How One VC Coaches Entrepreneurs to Hire

Sourcing Job Candidates

Ask any venture capitalist the criteria they use to select investments and one key fact always comes through: the quality of the team. So it stands to reason that VCs want to maximize their investment and ensure their portfolio companies have the best tools possible to land the right executive talent.

In 2011, Greylock Partners hired Jeff Markowitz as talent partner, pulling him in from noted executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, where he’d served as managing partner for its global venture capital practice. (Heidrick & Struggles is the Chicago-based firm handling Microsoft’s CEO search.) Before working there, Markowitz was one of the founders of executive recruiter Howard Fischer Associates International’s Silicon Valley office, where he played a key role in developing the venture capital practice.

 Jeff MarkowitzAt Greylock, more than a successful recruiting assignment is at stake. Unlike recruiting firms who clients pay for finding the right executives, Greylock has skin in the game. A good – or bad – executive hire can have a real financial impact to the VC firm as well as its portfolio company. “The impact of a good or bad hire at the executive level can be game changing,” Markowitz says.

In his role as Greylock Talent Partner, Markowitz works with portfolio companies and search firms, advising entrepreneurs on how to hire executives and occasionally becomes involved in the interview process. The searches that Markowitz is involved with tend to focus on CEOs, vice presidents and boards of directors.

Finding the Right Candidate

In searching for an executive, Markowitz uses his own technique to get entrepreneurs to crystalize the attributes they seek in an executive: He introduces them to executives he knows who are working in the same or similar position, so the entrepreneurs can get a sense of what a “great” candidate is like and use them as a template as they search for an executive to fill their open position.

“It helps them calibrate the set of experience they want, the type of background they want and the type of chemistry fit they want,” says Markowitz.

Finding an executive for companies is “incredibly difficult,” he notes. “It’s not hard to find people who have prior startup experience, but maybe they no longer have the fire in their belly.”

Some of the characteristics desired in a startup executive include a hunger for success, a passion for the fast pace of startup work and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty as they wear multiple hats.

“When we have a candidate who has previously worked at a large company, we want to know if they’ll get down in the weeds,” Markowitz says. “They have to want it and thrive in it. If they have never done it before, that’s where the risk is.”

He notes that while some executives with no startup experience have been hired at some of Greylock’s companies, most of them tend to have it. He notes: “What’s needed at a large company versus a startup is very different.”

Updated Jan. 24 to correct the approach used to help entrepreneurs crystalize the attributes they seek in executive hires.