In talking about “your partners”, I will focus on your investors, because that is what I am. A VC. Most of this advice can be used to a degree with other partners, advisors, independent board members, consultants, etc.
There are a lot of investors who can write checks. But there are not a lot of investors who can help you build and manage a team. If you have a choice in your investors, which not everyone will have, you should select investors who can do the latter.
The best investors, the ones who have been at it for a while and have great reputations, will have a large network of people they have worked with over the years. Their network will also include people who they want to work with and who want to work with them. They can and do play matchmaker between their network and their portfolio companies. I suspect the partners at USV spend at least 25% of our time on things that would be considered “recruiter” functions. And we should probably spend more of our time on this. I don’t know of a better way to positively impact the performance of our investments.
But not every portfolio company gets equal benefit out of our recruiting function. Like all things in life, the squeeky wheel gets the oil. We love all of our investments equally but some demand our time and attention and others do not. The ones who demand get. The others get too, but not as much. So rule #1 is demand that your investors help you grow and develop your team. Ask for results, expect results, get results.
Rule #2 is to be very specific about what you want and request help in frequent small asks. One of our portfolio companies that I am actively involved with sends me an email each week with up to three specific asks. No more than three. I can do three each week. What I can’t do is a vague open ended request once in a while with a very large ask.
Rule #3 is to communicate actively with your investors. Make sure they know what you want and what you don’t want. I know a lot of investors who spam their portfolio companies with resumes. That is not helpful. Make sure your investors know the jobs you are actively recruiting for. And let them know about the roles you are “opportunistically” recruiting for. And most importantly, make sure they know what you are not looking for and why. When you get resume spam, instead of ignoring it and deleting it, reply back with a courteous but clear message about why that was not helpful.
Rule #4 is to selectively engage your investors in the recruiting process. Use them when they can help. Use them to close an important candidate. Use them to get a second or third opinion on a particularly important hire. Don’t give your investors control over your hiring decisions but engage them as trusted advisors. As the Gotham Gal likes to say “you get what you give.” Give someone a role and a feeling of being involved and you will get help.
Rule #5 is to expose your investors to your team. Give them a sense of the culture of the company and the composition of the team. Give your best and brightest “air time” with your investors. Your employees will like it and so will your investors. I really enjoy being invited to speak to an all hands meeting, or to have lunch with the team, or to go play paintball with a couple portfolio companies. It allows me to help with retention, it allows me to think more clearly about who might fit with the team, it allows me to help the company in more ways, and most of all, it makes me feel good about the work that I am doing.
There is a limit to all of this. You should not let your investors become too engaged in the company. You and your team must run the company and there needs to be a very clear line between what is advice, assistance, and help and what is a shadow management function. If your investor is running your management team meeting, you know you’ve crossed the line. That is a bad place to be.
But many entrepreneurs overcompensate for this by stiff arming their investors and that is a mistake too. You can’t do everything yourself. Your investors can help. They operate at 30,000 feet and as a result they see a lot more of the markets that matter to you than you do. That includes the market for talent. So leverage them in the war for talent. Use them wisely. And you will see that it will pay dividends.