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Hi Sifted Reader, 

There comes a time at every startup when it’s time to hire the ‘grownups’. But when? And how can founders figure out what kind of ‘grownup’ they need to join the c-suite?

This week we find out. 
 Amy and Anisah 🧡

\How to

Hire into your c-suite


Kaarel Kotkas is the founder of Estonian identification startup Veriff — a company he started when he was 20. He’s since built a solid team around him to help him scale the company and hit the not-so-mythical-anymore unicorn status. I sat down with him at Money 2020 in Amsterdam to get some advice for building an executive team. 

Your early c-suite needs experience. If you’re a first time or a young founder, you want people around you who have led a company through similar challenges you are facing, that you’re excited to learn from. 

Plan two years ahead. Because of the seniority and wealth of experience that you’re looking for, you need a longer hiring phase — there are fewer people with the right skills, people have longer notice periods the more senior they are and you’ll want to spend some time getting to know them. 

Hire to fill the gaps until you’re ready for c-suite people. The team you currently have to support you should be able to drive your company’s growth through the early stages. In fact, early teams often enjoy that part of the process while [more seasoned] executives often don’t want or don’t have the necessary skills. It’s perfectly normal for your senior team to change a lot in the early days. 

Really get to know them before you commit to them. Hiring an executive usually involves fewer formal processes like rounds of interviews or practical tests. Remember, you’re looking for someone who can sit by your side to lead the company so it’s really about all parties ensuring the relationship works. You need to trust the person — can you talk to them about everything? Informal chats asking for advice on a challenge you’re currently facing is a good way to test the water — do they see the world in a similar manner to you? Have they thought about things that were unknown unknowns to you? Can they point you in the right direction? The real challenge of a CEO during this time is to understand personality traits as it’s very hard to change those things. I ask, for example, ‘What are some traits of yours that your colleagues may not like?’; ‘What are some things that you do that bring you joy?’ ‘What do you want to have control of?’ 

Use your biggest fans to find your execs. Your first c-suite hires should come through your network. Reach out to people you admire and who you’d want to learn from — maybe they’re the right fit for the role. If not, ask them for a recommendation for someone who is. Use your investors too — they can introduce you, help you validate executives in disciplines that you have less experience with and formulate what it is you actually need. 

Early executives need to execute. They aren’t just there for the ideas — they need to be able to put them into practice, run processes and have the horsepower in them to drive the company through some of its fastest growth stages. One of the biggest mistakes is hiring executives who can’t actually “do”. Find out how much hands-on work they’ve done by asking people they’ve worked with before and how much they’re willing to do now. 

Hire diversely to meet the needs of your customers. If you’re building a global company, you want to have people around you that are questioning the problems and barriers that will be faced in different places where you want to operate. Is there a cultural difference? Something we’ve missed? Do we need to adapt our messaging because there’s more/less trust in a new market?

\A message from our sponsor Google Cloud

How Google Cloud can supercharge your startup


The Startup’s Guide to Google Cloud gives top tips on how to integrate data and machine learning to build better customer experiences — and save money too.

Read it here.

\On the Subject of...

C-suite folk

🛠️ Hiring your first COO. Paris VC firm Elaia shares the lessons learned by its portfolio from hiring their first COOs. 

🏝️ Head of remote is the newest c-suite position. One of the biggest challenges over the last 18 months has been managing teams sprawled across the world. How is that impacting the c-suite?

🤷 When do you need a chief diversity officer? Is it after being called out for bad behaviour or should you be planning on adding one to your exec team from the early days? 

🤿 Top talent doesn’t come cheap. Salary, equity, benefits… Here are some stats around compensation to help you make an enticing offer to top talent. 

😮‍💨 Planning for leadership debt. Unlike financial debt, it’s not so easy to spot leadership debt on a balance sheet. But you can spot common symptoms in companies: high employee turnover, miscommunication and a tendency to micromanage even senior staff. One from the Sifted archives.

\People Moves

Getir has a new chief people officer. The super-fast grocery delivery company, which launched in Turkey and is now expanding across Europe, has hired Mira Magecha. She joins from JustEat, where she was also chief people officer. 

VC firm EQT Ventures has a new head of platform. Chantal Ambord, who was previously chief of staff at BlaBlaCar and a scout for Accel, has joined the team’s Paris office. 

Cazoo has appointed Abhishek Roy as European MD. He’ll oversee the launch of the used car marketplace in France and Germany later this year. In a past life, he was CPO at mobile.de, a German car marketplace, and most recently was CEO of eBay’s Nordic ecommerce platforms dba and bilbasen.

Got any people intel you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear it... 😉 

\Sifted Talks

The startups buying startups — why it's worth a billion euros


Since the start of the year, over €1bn has been spent on acquisitions by European VC-backed startups — 10 times more than last year.

This means more private European tech companies are buying smaller startups, gaining a bigger share in other markets and acquiring new offerings and talent. It’s a growing trend, but what’s behind it and will it last?

Join the experts on 21 October.

\Smart Reads

1/ Why we don’t interview product managers anymore. A good read from Australian software company Whispir about why it ‘auditions’ PMs and the kind of tasks job applicants get set (eg. ‘Design me a fridge for a blind person’).

2/ How to pitch in a patriarchy. Fundraising tips from a female founder who has been there and done it.

3/ What’s the purpose of your startup? Here's how — and why — to make sure you have a good answer to that question.

4/ The side effects of wanting to disrupt big platforms. It’s easy to criticise Big Tech, but often these arguments forget the value that companies like Facebook provide to minority and marginalised communities. Here’s an excellent thread on the topic. 

5/ How is the current VC landscape affecting founders? Crazy valuations, competition between funds and too much cash could be the death of startups before they’ve even found product market fit.

Forwarded this newsletter?

Subscribe to Startup Life. You know you want to.

\Book of the Week

Mental Health at Work by James Routledge 

If anyone knows about the complexities of mental health at work, it’s Sanctus founder James Routledge. Now, he’s written a guide on how to talk comfortably about mental health and create a more inclusive community around it in the workplace. It’s informed by his struggles with mental health while building his company (which he has written candidly about on Sifted). Though it’s a whistlestop tour at just shy of 150 pages, there were many observations and passages that struck me. 

  1. Put on your oxygen mask before helping others. You’ve got to take care of your own mental health before you can help others. Whether that’s talking to your therapist or doing yoga. Whatever works for you. 

  2. Tell people what you’re doing for your mental health! This resonated with me as I’m currently challenging myself to do yoga every day for a month. The biggest realisation I’ve had is not about its effect on my health but how liberating it is to tell people at the pub, “Sorry I’ve got to go home now so I can wake up and do this thing!” Preach it, James. 

  3. Boundaries, boundaries. We all know that having boundaries (like not working 24/7) is beneficial to mental health. But I was struck by Routledge’s view on the limits of mental health advocacy as well. He repeats that he’s an advocate but not a trained professional and encourages people to seek the professional help they need.

  4. Mental health at work is everybody’s responsibility. I’m also so guilty of thinking that if employee mental health isn’t good, it’s all management’s fault. But Routledge maintains that work isn’t a parent-child relationship, but a community of adults. Even more important than blaming a boss is to start caring for ourselves now. 

  5. Work is the most important community for many. Some might criticise Routledge for making the book about mental health at work, but he has a good response: “There has been a decline in the numbers who regularly attend a place of worship, and less of a focus on local community life. This lack of community across society puts more emphasis on community in the workplace.” 

Routledge really wants to make this an actionable guide (there are bullet points and journal prompts) and he even wants to make sure it’s not stressing you out to read it. “You don’t need to read this book by tomorrow,” he says early on. I can see the book being an invaluable guide — I just wish there was a little bit more detail in some of the corporate case studies included. Go read it, and I’m going to go do some yoga.                                                         

Eleanor, Sifted's commissioning editor

Amy Lewin
Deputy Editor

Get in touch with her at amy@sifted.eu.
She loves a bit of reader feedback.
Anisah Osman Britton
Founder at 23 Code Street

Get in touch with her at anisah@sifted.eu.
She loves to hear about the latest in startupland.
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