Building Talent Density as a First Time Founder

Brett asked me to write a blog post. I like to write (although I don’t do it well) and never want to grow out of the habit.

We want to “build in public” and we are building a content marketing platform. Thus, we think it’s important everyone on the team is willing to share … content. 

I have to be honest though, I stared at this “untitled document” for quite some time before deciding what to write about. 

Should I share inspirational content? We’re doing that in our newsletter. Sign up here. 

Should I talk about the problem that’s inspiring us to build our platform? We’re doing that…everywhere. Hint: if you never want to fill out a form again, also sign up here

What else is inspiring me? 

Our team. Let’s talk about the team. Cheesy? Maybe. But I’ll try to provide some actionable advice as I do it.

Hiring at any stage is difficult. I’ve made great hires in my past and I’ve made really bad hires (if you want to make better hiring decisions, checkout Luma). At this stage though, hiring is critical and I hope this post might help other entrepreneurs think through their hires. 

I joked in Slack (that’s like 80% of my slack communication) that Sirius by The Alan Parson Project should play every time Eric Sendelbach joins a call. “From North Carolina…” As the kids would say, if you know you know. 

If you don’t, well, that’s how Michael Jordan was introduced for the Bulls. The GOAT. We’re so fortunate to have Eric on the team. 

I tried to convince Eric to join the team three times as Co-Founder and CTO. The third time was the charm. Eric was nervous about the Marketing Technology space but he understood the content consumer pain point so well. He hates filling out forms. Hates it. He talked to Brett about it. I think it was partially therapy. 

Every time we talked, Eric was able to break down the very technical challenge into four easy steps that I (non-technical) could understand. Since joining, Eric has taken on the challenge of building this complex platform. He’s even extended the vision for the platform and if you hate forms as much as he does, you’re going to love his work. 

My Takeaway: Finding a Co-Founder is challenging. It took us almost 6 months. Yes, it’s crucial to find someone that complements your skillset and you should be aligned on values and vision for the business. You can get that advice in a lot of places. My lesson here is that even if the vision isn’t perfectly clear (yet), find someone who sees the problem as clearly and passionately as you. Then, and only then, figure out how to solve it. 

I tried selling our beta program to Brett McGrath. Apparently, I’m a better recruiter than I am a salesperson. Although he didn’t bite on the beta program, I could tell something intrigued him about the business. We talked more and he felt the pain we wanted to solve. It was visceral. 

I knew Brett had built successful content engines previously in his professional and personal life. I thought he might be able to do the same for Fathom. He’s done that and then some. 

Since joining in January, he’s launched a podcast with 10 episodes, has written ~5304809 blog posts, shared our perspective on social, and began building a community. And he’s just getting started. 

My Takeaway: Marketing is an area where the debate is always specialist vs. generalist (If this is you, I highly encourage you to read Range by David Epstein). I think you can make either work at this stage. Most importantly, they must have a high motor. Marketing is not for the light-of-heart in the early days. With effort and enthusiasm, they’ll figure it out and close the gaps where needed. 

We wrote a check to the Indianapolis Colts Kicking the Stigma campaign for $1,000 this week. That was thanks to Alaina Thompson, our Growth Marketing Manager. During onboarding, I encouraged the team to take “big swings.” Calculated risks, if you will. Approximately 24 hours later, Alaina was presenting our first “Big Swing” to the team. 

Instead of spending all of our marketing budget the “traditional” way -- paying platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc. What if we donated money for every individual that signs up initially. So, for the past two weeks, we’ve been donating $5 for each user. 200 users later, we’re having a tangible impact in our community prior to even launching publicly. 

She even wrote a blog post unprovoked on my two favorite topics: Content Marketing and Craft Beer

My Takeaway: I asked Alaina “What will I learn from you?” during the interview process and she said how to be optimistic and find the silver linings. There are really really challenging days in this stage. Find optimists and people who will go beyond seeing the glass half full but help you fill the glass...in the business and your community.

Honestly, a lot of what our Senior Engineer, Tony Drake, does is over my head. But that’s why we’re so lucky to have him on the team. He takes the extremely technical aspects of our platform, comprehends them, and solves them. Consistently. You never have to worry. 

I didn’t interview Tony. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that? I had worked with him previously and so had Eric. I asked Eric if he’s the one we should hire -- he said yes. We sent the offer that day and never looked back. And on a team that has a bunch of marketers, Tony knows how to cut through the noise with a dry, one-line zinger. 

My Takeaway: When trusted talent is available. Don’t waste time. The only thing more precious than your cash is the time at this stage. If you’re able to find trusted talent fast -- go! 

I recently read No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. The first thing they talk about when building the Netflix culture is “Talent Density.” 

“We learned that a company with really dense talent is a company everyone wants to work for. High performers especially thrive in environments where the overall talent density is high.”

They refer to these people as stunning colleagues. It increases efficiency as there is no need to work around mediocre performers and the lowest common denominator is actually, very high. 

We’re fortunate to have a “talent dense” team. We’re small (for now) but we’re growing. If you want to join the team, we’re hiring a Sr. Product Designer. If you’re passionate about the problem we’re solving, we’d love to meet you

My Takeaway: Hire smart people and get out of the way.