Imagine K12 Fireside Chat

on 03 | 03 | 2014

Recently, Riviera Partners team members, Michael Ellison and Joseph Yeh, along with ClassDojo Co-Founder Sam Chaudhary and Remind101 Co-Founder Brett Kopf, spoke about their experiences helping grow startup teams from two to twenty people. Imagine K12 Founder and Partner Tim Brady, who was Yahoo!’s first employee, served as moderator of the Imagine K12 fireside chat.

Both Riviera team members have a shared passion for, and experience with making an impact on education for many years, through different approaches. Michael had co-founded a Y-Combinator-backed startup that created higher education classroom teaching software as well as created an education nonprofit focused on lowering the drop-out rate for high school students. Joseph had been involved in public policy for English Language Learners with the then-U.S. Secretary of Education as well as helping provide access for technical training for military veterans. Thus when the opportunity arose to collaborate with edtech startup accelerator, Imagine K12, both Joseph and Michael jumped at the chance.

The panel shared their experiences, thoughts, and best practices of recruiting software engineers, finding and hiring a co-founder and VP of Engineering, and discussed how much time a founder/co-founder should spend on recruiting.

Imagine K12 Fireside Chat Panel

Sam had mentioned that he had spent as much as 70% of his time trying to find the right engineer to join his team. He recommended “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by former San Francisco 49ers’s coach, Bill Walsh, as a great tread to lean more to motivate individuals and create the ideal team with the culture that you want.

Brett spoke about opportunistic hiring, balancing the risk of hiring an engineer who may be more junior in terms of experience for that role, interviewing questions, writing down the values the team/company believes in, and some red flags in a candidate’s background (i.e. a history of only 5-6 months at a company).

With about twenty Imagine K12 founders and co-founders in the audience, Michael and Joseph, answered questions about sourcing strategies, creating the recruiting funnel, leveraging your investor network, remote teams, first hires, compensation, culture, length of time to hire, referrals, and interview processes.

Michael mentioned that a lot of engineers of successful companies may be looking for a way to contribute back to the community and work at a startup with a social cause element. He suggested that as (co)founders of an education startup, they share and inspire candidates about their the different ways that they are making a difference in creating the tools that are/will be having an impact on education.

Joseph had echoed Michael’s sentiment, when he mentioned that he had connected with an engineer from Twitter earlier that morning, who was looking for to join a startup that had a social cause element.

Aside from engineers, these entrepreneurs were also looking to hire designers, business development professionals, marketing experts, as well as general office assistants. The panel spoke about creating a process and infrastructure in place, to make it easier to track these candidates using JobScore and Entelo.

During the discussion, both Sam and Brett also spoke about the times that they hired the wrong person, mainly due to a cultural fit mismatch, and eventually had to let them go. They did take risks of hiring some junior employees, but some could not meet the eventual technical expectations for the role fast enough. Thus, both co-founders, recommended that prior to sharing the hiring startup’s values that the interviewer dig deeper into finding the candidate’s core values first.

There is a popular Recruiting Management Triangle (borrowed from the Project Management Triangle), which demonstrates the constraints of hiring the right candidate – Cost vs. Speed. vs. Quality. Almost all startups want the highest quality, but how does this impact the Speed or Cost of finding that right candidate?

*Special thanks to Imagine K12 Partner Karen Lien, for helping make the event possible!

Imagine K12 Student Artwork