For startup founders and teams--myself included--growth is always the goal. Whether you're striving to bring a new product to market, or enter into new regions or verticals that you've yet to reach, funding is one of the first steps in helping startups scale and evolve.
But funding alone doesn't fuel growth--people do. That's why typically, a new round of financing means accelerating recruitment efforts and scaling up the company from a personnel perspective. This is no easy feat, as it requires you to become agile and efficient at hiring quickly, and also puts time constraints on teams who are often key contributors on developing products--as we all know, hiring (and doing it right) can be very time-consuming.
However, times of expansion are also exciting and crucial milestones for startups. It's a chance for you to reflect on who you are as a company and where you're going; an opportunity for existing team members to reimagine their roles and take on new challenges; and a juncture at which new recruits can set the stage for the company's future.
As a rapidly growing artificial intelligence (AI) startup, the science behind our hiring process is just as important as the science behind our technology. Here are five qualities that I believe are key to a successful startup hire:
1. Passion and resonance with the company's mission
Increasingly, jobseekers are not just looking for a paycheck. People want to work for an organization that has a clear mission, and a sense of purpose that's authentic. When organizations exude these qualities, employees are more productive too--a fact that's widely agreed upon, and cited by people operations experts like Laszlo Bock, Google's former SVP of People, author of Work Rules, and an advisor to Affectiva.
At my company, we are on a mission to humanize technology. We've made a lot of headway in the last decade, but building technology that can understand all things human is not a simple challenge to solve. It truly takes people who are passionate about the problem to achieve that.
In interviews, one of my biggest focus areas is trying to gauge the person's passion. Do their eyes light up when they talk about our technology? Do they understand the vision for what it does today, and where it will go in the future? Do they have ideas for how our technology should be applied? I find that people who are passionate are the ones who will be committed and go the extra mile, which is crucial for startup morale and success.
2. Problem-solvers and hustlers who will get the job done
There's a now-infamous case study that business students around the globe study, regarding Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica in the early 1900s. It may seem like a far cry to relate an Antarctica expedition to a startup, but hear me out...
When looking for people to join him on his expedition, Shackleton didn't look for hard skills or expertise specific to Antarctica. Instead, he sought people who would be resourceful, flexible, agile, and tackle any problem thrown their way.
Those same qualities are what I look for in a potential new hire: People who are willing to wear multiple hats, get their hands dirty, and at the end of the day, simply get things done. For the right candidate, the nature of this role is incredibly exciting--at a startup, you might have opportunities to be exposed to different functions, or speak directly to customers, or have a tangible impact in a way that would not necessarily be possible at a large organization.
Finding candidates who can be force multipliers is key, and sets the stage not only for startups' success, but also for individual employees to thrive and feel fulfilled.
3. Domain expertise
At the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, one of the hot topics of discussion was the booming tech ecosystem, and specifically, AI. But, at the same time, there's a significant shortage of qualified data scientists to fill these in-demand jobs. That's a challenge that startups are going to have to face.
But it's not just a matter of finding tech talent--you need to look out for specific domain expertise. For example, at Affectiva, we're often looking for computer vision scientists and machine learning experts. While computer vision can apply to many different applications--we are obsessed with building computer vision-based AI that pertains to humans. So, we need scientists who have specialized expertise in algorithms that understand people. Beyond tech skills alone, advanced knowledge of (and interest in) human behavior and emotions are key for us.
As a startup with specific goals, it's important to identify what niche expertise you're looking for, and apply that criteria to all job candidates.
4. Care, compassion and a propensity for partnership
It's somewhat cliché to say that people are an organization's best asset, but I do believe it's true. That extends not only to employees, but to a startup's entire ecosystem of supporters, including partners, advisors and the like. When hiring, it's important to look for people who want to build and support that ecosystem, partnering internally and externally. And, relationship-building skills are key.
As a startup founder, one of the things I'm most proud of is the relationships I've built, and seen others at the company build, with one another. We support each other's milestones, both personal and professional. In fact, I was lucky enough to attend the wedding of one of our software engineers in India this past year. Startup teams are on a journey together, so it's important to forge those bonds of support in and outside of the workplace. New team members should share a desire to do so, too.
In the same vein, it's important to find people that share your organization's core values. At Affectiva, given the personal nature of what we focus on - emotions and other aspects of the human experience - ethics, privacy and integrity are central to everything we do as a company. These values determine how we build our technology, how we apply it (for example, never using our technology for surveillance or other applications that jeopardize privacy), and who we work with. Finding people who share these same values and goals is as important as any hard skill we look for in the job search.
5. Love of learning
As I'm sure all startup founders will agree, the learning process never stops as companies evolve. For example, we've recently moved into a new market--the automotive industry--where our technology has the potential to improve safety and the overall transportation experience as the future of mobility takes shape. As a team, we're learning new things about those applications of our technology, and that industry, together. When hiring, startups need people who want to learn and grow as the company learns and grows.
Expanding the team isn't just about new recruits. It's also an exciting opportunity for current employees to reflect on their roles, and consider how they want to continue learning, too. Perhaps they want to change what their job description entails, or innovate a new way of doing a current process. For me, that opportunity to learn is something I strive to provide for my team at every stage--from when they're first hired, to when they've been with the company for years.