where I think that when you’re really growing, if you’re in a great market that has high product/market fit and customers love your product, you should be three months ahead, not three months behind. Worst case scenario is you have someone that’s getting ready and planning out their work, versus being behind and catching up and just paying down the debt. So truly agree with you, Glen.
Once you’ve identified some candidates and you’re able to start bringing them in and making some connections, what is the best system to have in place to make sure that all the right questions are asked, to make sure that they have a full picture of the role, the full picture of the company and the culture?
Yeah. I mean, back to having it defined and documented, I think that’s a great starting point. But even more important, making sure the people involved in the interviews, they’re all on the same page.
So it’s probably very helpful to have a meeting ahead of the first couple interviews for that role that you just opened to get on the same page, make sure everyone’s aligned on what you’re looking for, the purpose of the hire once they’re in the door, everyone’s roles in the process, et cetera.
And then when you get into actually meeting the person, making sure the interviewers have prepared as well because that also ties to the experience you’re creating for the candidate.
And then post-interview, it’s not uncommon to have a meeting to discuss the candidate. That’s a great way to calibrate further, especially when you’re starting off hiring for something for the first couple times to get everyone. And then the interviews get better and they’re all on the same page, and then hiring decisions can be made more quickly, which helps create a great experience for people.
Yeah. Evan, I’m curious. Once you have got some people on the phone for the first time, they responded to you for a reason, what’s that first phone call like? What are you really trying to establish with them? What are you really trying to get across about Abnormal?
Yeah. I mean, I think that for us, we’re trying to hire the best of the best people. And so you have to recognize that the best people can work wherever they want.
I think the best people are … It’s a privilege to get to talk to them. So we try to really focus on understanding their motivations and aspirations. What do they care about? What do they want to do in their job after Abnormal Security? How do they want to learn and grow over the next couple years? How would they differentiate the best company from the second best company? So we try to learn that really early on in the process because it helps us understand if we can be a great fit for them.
And if we’ve done a good job targeting and sourcing and profiling the right candidates, then we know they’re in some sort of zone. So we really want to make sure we’re aligned on that early in the process.
I second what Glen said. Really important to have clarity on what the job requirements are. It’s not just important for the interview team and the evaluation team. As the company gets bigger, it just gets more and more confusing. But it’s also really important to communicate that back to the candidate and say, “Hey, here’s what your job’s going to be. And here’s what your personal roadmap looks like. And here’s what you’re going to grow and learn and do.” Right? They’re the best people. They want to have a lot of clarity on, “Hey, what am I going to be doing? How do we interact with the team? What leadership opportunities do I have? How will I be contributing to the company?”
And so if internally you’re not clear about that, it’s very hard to communicate that to the best candidates. And then it’s very hard to kind of go back to them and explain to them, “Hey, why is this role uniquely different for you and why can you have a bigger impact and learn more at this company versus some other place.”
I definitely strongly agree on understanding people’s motivations and their goals. Actually, that’s probably the first question I always recommend my team ask people. Like, “Hey before I jump into what I reached out to you about, what’s important to you if you were going to change jobs?” Or like, “What’s your dream job, your dream company?” et cetera, et cetera.
You’re going to have a wide array of answers that you can file away, and those are things you can use to tailor the process to help close them later. It might be team. It might be work/life. It might be mission. It might be finance. I mean, all of these things can help you close along the way.
And then in addition to Evan’s point on being able to pitch the role in the company and have a compelling story there to get candidates excited, making sure that that role that you’re hiring for maps to the impact on the product, the mission, the company, and then that maps to the candidate and their goals and where they want to get to in their career.
"Startups are in a unique place to offer so much growth for somebody. If you go to a big tech company, you're going to have stability, you're going to have cash in the beginning, but you're going to grow a lot slower than if you go to a startup and you have all this opportunity; you're wearing multiple hats. You're going to probably grow as an individual and as a leader faster than if you joined a larger place."
So if that’s an option for somebody, to take a little bit of a risk on an early stage company, I think that could be a great opportunity for their growth.
I think that’s right, Glen. Because again, the best people in the world, they can work wherever they want. So why would they come join your crappy company like Abnormal Security, right? No one’s ever heard of it.
And I think actually that what you say is the reason why people join early stage startups. They want to learn and grow and have a bigger impact than they could at a later stage company or a public company. So I think that’s really important for companies to, and startups, to really kind of explicitly explain, “Hey, here’s how you’re going to do that. Here’s how the role connects back to our product and our mission. Here’s what your LinkedIn resume could look like based on the impact you have over the next year or so.”
The more you can evidence how the company can really be a great opportunity for them – “Here’s our mentorship program. Here’s eight videos of the last investors and executives we had come in to speak to the team about leadership development” – The more you really deliver on this claim that it’s a great place to learn, great place to work, and you can like have a bigger impact. You can’t just say it though. You have to back that up and show that.
Yep. And I’d say understanding all of that will drop the “I’m talking to a recruiter” vibe when you get somebody in a meeting or on a phone. They’ll feel like, “Hey, this person cares and they’re trying to connect with me.” And I think part of getting people to say yes is building that trust. And if you can do that from the very first meeting, I think that can lead to some really good results.
Yeah. I argue you have to do that. If they don’t feel like you’re invested in them, they don’t feel like the company’s being authentic, they don’t feel like you’re really trying to identify a mutual fit and explore this partnership, they can just go talk to some other company that’s doing that. Right? And just people have so many options these days to work at. There’s a lot of good companies out there. They’re trying to find the best of the best. So I think without some of those things you mentioned, it’s very difficult for you to stand out from the noise.
Over the years, as the market for talent has gotten so competitive, there’s been more tools, there’s been more talk of processes and systems in place to help people with recruiting. And I’ve heard a lot of people borrowing some of the tactics and concepts from sales and marketing. And it seems like that could be very helpful with helping people put a process in place, but it can also not be quite applicable because at the end of the day, it’s not sales. So I’m wondering what you have learned from those kinds of comparisons.
Yeah. I’d say that the biggest thing is that you want to prevent anything from becoming too transactional, especially as you’re trying to recruit top talent. You’re going to want to create very tailored messaging that aligns to somebody’s background and experience and shows that you actually read about them and what they’ve accomplished so far in their career. And if you tailor your approach to individuals, you’re going to probably have a higher hit rate, higher response rate versus “I’m going to mass email 500 people and hope that somebody replies.”
And then from the marketing side, I’d say I think there are some great ways companies can do more to promote their employment brand, and their career at the company, and where those kinds of things will also help attract talent. You can write blogs and do different things like that to talk about the interesting challenges or the mission that the company’s on and I think that will certainly help attract candidates as well.
What does that look like throughout the interview process? Especially since you’ve gotten so much bigger over the years. Are you still conducting the first interviews? How does that look?
Yeah, so it’s changed. One of our core values is ownership, so we really have the hiring manager take points on everything. We have a recruiting team, and their job is to support the hiring manager, but the hiring manager ultimately decides What is the job, how we really make it unique and differentiate for the candidate, and how do we decide who the right person is.
So I think about my job as a CEO is to also play a support role.
And that means sometimes I talk to candidates early on in the process, to help understand their motivations, to kind of share the vision around Abnormal Security. Sometimes I talk to people in the middle where I’m actually assisting with the evaluation in some dimension that’s kind of guided by the hiring manager. Sometimes I’m at the end of the process. They’re deciding between two great opportunities, sometimes a sister company at Greylock. Right? And I’m trying to be a thought partner, helping them think through their framework and ultimately pick the career and opportunity that’s right for them. Way early on I was cold calling people, I was interviewing people, I was hiring people. So it changes over time. That’s what it looks like today.
And I’d say that’s why you’ve been so successful at hiring. Not only did you have a clearly defined process early, but you were very, very involved. I remember meeting you and Sanjay on Bryant street a few years ago. And it was obvious to me that I didn’t have to worry too much about you as far as you caring about it, being passionate about it, and understanding that you have to do it well and spend time on it. The best founders do that and their hiring reflects it.
Yeah, we’re still learning about how to do a great job, but we’ve never struggled with why it is important.
For both Sanjay and I, when we started the company, really the goal was to build the best place to attract the world’s best team and the best place to work. And a lot of everything else we did was kind of derivative from that, including really building a great business and a great business model. So we’ve always been very passionate about talent and it’s always been super clear to me and all of my staff and all of our managers.
"I think if you're taking a long-term view on the company, it's kind of obvious that the opportunity for any company is just going to be a function of the team you have together. And so if you're not prioritizing investing and building that team, it makes it way harder for you to accomplish your longer-term business goals."
I’m curious – when the company is really early and you do need to start building those core people, but you’re still working on the product, or you’re not even out of stealth yet, how do you start assessing who you need on your team and go about working with a talent partner, like with working with Greylock?
Yeah. I mean, there’s a couple different dimensions. I think one broader comment is that the bottleneck in growing companies 10 years ago was capital. There were fewer great opportunities, there was a lot more talent, it was easier to recruit people, but it was really hard to get capital. Now it’s flipped, where there’s a thousand venture capitalists, billions of dollars to invest in companies, and therefore it’s really talent that’s the bottleneck. Totally true for our company, right? The number one bottleneck to all of our growth comes down to the team we build. That also increases just the upside and the opportunity for us to have an impact on our customers and the world.
So really early on, we were very fortunate to work with the Greylock talent team. And early on, it was kind of multidimensional. One was just trying to figure out, “Hey, what are some of the gaps that we have in our skillset?” to help us identify what are the right roles that we should be hiring.
We also got advice about how we are going to think about developing the organization, what are the new functions we should be building when, when is it too soon to hire a sales team or a marketing team. So there was some strategic guidance. `
On the other side of the spectrum, we also got a lot of very, very tactical help. So some people on Glen’s team and even some of our board members personally reached out to probably dozens or hundreds of candidates. And when you’re just an unknown company no one’s ever heard of, having the kind of credibility of a name like Greylock, it doesn’t win you a candidate, but it will get you a meeting. And people at least kind of put their hesitations aside and kind of at least try to listen and learn.
And for us, that was really important because our company is kind of magical on the inside, but hard to see from the outside. So just getting people to come to the table and understand the quality of the team, the importance of our mission, the intellectual stimulation of building a really high technology AI machine learning product, that’s very hard to see from the outside. So Greylock was extremely helpful just bringing people to the table and giving us a chance to share. And so it was really kind of hands on in the short term when we were a young company.
And as we got bigger, Greylock still helps a lot today, but it’s a little bit more in a strategic role helping us develop our organizational chart, sometimes talking to more senior candidates, executives, to give the investor perspective and also just the view of what does the talent market look like, and how does Abnormal really stand out and differentiate versus other companies from a business or team or culture perspective.
When we started building our sales team, we wanted to hire our first business development representative. And this is a role I was very unfamiliar with, but we knew we wanted to find someone that was just like the best of the best. And so I went on to LinkedIn and I just searched for the text “number one BDR”. And my idea was that like, hey, the best people in the world are probably going to brag about it. It’s going to be on their LinkedIn profile. And I found 10 people right in San Francisco – this is back in the days before we hired more globally –
I found 10 people that were all very clearly extremely good at this job. And that was important because we wanted to hire someone that could just not just do the work, but help us build up the best practices and systems right away.
And I reached out on LinkedIn to all 10 of these people. No one responded. I actually asked, Saam (Motamedi) one of our board members, to send a note to each of these folks. And I think I ended up meeting with three of them due to Saam’s email notes, and one of the guys we hired. In the first year he helped us find probably like 30% of all of our customer meetings. And then he got promoted to sales and he’s one of our top sales reps today.
And so it’s been a bit of a journey. I think that was a really successful outcome given I was totally clueless about the role. I had to get feedback from Greylock about what to look for, help finding the person, and finding a great person didn’t just help us solve that problem. This guy helped us set up all of our systems, our process, he was our part-time Salesforce admin because he was so talented and motivated, then over time became one of our top sales reps. And so finding the right person and getting the right guidance about how to identify and attract that person, that can have unexpectedly high dividends over time.
I think one of the challenges we have is that there’s a hundred other companies that all say they’re a machine learning cloud security company. And so when we talk to candidates, it’s very hard for them to differentiate us versus some other machine learning startup from the outside.
So one area where the Greylock recruiting team and talent team has been really helpful is just kind of giving candidates like the inside view. “Hey, here’s really what this company’s up to. And here’s how they contrast to other companies. And oh, by the way, did you know that Abnormal Security is the fastest growing cyber security company and one of the leading machine learning companies in our entire portfolio?”
That type of additional kind of input and kind of helping people benchmark Where does this opportunity stand relative to the rest of the job market? There’s some inside view there that only investors can really share. It’s harder for us to claim, credibly, via on our website or on a pitch.
Yeah. That’s something that brings us in nicely to this big part of landing a candidate, which is compensation.
So if you’ve gotten far enough that you’re going to start giving offers or making offers, there’s a ton of money out there – not just from other startups but from the big tech companies and so compensation’s at an all-time high. I’m curious. What’s that like to first talk about compensation and has that changed over years?
Yeah. Well the past four or five years, I think there’s been some new laws passed in California and other states where you’re not even allowed to ask for their compensation history. There’s a lot of good reasons behind that. It certainly has made recruiting a little harder. However, you can find out a little bit more about what their expectations might be. Some people will be very transparent. Some people will say, “Make the best offer”. So I think it’s super important to then leverage whatever compensation data you can get your hands on.
There’s a lot of common sources out there for startups. And then as you scale, you’ll probably bring in a comp consultant or a total rewards person to really help you define that, to make sure you are at market, and obviously consider fairness and internal equity as well.
"You want to lead with a great offer. You don't want to screw around and have somebody feel slighted or insulted – especially if they're top talent. And if they come back and negotiate and they're only asking for a little bit more, a couple thousand shares or whatever it might be, is it worth having that person walk, versus getting them to a point to say 'Yes'?"
There’s one example of a seed company that was in stealth mode a couple years ago that we had submitted a candidate to, and that candidate was also involved with another one of our companies. The second company played games with the offer and didn’t meet the candidate where the candidate requested, the negotiation came back and the company didn’t want to meet them at that ask. And then the stealth startup made them a great offer, got them in the door, and a week later that candidate was dubbed as like a game changer for the company, like just a week after starting there. So my advice is to lead with a good foot forward and be flexible for the best people.
I think when it comes to compensation, or even just general motivations to join a company, there’s a bunch of different dimensions. And I’ll say the majority of people that are looking to join a high-impact mission-focused startup, compensation’s not their number one thing, but it’s certainly a thing, right? And I think that ultimately, if you really want to find the best people in the world, you have to pay up. The best people in the world can make a ton of money at any place.
And so if you really want to be competitive, I think you have to really invest there, especially in this new telemarket post-COVID where everyone has 10X more job opportunities than a year ago. You’re competing in a bigger market now.
I think it’s also really important that you have a very clear and documented comp philosophy and framework to make sure you’re being fair to candidates and to the company as well, especially as you scale. And the challenge is like, everyone has different expectations, right? Some people want to be paid twice as much or half as much.
And any of those extremes, it’s kind of unfair to the candidate and unfair to the company. So I think in the spirit of partnership – we talked about recruiting not being a sales process, but being this kind of mutual partnership exploration. You want to get to something that is fair for both. And nine times out of 10 that does exist. But I think without that kind of structure and framework, it’s very easy to be a little bit too ad hoc.
Cash compensation, stock compensation, those are must haves. So it’s also really important for companies when they think about compensation, to always think about these other dimensions, right?
Yes, you have to have good compensation, but that’s not good enough anymore. You also have to score high in other dimensions, mission, career opportunity, learning opportunity, and also have a fun place to work. People don’t just want to join a company and fill out Jira tickets all day. They want to learn and grow and feel like they’re contributing to a mission in the world. And as Glen said, you have to play it straight and really think about this as a partnership rather than a sales process.
Right. And, you said how many people are at Abnormal?
Oh, we have 300 people today and growing to 600 next year.
Okay. Wow. Wow. So you’re getting ready to experience some major growth internally. And so something that will help you get there is having what Glen has always said to me, of having a culture of recruiting. It’s something that you’re always thinking about. You’re employee obsessed. You really want to have an ongoing, evolving system that can scale and breeds an environment where people are always progressing.
Culture just comes down to behaviors and values, right? So I think at its most core, you actually have to really value building a great team, and you have to value talent, and you have to prioritize that through your behaviors. That needs to be visible.
So, I mean, as CEO I can say recruiting and talent is important, but if I’m not spending 10 hours a week talking to candidates and trying to figure how to make us a better place to work, or a better place for people to learn and grow, then like, does it really matter? I think that humans are really good at picking up on these signals, these behavioral cues and clues. And so I think it’s really important that you actually have to care about it and invest in it. That’s kind of like the most foundational thing.
And I also think that you have to explicitly tell people that it’s important, but also the why behind it. Why is it so important for us, as a machine learning AI company, for us to hire the best people in AI? I think giving the context behind, Well, actually we’re in an adversarial market where our attackers always try to outsmart us. And so we have to be one step ahead, from a technology perspective, every single day. And to do that, we need to bring in the best minds from around the world, from different industries, for us to be competitive. And actually, if we don’t do that we cannot be a business because as soon as we fall behind attackers start winning, our product starts being crappy, all our business goes away.
Right. And Glen, maybe you can talk about this a little bit. Having that system and that culture in place is also critical when you’re making sure that you’re hiring an employee population that is representative of the communities we actually live in. Can you talk a little bit about what that looked like at some of your previous jobs, like at Slack?
Yeah, I think what Slack did really well, even before I got there, diversity and inclusion was talked about all the time, like in channels, in all-hands. It was talked about in team meetings. I mean, it was everywhere. And so I think that created buy-in and it was part of this thing where everyone was on board to focus on it and do a good job to attract underrepresented talent from nontraditional backgrounds to the company.
So putting that in practice from a recruiting standpoint is not always, there’s no silver silver bullet here. But I think what we did really well was we set up a recruiting team focused on going outbound to underrepresented talent, being very deliberate about who we were sourcing. That was one.
Two, we did a lot of events and programs, partnered with organizations like Code2040, et cetera. We built our university program to be focused solely on underrepresented talent to make sure we were bringing in some newer, fresher talent to convert after their internships. And then generally, I’d mentioned this a little bit earlier around just the competitive market, but opening roles earlier and being opportunistic with great talent and not overlooking great people and the abilities they can bring for particular roles. And even if you don’t have a role open, maybe you can open one as well.
Right. So giving yourself the time to be patient to find the best people who you’re looking for, but also once you find them, being able to move fast.
Yeah. So today, a lot of companies are actually doing great – everyone’s raising money, everyone’s getting customers, everyone’s really putting their best face forward – and candidates have a lot of choices. But when they’re really going to figure out something like, “Okay, who’s the ideal company for me to work with?” Like how do you really differentiate yourself to make someone really want to learn more? Like, “This is the company I want to work with. These are the people I want to get to know. These are the people I am at least interested in meeting, out of all these other people who are reaching out to me.”?
Yeah. I get asked a lot by candidates what to be thinking about as they’re exploring startups. I always kind of give them a list of key criteria that I would be following if I was in their shoes:
One, who the founders are. What’s their background, track record? Have they been founders in the past or had successful careers to date? Who are the investors and what are the investors’ track records? I think that goes a long way versus the ones that have lots of investments and maybe not as many positive outcomes.
And then looking at the team, the product, the impact they can have. Fast forwarding a few years down the line, where do they think they can grow there, and is the team and the founders, are they going to be able to support that growth and be solid people to be partnered with?
And then at the end of the day, advising on what risk can you take, right? Like you got to consider your family, you got to consider what you’re optimizing for, and what motivates you, and what makes you happy. And I think that, at the end of the day, what I’d like to advise people to do is what makes them happy at the end of the day, but don’t overlook all of the great opportunities to grow and grow their career and grow their finances going to startups.
Yeah. And Evan, have you heard from candidates or people who maybe became Abnormal employees, what was it that stood out about the company? What’s really resonating with people?
For context, like we are a very high-paced company. We quadrupled revenue this year. We tripled it last year. We’ll triple it again next year. So that attracts … That’s an uncomfortable environment, right? In some ways it’s not a fun job. It’s challenging, stressful. So we’ve seen the people that have kind of been drawn toward us and and the people that have been most successful, they’re really craving kind of like that uncomfort, because their primary motivation is to learn and grow. Our team tripled this year. So the people that I think have been really attracted to Abnormal Security so far, people that are looking for almost like more responsibility than they deserve.
Like the company’s just growing so quickly. Like, “Hey, let me come in, and I want to take on more leadership and I want to be in an environment and culture that’s both going to give me those opportunities, but also will train/educate me. And I want to work with great people that can help me really up my game.” Where I think those are the people that we’ve, I think just kind of naturally attracted to the kind of growth rate of the company.
And I think it’s aligned with our general recruiting strategy. We try to find people that are smart, humble, hungry. Because of our business model and our market, we require people with high ownership and high accountability, people that are very, very customer-focused, and people who have ambition for always optimizing/improving to make sure we’re always getting better 1% a day.That’s the perfect profile across all our different roles. So that’s our recruiting strategy.
Now for us to be successful recruiting those folks, we have to be very intentional about how we differentiate ourselves from the other hundred companies or thousand companies that look just like us, that are also the fastest growing companies in their sub-market.
I’m a product manager, so I use the product management analogy. I think a lot of companies just focus on talent marketing and they say, “Hey, what’s our pitch to candidates?” Right? But I think that you also need to have this product development component.
We have to think about, for the people that you’re trying to attract, how do you actually make your company a better place to work? For us, making it a better place to learn and grow. So we’ve tried to invest in many of these programs. One is something we call Abnormal Business School where we bring in guest lecturers that are entrepreneurs, executives, investors, to teach and train the next generation of leaders. “Hey, here’s what you can be doing to best take advantage of the opportunity to set you up for future entrepreneurship.”
So those are things we’re doing on the product development side to make us a better place to learn and grow. And then once you have that core, then you can then market that and say, “Hey, here’s why Abnormal’s unique.” Unlike other startups that are only 300 people, we invest in all these programs to make sure that you’re going to get more responsibility, more ownership. You’re going to have faster career trajectory. And we can evidence that by showing them all these programs you have inside the company.
So that is a great talent strategy for the people we want to hire. It may be totally inappropriate for other companies that don’t want to give up that level of ownership, responsibility to their team. So I think just having alignment between the recruiting strategy, the kind of talent product development, where you’re really building the best careers for people or the career opportunities, and then kind of aligning that to your talent marketing and recruiting process. When those things are in sync, I think you can execute a hiring plan very effectively.
Yeah. And if you can get everyone to be speaking that same language, from the recruiters to the hiring managers to the interviewers, then I think that that story will come across to the candidates and help more people be attracted to the company for sure.
Yeah. And candidates should be asking when they talk to companies, “Hey, why is this a better place for me to work than any other place?”
If the company can’t answer that, let alone show evidence of like, “Hey, here’s examples of how we can deliver on that claim,” then are they really differentiating the market? Probably not. They’re just one of the pack.
Very cool. And that piggybacks a lot on what Kevin Wang, who’s your VP of Engineering, Evan, who was on the podcast a few months ago was saying. “We make it very clear in the beginning, everyone shifts code on their first day.” And it’s a little intimidating, and it’s also exciting for the right candidate. And it’s like you said, the responsibility, that ownership, and that like, “Okay, I’m going to hit the ground running. And maybe I don’t have to make a product that’s going to be sold the first day, but I’m definitely going to start working right away.” So that’s really cool.
And I think those types of questions are really good because they’re qualifying, right? The best people kind of qualify themselves in. They’re like, “That sounds awesome, because I know if you’re doing that, you’re probably going to make a bunch of mistakes along the way, so you must be okay with that as a culture.” And there’s some people that say, “Hey, like that is not for me. I cannot do that”. And then maybe it’s not the right place to work.
I think anything you can do upfront in that recruiting process, really the mutual fit discovery process, to really kind of have both the candidate and the company qualify themselves in or out, that’s good for everyone to really understand what is the environment that we’re going to. Because ultimately for anyone to be successful, it’s got to be a great mutual fit.
Yep. Quality and fit are probably the number one things good hiring managers and recruiters can do. And if you can filter people out early, if things aren’t aligned, that saves everyone time. You might be able to convince people, but you don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to do that and then have them say no at the end after hours of everyone’s time was spent, so.
Yeah. Or say no three months into the job. Like, “Hey actually, this is not the culture that’s for me.” Maybe, “Hey, I don’t care about customer impact so it’s just the wrong place for me.” Right? Like you want to figure that out early on for everyone’s sake, for the company. Our job is to help every candidate we talk to get to the right job for them. Sometimes it’s with us, sometimes it’s with some other company. And the more we can be servicing that talent market, that’s again a good thing for everyone.
Great. Evan, Glen, thank you so much for joining me today. I learned a ton and I know our audience will as well. So thank you for being on Greymatter. I really appreciate your time.
Thanks, Heather. Thanks, Evan. It’s great to be here.
Thanks, Heather. Super excited to chat.