- Hiring the best talent has taken on a new complexion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- VC fund Northzone, an investor in Hopin and Spotify, wants startups to be more flexible when hiring.
- Elena Pantazi, newly made partner, says a chief of staff role is now more important than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put additional strain on tech startups and the venture capital firms that back them.
From the challenges of remote or hybrid working, retaining and building culture, and helping with hires, VC funds are increasingly expected to provide a host of additional services to their portfolio companies beyond just stumping up cash.
For most venture capital firms, these value-add services can be a point of marketing differentiation from competing funds.
Northzone, a European VC fund with offices in Stockholm and London, has just promoted its head of talent and portfolio development to partner to better help startups with hiring and culture.
Elena Pantazi, formerly head of operations at Bain Capital, is the fund’s latest non-investment partner and has worked with Northzone’s portfolio since she joined in 2019.
We spoke to Pantazi about the advice she gives to startups on hiring during COVID-19:
1. Be more flexible about where and who you hire
On-and-off lockdowns mean Europe’s white-collar workers have spent at least some time working remotely. The jury is still out on whether this will stick, but for Pantazi it’s an opportunity to think about hiring beyond traditional tech hubs like London, Stockholm, Paris, or Berlin.
“It’s important to think beyond these hubs because there is often so much more diverse thinking outside of a normal hiring radius,” she said. “Working mums, those with disabilities or other underrepresented groups who may not be able to make it to office, for example, are available options in a remote setting.”
A constant grumble in the European tech ecosystem is limited access to experienced operators — people who have experience growing and building startups.
Pantazi believes the shift to new ways of working may alleviate this.
“We’ve been able to get access to amazing operators because geography doesn’t matter,” she said.
2. Outsiders should take time to understand the company
“You can’t replace recruiters,” Pantazi said, adding that outsiders can have the space to properly understand a company. “Recruiters in tech have time pressures to hire very quickly, but when you operate within a VC fund you can take time to get to know talent over the longer term which helps with more diverse hiring and a better matching of talent with portfolio companies.”
3. Hire a top chief of staff
Startups need to seriously consider bringing in executives to manage remote employees. One role Pantazi is seeing increasingly is that of chief of staff.
“Chiefs of staff is a growing role in our portfolio companies because they can be allies too,” she said. “You need someone who is a fantastic generalist, someone who is agile and can work on both operational and admin tasks but also on longer term planning.”
4. Invest in talent acquisition teams
Hybrid and remote work has widened the supply of available talent for startups, but it’s essential to have a good team of people to attract and onboard new employees.
“The supply is definitely there with a lot of great people but there are some challenges getting them through the funnel,” she said. “You have to be mindful of the employee experience and this is something we get founders to think about.
Companies with well thought-out processes and a strong hiring team make it “less transactional” for new talent when they join.
5. Be specific about the role
Finally, Pantazi said that founders should avoid informal 30-minute coffees with candidates. Companies should write a specific brief for the role in question and ensure that candidates fit the bill and culture rather than allowing for potential selection bias.
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