At Seven Seven Six, we’re committed to innovating everything from products to processes. We share our learnings—and what we’d do differently—in the hopes of pushing tech and VC forward as industries. So, with that in mind, here’s what we’re doing with our Talent function.
To start, you may have noticed we’re calling this function Talent Outcomes. We’ve chosen the word “outcomes” to reflect the impact of our work and the accountability we’ll share in the results of these efforts. This function will sit directly next to – and work in tandem with – the Founder Outcomes Team, led by my colleague Cristina Georgoulakis. Together, these two areas of focus will ensure our portfolio companies are values and goal aligned, producing the greatest possible returns and building the future of tech.
In a traditional venture firm, the Talent team is responsible for making introductions to (or even placing candidates at) their portfolio companies. It is hyper-focused on talent attraction and helping their portfolio companies recruit. While this may feel like it solves an immediate pain point, this only represents one very small part of a founder’s real challenge. Getting them in the door is one thing. Creating an environment where they want to stay and a company they want to grow with is another.
Whether the candidate happens to work out or not—it can go either way—filling that role is just one part of cultivating talent. Issues such as building compensation strategy, a performance management program grounded in clear expectations and consistent feedback, building a diversity and inclusion roadmap to drive employee engagement, or working through organizational design and culture challenges are far more impactful in making sure an employee stays. One qualified lead for a key role, enticing as that may seem in the moment, will not enable a company to effectively recruit or retain talent into the future.
We believe that teaching our founders and their leaders how to recruit top talent is far more valuable than helping to fill a handful of open roles. Directly staffing roles for our portfolio companies can’t and won’t scale. Access to our network of over tens of thousands of people through Cerebro (our firm’s proprietary software) will. A direct introduction tool eases top of funnel candidate congestion. The depth of experience in our Talent Outcomes function will give the founders the tools and strategies they need to build a recruiting and retention strategy that scales. This combination of software, coaching, training, and closing will ensure our founders get their key roles filled quickly and effectively.
In addition to coaching and network access, we feel strongly that a company’s biggest competitive advantage is culture. Developing, retaining, and rewarding talent is all a part of our Talent Outcomes strategy and programming. We have no business (or interest) in trying to be executive recruiters to hundreds of portfolio companies. Instead, we’re placing our resources into learning, development, and software to help our founders build sustainable, scalable, and holistic people & culture practices.
The Talent Outcomes Playbook
Our founders will engage with the Talent Outcomes team in a variety of ways:
1:1 Coaching: This is for those “oh s*#!, red alert” moments where our founders need immediate support, guidance and coaching. It might not always be that urgent, but when the founder needs strategic advice from a people & culture perspective, we will be there to guide them.
1:1 Workshops: This is for when our founders need to solve a more complicated problem that will take us a lot of time, headspace, and energy. From building a competitive compensation & job architecture strategy, to revamping recruiting and interview processes, to building a diversity and inclusion roadmap, our Talent Outcomes team is equipped with the tools and experience to go deep with our founders and early teams to help solve their most pressing people & culture problems with precision.
1 to Many: To help us scale our impact, we will build and share resources and best practices to give our founders the on-demand support they need to build talent-dense teams and world class cultures. We will partner with industry experts to bring to live trainings, workshops and the like to help upskill our founders.
Technology: Everything above requires a human with EQ and lived experience. But sometimes, technology can be even more efficient and effective than humans. As we continue to build Cerebro, our firm’s internal operating system, we will develop a world class talent network that will help our founders make connections with other founders, investors, and the best talent on the market for their teams.
The reality is, we’re still a very small team and there is no way that I can do this by myself. We already have well over 50 portfolio companies, 100+ founders, and just one me. The Talent Outcomes team will need to grow as we continue to raise more capital, onboard new portfolio companies and founders, and continue to iterate on how we can scale our support with technology.
As we look into the future, the most critical need we will hire for is someone with deep Talent Acquisition experience. A leader in this space who has done the heavy lifting, helping organizations scale from 0 → 1 → many, that has built and scaled recruiting operations, and has an innate ability to coach senior leaders on how to build diverse, talent dense teams. If that sounds like you, keep your ears and eyes peeled for an open job application soon!
As we like to say here at the firm: we’re just at the starting line. I am grateful to be on this team, doing the work I know and love so very much. I can’t wait to share our progress and learnings with you all as we continue to build this function!
An experiment in recruiting a team that knows a thing or two about recruiting
Original art by Guss Navarro
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: people and culture are at the heart of everything we do here at Seven Seven Six. From our founders and their teams, our investors and the communities they support, to this first generation of firm employees, nothing is more important than the humans dedicated to making change in this world.
Closing our second core fund in late 2021 enabled us to bring our vision for the 776 Talent Outcomes team into reality. While it’s still in early days, we’re excited to share more about what this budding team has been working on, takeaways from our recruiting experiment this last spring, and what’s on deck.
What is Talent Outcomes?
The Talent Outcomes team is a critical function that supports our portfolio companies with human resources, talent acquisition, DEIB efforts, and culture development strategy.
We track every single incoming ask from our founders through our operating software Cerebro. What’s at the top of that list? You’ve guessed it: People & Culture requests. Through this data, we quickly understood it was imperative we establish a team to help founders build thriving, sustainable, and inclusive organizations. And it’s through our decades of experience as operators that we know we can do this work more effectively and efficiently than anyone else.
We’re committed to pushing our industry forward, and how we think about Talent in Venture is no exception. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for more on our perspective soon.
Recruiting for the Talent Outcomes Team
Back in April, we decided to run a recruiting experiment. We were inspired by questions we’d heard several times from our early-stage founders seeking help with their talent needs:
How do I recruit for a role when I’m open to the level or years of experience a candidate may have?
What if I want to hire a few people for a newly formed team? It’s basically the same job description, right?
I found more than one candidate that I love during the interview process and I think they’d work well together. Can I hire more than one person?
Being curious ourselves as to how startup hiring may play out in this new work era, we decided to try something different: instead of posting individual job requisitions for each potential role on the Talent Outcomes team, we decided to post a general application. Because this was a new function at the firm with many configuration possibilities, we chose to cast the widest possible net. We were curious what would happen when we intentionally broke our best practice.
That said, there were core pillars we wanted to maintain as a part of our recruiting process:
Open. Publicly posting job requisitions in VC is still incredibly rare. Because we believe that the best way to maximize returns is to have a diverse team with a wide variety of perspectives and experiences, we continue to host open applications for every role.
Inclusive. We’ve been building high-performing, diverse teams for well over a decade. When it comes to inclusion, we know that language and clarity of the role matter. With every job posting to date, we clearly state what the role is and what the role is not. In this wide-net approach, we adjusted to reflect what the function is and is not. As always, we encouraged interested candidates to apply, even if they felt they didn’t meet all the requirements.
Useful. Striving for the win-win-win scenario, we craft every job application with care. We want applicants to learn something about themselves and find clarity in their own journeys through our process. Every task or question needed to serve as an opening for personal growth. Anything we ask of an applicant is meant to be something they could use as an exercise in self-reflection or in building their personal brand.
Cloaked. We developed a process during our Operator-in-Residence application evaluation that helped us to view candidates’ initial responses without their name, title, or pedigree associated. Just the raw responses to the open-ended prompts in the application. We very genuinely don’t care about resumes, where people went to school (or even if they did), or who they know. We wanted to maintain this practice in this application process, as well.
So, we posted the role with open minds, hoping to gain new insights. We received over 250 applications and began our assessment process. As with all things we try here at Seven Seven Six, we are choosing to share those learnings here, in hopes that you all can find some sort of value in your own work.
We must admit, shifting our recruiting approach provided more challenges and learnings than we had expected.
Where we could have done better:
Having so many different types of applicants with a wide range of levels and areas of expertise made it incredibly difficult for us to prioritize and evaluate what we were actually hiring for. The hope was that reading through a variety of applications would provide clarity on what we were looking for in this early team development. The reality is that it offered more confusion, demonstrating the obvious need for individual job postings that clearly articulate the role, approximate level, specific skill sets needed, and – yes – compensation.
We overestimated the time savings we thought we’d earn back by having one application for multiple roles. We took much longer than we had planned to evaluate the applications, turn around feedback, and invite candidates to interview with the team. The result is that it took us double the time and we only hired one person, creating the need to go back to the market and start a new process from scratch to grow the team further.
We still need to work on broadening our amplification channels for posting jobs. When it came down to our top applicant pool, we discovered that many candidates were within our first degree networks. Speaking personally, this particular job posting was certain to host many familiar faces; People & Culture is my strongest community. As the hiring manager, I was genuinely surprised to see the names of the finalists once they were revealed. The list included former managers, mentors, friends, coaches, former colleagues – heck, even my aunt made the first round cut, unbeknownst to me. I was torn when I saw these results: happy to have so many talented people in my life that wanted to work at our firm, but also frustrated that we didn’t reach more people. There must be more than a handful of HR professionals I don’t know (yet)!
What we committed to:
We also want to call out the things that were really, really hard but worth the effort. We were challenged at times and debated wavering. We’re glad we didn’t.
We rejected referrals. We continue to simply offer our careers website to apply and leave it at that.
We didn’t second-guess our process. This was an experimental job posting and application process. Much as we may have wanted to shift course midway through, it was important to understand all of the learnings on the backend so that we could ultimately better support our founders.
For all of our failures and learnings in this process, we’re very proud of our results.
We maintained our early—and now best!—practices. By keeping open applications, writing inclusive and clear job descriptions, seeking to provide utility in each process, and hiding personal identifiers in the initial evaluation, we were reminded of why challenging status quo hiring practices is something we love. We continue to find joy in getting to know our candidates in this way and are rapidly growing our networks of incredible, capable humans. These commitments take time and energy, investments we’ll continue to make.
We decided to start with a leader. After much hemming and hawing, we finally made the realization that we needed a true industry leader with deep People & Culture expertise to help us build the roadmap for this team. Building the team haphazardly without a vision wouldn’t set anyone up for success. Once we made this distinction, we reread all of the applications and were able to quickly pull out the candidates that we wanted to learn more about.
Meet Our New Talent Outcomes Leader
With all of that, we’re excited to share that we have found someone phenomenal to lead this team. Our new Talent Outcomes Partner is Chris Vanzetta. Chris has built an incredible career leading HR & Talent teams for over a decade at companies like Target and Reddit. He knows firsthand the challenges of building young organizations from inception through hyper-growth.
We cannot wait for you all to meet him, hear more about his vision for Talent Outcomes at Seven Seven Six, and learn how he plans on growing this team in the future!
Every founder’s journey is as unique and complex as the founders themselves. While needs vary, one thing is consistent: the blood, sweat, and tears are willingly shed (typically alone and behind closed doors) at the chance to achieve their desired outcome.
As global funding jumps 111% YOY, competition amongst investors has intensified, giving founders more options and leverage. As a result, founders are looking for more from their investors – not just a check. As they should.
As a firm made up of founders and operators, Seven Seven Six welcomes this shift and believes it can’t come fast enough for (all) founders.
Many founders liken choosing an investor to getting married – it’s that meaningful of a connection. But few think about how the qualities of healthy marriages also apply.
Healthy marriages are built on mutual respect, trust, equality, honesty, compromise, clear communication, support, and those extra little things that keep the relationship growing.
At Seven Seven Six we take our role in these two-way relationships seriously. That is why our first internal function at the firm is something that is a bit new for the ecosystem: Founder Outcomes.
We deliberately put our founders and their desired outcomes front and center and design accordingly. It is vital that founders feel celebrated and supported. The ongoing success of Seven Seven Six starts and stops with our founders.
Our 3 guiding principles:
1️⃣ We are designing for our founders’ holistic experience, not ours
2️⃣ A founder’s journey is not linear, and we’re here for all of it
3️⃣ Founders need great outcomes, not great intentions
The 3 key focus areas for outcomes:
What are we building?
Merging my past life as an operator and present life as an investor, I’ve taken a human-centric design approach to architecting our new Founder Outcomes function.
Listening, observing, accompanying, and co-creating. It’s my privilege to make sure our founders feel seen and heard as we build alongside them.
📦 What we have shipped so far.
Our 1st Founder Voice:
A report comprised of qualitative and quantitative feedback from +70% of our portfolio founders, focusing on their experiences and expectations from our partnership.
Founder Outcomes Journey:
A v1 journey built to meet our founders where they are and with what they need to be successful as whole humans.
Informed by the five functional and emotional “Jobs to be Done,” shared and developed with our founders.
The top request from our founders to get the whole 7️⃣7️⃣6️⃣ squad together to deep-dive on strategic and tactical topics.
This is a safe place to practice, learn, and grow the skill of presenting to – and leveraging input from – a Board on a quarterly basis.
As with any great system design, it will perpetually be a work-in-progress. We plan to test, launch, and iterate on all of our initiatives. Our work is never done, and we are always at the starting line.
We made a conscious decision to build a team with Community and Experience Design at its core, knowing how critical it is to make this investment early. With this focus, the Founder Outcomes team can operate both at scale and intimately with our founder community, setting each and every one of them up for long-term success in a way that’s unique to them – not designed at a high-level for people like them.
As a former founder, operator, and now investor, I bring all three lenses to the table to craft this function a bit differently.
My operational background is in building and operationalizing customer-centric teams in hyper-growth SaaS startups, with a strong focus on retaining and growing customers and teammates through value-driven initiatives.
But, more importantly…
Facilitating growth in people and organizations is myIkigai – reason for being.
My north star is keeping the triple bottom line in balance: a company’s mission, people, and business outcomes. I do that with a whole lot of empathy, some tough love, and an extra helping of humble pie from my own lived experiences.
Founders, I look forward to building alongside you! And that starts with hearing from more of you, so please do get in touch with ideas, thoughts, and feedback. We are just at the starting line.
Why caring for our founders makes good business sense
Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of providing counsel to business leaders on all varieties of plans and decisions. Each relationship was unique and spanned a different period in a company’s lifecycle, covering both times of exciting potential and intensifying challenge. With a background in People & Culture, I gave advice to leaders that was different from what they were used to hearing in times of uncertainty: “This is hard, and you can do this—but you aren’t much help if you have nothing left to give.”
Founders often adopt the “leaders eat last” mentality, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that resilience and a forward-thinking mindset can beat incredible odds.
No matter what the challenge is, leaders are better equipped to handle it if they invest in personal care and growth. Still, we all too often see founders prioritize their venture dollars to maximize business results. Rarely do we see founders directing dollars to their own wellbeing. Oftentimes, they’re neglecting themselves and their family needs in service of the business. And the way we see it, that mentality puts founders at risk of experiencing a host of issues: burning out, having marital issues, experiencing loneliness, feeling disconnected from friends and loved ones, not processing grief, deprioritizing physical health, and more—all of which present real risks to a company’s success. In short, you can’t make a company thrive if you are barely keeping it together yourself.
We believe in investing in leaders who put their people first, and this needs to start from the founders themselves. It is our responsibility to cultivate that mindset. The Seven Seven Six Growth & Caregiving Program will therefore commit 1% on top of every check the firm writes* to non-dilutive capital earmarked for “founder personal growth” and an additional 1% to “caregiving.” These dollars will sit in a separate pool of funds for exclusive use by our founders for several years after the initial investment.
Since every founder is unique, we have loose guidelines for how this money can be spent. For example, the personal growth funds can be applied toward anything from enrolling in therapy or coaching sessions, buying a new surfboard, or out-of-pocket medical costs. Flexibility and inclusion are at the heart of the program, and we encourage our leaders to make the call on where these resources can have the greatest value.
We’re operating under the assumption that our founders are high-integrity adults who know what they need to grow and develop, both personally and professionally, to achieve maximum mental and physical health. Plus, in our view, people who are lifelong learners and devoted to achieving balance and integration in their lives tend to be more agile, allowing them to adjust quickly to changing environments. These characteristics in a leader can translate into life or death for the business.
Likewise, the caregiving fund can be applied toward anything that allows our founders to best support the people they love, through both the abundance and devastations of life. Most existing policies and programs are limited in their support of only two major life events—the birth of a child and the death of a loved one. Taking it further, founders rarely apply company handbook policies to their own lives, fearing the business will derail without their watchful eye and constant participation.
We believe that there is far more complexity to the human experience and, yes, that includes for founders. Accordingly, this part of the program was created with the intent to support leaders throughout the course of the beautiful and heartbreaking moments they may encounter on their journeys, from childcare to plane tickets, to visiting an ill loved one. Whatever the case, these dollars will go toward supporting founders as they seek to find balance and presence in wherever they are most needed.
Drawing on our own lived experiences through bringing children into the world, losing people we love, and supporting our communities through dynamic personal challenges, we know how compelling a program like this will be.
We believe that it’s our founders’ job to care for their employees and our job to care for our founders.
Seven Seven Six’s founding team members have worked together closely for the past six years, never straying from our commitment to supporting employees, founders, and our communities with flexible benefits and policy changes. We’ve fought for paid family leave, charted new territory with policies like miscarriage leave and support, and simply done the right thing when we’re sitting across from someone sharing hard news. Now, it only makes sense that we’re the team prioritizing this in our firm from the onset of the very first fund.
We also believe in open-sourcing goodness. We’ll track, measure, and share the program data to help maximize our impact and encourage others to join in the development. We drew inspiration from the Felicis 1% program and are hopeful more venture capital firms will make similar commitments following our example.
We view this as the first of many opportunities to evolve our industry and build a more compassionate future—one that embraces the human experience to achieve great success.
*based on first check at pre-seed and seed stage investments