From left: Joel Harris, Jenny Filbey, Dillon Hurd, Dave Tucker and Martin Gross

The current hiring landscape is on nearly every business leader’s mind. The Ag Startup Engine’s fifth annual Ag Innovators Unconference sought to inform and support agricultural startups in their hiring journeys and working to attract tech talent to Iowa.

Ag Startup Engine co-director Joel Harris moderated a panel discussion titled “Crap. I just raised a bunch of money. Now I better build the right team to execute the vision,” about hiring challenges specific to startups, including deciding who and how to hire when the company has limited funding, navigating a pandemic and attracting new hires, whether they are students or industry pros.

Panelists included:
Jenny Filbey, CEO, Mazen Animal Health.
Dillon Hurd,
president, Haber Technologies.
Dave Tucker,
partner, Next Level Ventures.
Martin Gross,
president and founder, Gross-Wen Technologies.

Here are some thoughts the panelists shared about navigating hiring.

On the ‘hire slow, fire fast’ model:
Dillon Hurd: 
“We’ve got about 20 members on our team. They’re a mix of full time, part time and interns. On the ‘hire slow, fire fast’ thing, we’ve taken a direction on that where we’ll bring in talent that we see a lot of potential in. We don’t necessarily make them long-term offers, so we’ll do internships. We’ll offer part time while in school, but we always put an expiration date on the offer, so if you do have a high performer, you just re-up the offer, but if you don’t, well, there’s no hard feelings, they move on to their next thing. While doing the short-term hires sometimes does take extra resources from the core team and have to bring people up to speed. Well, if you’re hiring new folks, you have to do that anyway, and it’s just a lot easier when they’re not expecting to work after school goes back into session or the end of the semester.”

On attracting senior talent from industry-leading companies:
Jenny Filbey: 
“I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to recruit some folks that are retired or were consulting. I’ve got three people on our team as part-time employees who all retired from big companies, and only one of them had ever had small company experience. They are on fire because it’s so refreshing to them to work in a startup. They have absolutely nothing to lose, so those are great folks to recruit.”

“Getting really senior talent is hard as a small company because it’s hard to pay to compete, so leveraging part-time consultants is awesome. It really helps your books. … How I see it is if you’ve got that knowledge coming into the organization, even if it’s only part time, as long as you’ve got good people learning or working under those individuals, they’re going to start to absorb that knowledge and that information, and then they become more valuable as well.”

“Having a really significant brand presence at whatever university you’re closest to is huge. We’re super lucky here at Iowa State. There’s tons of career services opportunities. One of the things that we found is the best recruiters that we have are the interns that started working with us three years ago … They are really the bright young individuals that want to learn. They’re willing to accept that offer. They value the equity; they value the impact.”

Martin Gross: “I think from my perspective, I have a word of caution on that. Some people have been in careers for a long time, maybe within your industry and are experienced in the large corporate environment. Specifically, we’ve had a failed hire or two trying to hire the best end salesperson that’s great at selling equipment for a company that’s been around for 200 years and they’re a rock star there. But then when they go into the startup environment, we sell completely differently, the way that we’re going out, trying to maintain relationships is different than what they’re used to. Even though they may lead a sales team, for example, at a big company, leading a sales team versus being boots on the ground going after it every day is different. Someone might have a really good reputation in your industry or space, but they’re not the right person for you.”

On what quiet quitting is:
“I had a perception of what quiet quitting was, I’ll admit, and then I saw that Brene Brown released a new podcast with Simon Sinek and Adam Grant talking about what’s happening at work. Their topic was around quiet quitting. The way I think it distilled out in their conversation was there are really two kinds of quiet quitting. One is around people wanting to find balance and set boundaries, and one of the things they said, which I found quite amusing, is if a younger employee says, ‘I’m going to leave early today to go watch my kid’s soccer game,’ it’s like they’re not dedicated. If an executive says that it’s like, ‘Wow, they are really starting to find balance in their lives. This is great.’ … I think we need to be open to our workforce working hard and being dedicated, but finding that balance. The other part around quiet quitting was engagement. They weren’t blaming the employees at all. They were blaming the leaders of the companies and saying, if you haven’t engaged your employee and helped them see the meaning in what they’re doing, regardless of whether they’re on a manufacturing line or emptying the trash, it’s up to the leadership to help that employee find meaning in what they’re doing, and then they’ll be engaged and they will work hard for you.”

“We do have some remote team members … and we’ve been helping them understand that there is a commitment not really to the company alone to do your work and do your best, but also a commitment to your teammates. In a software team in particular, you’re dependent on your teammates to get whatever it is up to premaster so it can be deployed. If anyone is lagging, then the rest of the team feels that. [We are] creating an accountability to one another, not just ‘I’m your boss, you need to work eight hours at least every day.’”