Scaling an Executive Leadership Team

By Natalie Fink – Partner, San Francisco –

As an executive recruiting firm, we often meet with founders who struggle to identify the order in which they should scale their leadership team. These conversations are frequent among early-stage companies. When you’re in the business of helping companies scale, some general trends can emerge.

A strong executive recruiter should be more than just an outsourced service, but a true consultant who helps your team identify needs and skills that will encourage growth and innovation. While there is no magic order to building out a team, there is a fairly basic model for putting the business together.  Our work with Castlight Health is a perfect example.

The Founding Team
Market commercialization and technical feasibility are two vastly different components with contrasting skill sets which is why we so often see a set of two co-founders, one technical and one business oriented. With these two traits in place, the next step is usually always focused on engineering. Some technical co-founders fill this need and will instead search for talent in product development to help with design or feature sets. Regardless of which role the co-founder plays, the engineering and product function are two key roles to watch as the company gets off the ground.

Going to Market: Sales vs. Marketing
Once the initial product becomes viable, the company will need a leader to bring it to market. Depending on the company’s chosen distribution strategy and marketplace, that could be a sales leader or a marketing head. Whether you need a Head of Sales or a Head of Marketing will depend on many factors including your core audience and the level of engagement required for “purchase”. For example, sales leaders are vital for enterprise applications whereas a head of marketing is key for consumer-facing products. Both functions will know your market and understand what drives your customers. S/he will be able to predict what kind of reaction your product will get and anticipate objections. Ultimately, this function will act as a connector, bringing the company into appropriate channels and gaining market recognition with customers and competitors alike.

Scaling with Ops
With a product on the market, an evangelist grabbing customers, and the beginnings of revenue flow, it’s time to put in some operating structure. Finding a COO who can optimize production, implementation, and customer satisfaction will be key to early growth. Additionally, a CFO (or VP of Finance) can help a company think strategically about financial planning and revenue models for future financing rounds and/or an exit strategy.

Don’t Get Poached
Once you’ve invested in identifying and onboarding a stellar team, make sure to keep them there. Retention is a tricky business as Pat Schoof, VP of Human Resources at edtech startup Udemy explains, “In a highly competitive talent environment, you need to be proactive and constantly listen to employee and market feedback. Employees leave managers, not companies; so commit to building a great culture that rewards open communication and transparency at every level.”

For more tips on retention strategies join us when we host a panel with the Commonwealth Club on July 23, 2014:  Creating the New Work Paradigm: Employee Loyalty & Retention

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