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Ep 394: Lessons From Startups

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Although I’ve tended to work with very large enterprise businesses as a consultant, I’ve always been fascinated by startups and the lessons larger, more established companies can learn from them. Although the actual execution will always be different, I think there are some real insights around how smaller, more agile companies think about talent, candidate experience, and recruiting technology.

My guest this week is is Ben Butler, Head of People at Dublin based tech startup Evervault. Ben has worked for startup and scale-up companies on both sides of the Atlantic. He has a really fresh approach to talent and some great insights to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges in technology

• The power of a strong value proposition

• Cutting through the noise

• Building effective outreach and automating follow up

• How do you keep great people?

• Building culture while scaling

• Democratising information

• Build speed into a tech stack for competitive advantage

• The future of recruiting

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript

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Matt Alder (1m 43s):
Hi, there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 394 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Although I’ve tended to work with very large enterprise businesses as a consultant, I’ve always been fascinated by startups and the lessons larger, more established companies can learn from them. Although the actual execution will always be different, I think there are some real insights around the way that smaller, more agile companies think about talent, candidate experience, and recruiting technology. My guest this week is Ben Butler, Head of People at Dublin-based tech startup, Evervault. Ben has worked for start-up and scale-up companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Matt Alder (2m 27s):
He has a really fresh approach to talent and some great insights to share. Hi, Ben, and welcome to the podcast.

Ben Butler (2m 35s):
Hey, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (2m 36s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Ben Butler (2m 42s):
Yes. I’m Ben Butler. I’m the head of people and talent at Evervault. I guess I do both of those things. I help people get in the door and then help support them having a good time once they’re in there.

Matt Alder (2m 52s):
Fantastic stuff. Now, I want to dig in a little bit more into your backstory in a second, but before we do, tell us a little bit about Evervault.

Ben Butler (3m 0s):
I guess the easiest way to sum up Evervault is encryption as a service. We’re basically building a company that will go into the developers’ stack. For people building new companies or existing companies, you’ll use something like Stripe for payments, maybe Twilio to send text messages to your customers. We think using Evervault does encryption is the no-brainer act that we’re building there. Our theory on the whole space is that cyber attacks are increasing and that’s one side. The other side is the folk’s awareness of data privacy and the desire for data privacy is increasing as well.

Ben Butler (3m 35s):
There’s a bunch of tailwinds in this space. For us, encryption is the number one security tool because even if you do have a data breach by using something like Evervault, your data will be encrypted so the days of having to check haventbeenpawned.com or have Facebook have all my details been lost again will be over. With Evervault, the idea is you would integrate us and never have a data breach again.

Matt Alder (4m 6s):
Interesting stuff. I can see that there’s a huge demand for that approach, definitely. Tell us a little bit more about your backstory. How did you get to do what you do now?

Ben Butler (4m 17s):
I think it’s a trope that I think people tend to fall into recruitment and mine is like that as well. I was at Stripe before Evervault. I was there for about five and a half years. When I joined Stripe, it was a lot smaller than it was today. I helped build out the Dublin office. Stripe was globally about 200 people and three or four in Dublin when I started. I joined in an operations role, but my role felt more like building a little startup. Obviously, Stripe had been already successful, but for about eight hours a day in Dublin time, it felt like it was just us. Building out an office from scratch, interviewing people, trying to build the brand, and getting people to join. I felt that as the organization grew, I gravitated more and more towards helping build offices like physically building them in some cases with like Ikea desks and things.

Ben Butler (5m 6s):
Building the teams, the culture, how does an organization operate at certain stages? After a couple of years in Dublin, I got asked to move to Seattle to do the same thing there. While I always had an operations role, my unofficial job was always building companies and adding people to them. I was that Stripe for about five to five and a half years. Then through a combination of COVID, the world collapsing generally, I think just five and a half years at a pretty high growth-based company, I decided I wanted to take a break so I moved home.

Ben Butler (5m 57s):
I had a few months off, which I would highly recommend. I remember reading an article back in college about the idea of many retirements of taking, if you can, six to 12 months off every five to seven years. I ended up in that. Shane, the founder of Evervault, reached out one day over Twitter. I’ve been just doing crosswords and living by retirement, dream thing, a little bit of consulting, thinking about what I wanted to do next. Shane reached out and Evervault at the time, there were five people.

Ben Butler (6m 37s):
We had a chat and I realized what I wanted to do was do it all again. I enjoy the beautiful mess that is as smaller companies. I realized the constellation of things that I enjoy doing were very much in the people’s space so coming in to initially build out a recruitment arm, but then my natural tendency is to get involved in a bunch of other things so building the people operations of the company now.

Matt Alder (7m 8s):
Tell us a little bit more about the recruiting challenges that you have at Evervault at the moment. What’s the situation like? What are you up against?

Ben Butler (7m 19s):
There are the macro trends that I know you and your former guests have been speaking about in terms of the state of the recruitment market now. We’re feeling that as well. I think we’re in an interesting position where our value proposition is pretty unique for being based in Dublin. We’re a series A funded startup with American levels of funding, which is pretty new for Arland to know. A lot of the Irish tech success stories, Stripe and Intercom, have come from Irish founders, but I’ve seen a lot of their success in the US and then eventually come back to Dublin. We’ve been inverting that model a little bit in terms of building from here.

Ben Butler (8m 2s):
There’s us and two other companies that come to mind immediately, Inscribe and Times, but in a set of three, it’s a pretty unique value proposition because the tech ecosystem and art previously has worked for a large tech company like Google or work for a smaller startup that wouldn’t necessarily have the same funded trajectory that we do. Yes, it’s actually quite a good value proposition, I think, but the issue is we’re dealing in a market where it is new. Even things like what is a series A or the backing of the VCs that we have, that in a different market like San Francisco would be very appealing, but here it’s a bit more about the education of what that actually means.

Ben Butler (8m 50s):
The idea that there is this Goldilocks opportunity between a small startup, it’s a big risk. They won’t get paged and stuff. We can give people competitive salaries, nice benefits, and getting a sense of the big company perks but having the ownership over what you’re doing and building a company from the ground up is really exciting. The recruiting challenges are the same that everyone’s facing. We’re competing against brand name companies, but I think the depth of things that we’re working on, the scope of the problems, particularly for engineers, we’re building things that people can’t really Google the answers to.

Ben Butler (9m 33s):
We’re figuring out things from scratch so that’s really exciting when you find the right people, but there’s a lot of, I guess, education and handholding through what can be a scary thing to jump from a big company.

Matt Alder (9m 45s):
Absolutely. I suppose that was my next question really. You’ve always got a very strong value proposition in lots of different ways that are going to be attractive even in a really competitive market. On a practical level, how do you get that across? How do you cut through the noise and let people know that you’re there and give them that great experience to bring them into your business?

Ben Butler (10m 8s):
Yes, I think there are two approaches to it. One is we do general PR communication stuff that has both a hiring and sales focus to it. That’s just a general market awareness that Shane Kerr, our founder, has a great story behind him, particularly in art and to the local boy done good narrative that a lot of people would know him from the past few years. That’s part of it. I think that we’ll get to the people we want to hire, but then also, the people that they will talk to when they decide to make that decision, we found that over the past few months as we’ve been listed in more of this wired article about like top European startups or a Forbes article about future unicorns and things, having this collateral, I think, is helpful for candidates in making the decision and speaking to partners, family members, friends.

Ben Butler (10m 55s):
It was validating externally that, “Hey, this is a real company and not just a couple of students in a dorm room somewhere.” That’s part of it. Then second and the more very practical sense, building outreach campaigns that will stand out. Part of that is the channel so we’re seeing a lot more success with email outreach or at LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn for engineers is super-saturated so we’re trying to go around that a little bit. Structuring automatic follow-ups and all these things so we use two tools here.

Ben Butler (11m 36s):
One is called Jam.com and the other is Lever. Using them in combination to build these smart, personalized yet automated campaigns that we’re seeing super high open rates, stuff like 90-92%, which for engineering cold emails is pretty high and seeing good success there. Part of it is the work that we’re doing, communicating that through, and then part of it is the more granular like making sure we’re reaching out to people in a way, following up with them, and getting them enticed. Thankfully, what we’re reselling seems to be working because we’re getting some good attention, which is nice.

Matt Alder (12m 15s):
You obviously mentioned that you’ve got a broader responsibility for people operations. Once you’re getting people into the business, how are you making them stay? We’ve all seen so much about the amount of turnover that companies are having at the moment. How’d you keep the great people that you’re greeting?

Ben Butler (12m 32s):
Yes. I think part of it is when someone is joining at this point, they’re joining for a certain role but the people that we want to attract and people that are joining are people who want to go beyond the confidence of their realm. There was somebody that excited me into winning and that there’s an area of things I’m responsible for, but I’m responsible for the growth of the business as well. Everyone who joins gets equity in the company and is treated as an owner and acts that way. I think that’s partly it in terms of having real ownership. The narrative I hear a lot from candidates coming from bigger companies is feeling like a small cog in a big wheel or amongst multiple wheels.

Ben Butler (13m 16s):
Here, we’re helping build the wheel in continuing that cogwheel analogy. That’s part of it, I think, ownership at the big level. Secondly is paying salaries. Everyone has a personal burn rate and stuff. Joining a startup can seem risky so I think by offering competitive salaries, we help, I think, alleviate that risk as well. I have seen Stripe grow in many multiples over the years and continue that to be the case. While each company is idiosyncratic and different, there are still commonalities that pervade through them.

Ben Butler (13m 59s):
Some elements of this Cassandra-esque ability to see around the corners as to what’s coming next. For example in our office currently, everyone can sit together when they’re in a and not working from home. They will sit in break and people will be across a different floor and these kinds of things as well. Some element of seeing around it and building proactively, it can help with that. Then there’s just another element of, I think, buy-in, clarity, and openness about what we’re doing as well. We operate in slack. People can see most masters of what’s going on. Everyone’s calendar is public. You can just ask.

Ben Butler (14m 42s):
I think there’s a mix of transparency ownership at the higher level and then just making sure that people’s needs are met, whether that’s salaries, other benefits that we offer as well. I want us to be the best in class even though we’re a small startup. We offer unlimited leave, which has its own concerns, but we’ve built-in unlimited leave with a set minimum, as well as things like maternity leave, paternity leave, thinking about how we can support parents better, offering flexibility there as well. I think it’s all the things that people expect of a larger company, it can be done, I think, at a smaller level.

Ben Butler (15m 25s):
As you say, in a market where talent is a limited resource, that people are fighting over, it’s a strategic and competitive advantage for us to invest in our employees in the hope that they stay.

Matt Alder (15m 43s):
You’ve worked for different types of technology companies. Obviously, you were building out a Dublin office but you’ve worked for, effectively, what’s a very large tech company. You’re now working for one that scaling up. What lessons have you learned from your current experience that you think might be relevant to people who might be listening for much bigger organizations?

Ben Butler (16m 5s):
Look, I definitely don’t know everything but I think from what I’ve seen, the more you can do to reduce or democratize information silos, the better. Stripe did a great thing where they had essentially internal email transparency. You could always send private emails to people like your manager and things, but you were encouraged to CC mailing lists that anyone could subscribe to. Most documents, unless they were sensitive or open, it could be found as well. I think having transparency and, even though it can become a bit of a firehose of information, giving people access to information, I think, makes people feel empowered is reduces some of the power dynamics that are built around information pyramids.

Ben Butler (16m 60s):
That’s something I’ve been trying to integrate more into Evervault and not the size we’re up. Everyone’s involved in this when people have preference directives. Now, there’s negative stuff in terms put a darkness-like tunnel and suddenly 10 eyes around it and that can feel a bit weird, but I’d redirect my thought. It was super empowering at Stripe and something I’m continuing as well. Just trusting people in a similar sense, but at Stripe, at all-hands meetings. Again, it’s a practice I’ve taken to Evervault. It’s super transparent about the financials of the company, where things are going, and treating people business owners, I think, is really helpful there. In terms of hiring and hiring specific things, there are a bunch of software, SaaS companies that make my job a lot easier.

Ben Butler (17m 55s):
I’m a one-person recruiting team that’s spread throughout our engineers and hiring managers. We have an external agency we’re working with now but I’ve been able to build and hire a team with a lot less overhead than we would otherwise. It’s a mix of higher-level things, which I think are largely around how can you be transparent and trust your employees. Secondly, there are a bunch of practical things, which I can go into if that’s interesting, but I think it’s getting the higher-level things rise. It’s aside, but I think when you’re thinking about culture and that thing, I think companies tend to focus on the physical manifestations of culture and do this thing where they’ll try and mimic larger companies.

Ben Butler (18m 44s):
I see this a lot in traditional banks and financial institutions like that in Ardennes where they’re like, “We’ll put in some bean bags or some coloured chairs and then will solve everything or give us this startup culture,” but unless you’re really investing at the higher layers in terms of the principles and practices, putting in a few bean bags, I don’t think, is gonna change anything. That makes some super big things, but also startups are one paradigm where they are very good for some things and not good for others so I would be reluctant to oversubscribe people to that, but they are good at some things.

Matt Alder (19m 21s):
You mentioned a couple of times the practical software automation that you’re using in your hiring. Give us a little bit more detail on that because I think people will be really interested in terms of how that’s working for you and how you put it together.

Ben Butler (19m 38s):
Sure, yes. I can run you through maybe our candidate flow and how that work from them. Initial outreach is usually sent by me or someone on the team through Jam. That’s a great product for sourcing. It’s a Chrome extension plugin that works with LinkedIn and a bunch of other things. We’ll do things through that. Within Jam, I’ve built out email campaigns. They’re a bunch of white papers that I read to giving suggestions on timing, a number of follow-ups, those sorts of things as well. We’ll send all those emails through Jam. Within those emails, there’s a link to someone’s Calendly, which is a calendar scheduling tool.

Ben Butler (20m 19s):
We basically just remove all the back and forth of, “Hey, does Tuesday at 2:00 PM works?” “No, that doesn’t work for me.” That thing as well. Throughout the process, people can just schedule their next interviews through that as well. For our applicant tracking system, we use a Lever, depending on your pronunciation. That’s essentially equivalent to Greenhouse if people are familiar with that. That’s the home for candidates as they move through the process where people can put in feedback, ratings, that sort of thing as well. Lever also has automated emails that I can send through to keep people moving through the process.

Ben Butler (21m 2s):
Then we integrate with DocuSign for offers as well. Our goal when we get someone on an initial call is we have them through our five interview stages and an offer back to them within two weeks. Particularly these days, that speed is a competitive advantage for us in hiring. We’ve had people join for party because they’re, they’re sold on the company, but smaller reasons have been, “You just move so much quicker than a large company X,” or “I was waiting for ages for a large company Y. I got frustrated so I was looking elsewhere.” I think our software stack plus the buy-in from the hiring team means we can move fast and efficiently. I know I have some friends who were recruiting coordinators and I think that’s a great foothold to get into recruiting it in one sense, but I almost think that if companies were to focus less on recruiting coordination and focus more on sourcing, that to me is a better ride into recruiting because that’s the core part of all recruiting.

Ben Butler (22m 5s):
It is finding people, I think scheduling people, that is maybe not as transferable the scale as I think we’ve seen it traditionally and it can be better solved, I think, with software and having those people focus on spending more time on candidates and sourcing them as well. Definitely, a heartache from some kid has been recruiting for officially a year or so take that with a grain of salt but I do think that the software we’re using helps a lot.

Matt Alder (22m 29s):
I think that’s really interesting. You do actually encapsulate a lot of what’s going on in the evolution of recruiting at the moment in terms of the role that automation and technologies are playing, and also how that’s gonna play out in the future and become even more central to what we do. I suppose that leads nicely to my final question, which is, what do you think the future of recruiting is going to look like? You’re already embracing a lot of the tools and the tech that’s out there, but by necessity, what would you think recruiting might look like in two or three years time?

Ben Butler (23m 1s):
Yes, it’s a good question. I think you’ll see a couple of things. One is you’ll see blow-ins like me coming in. I think the crunch we’re seeing in recruiting and technical recruiting in particular, I think, will necessitate folks from other disciplines coming in. I did think recruiting and people focus things have been overlooked somewhat, I think, in terms of the strategic importance that they have for a company. I think startups hiring, they usually hire people person too late. I’m happy that we haven’t done that.

Ben Butler (23m 43s):
I think you’ll see two things within that. One is startups focusing on hiring people earlier. Maybe not quite to the extent of having hiring focused co-founder, but within the first five to 10 employees, having someone in. I think two is you’ll see more peripheral business operators moving into the recruiting space. That’s anyone from business operations to sales. I think particularly as a startup or a non-brand name recruiting space, it’s way more of a head of sales gig to convince people to join necessary than traditional recruiting. Three, increasing automation technology and tools there.

Ben Butler (24m 26s):
Four, I’d to see more of, not democratization of recruiting, but I think LinkedIn will break. All of my engineering friends just have hundreds of unread messages and I think that strategy will break eventually. I don’t know what will replace it but I think perhaps there will be something where there’s a greater equilibrium of a constellation of Glassdoor, LinkedIn, that sort of thing as well. There’s a woman called Jennifer Kim, who I follow, who is sharing a lot more about the human side of recruiting and the realities. I think the future of recruiting is a combination of, by the current squeeze on recruiters, you’ll have people from other disciplines coming in.

Ben Butler (25m 18s):
I think you’ll see people operators become a more central in an earlier part of company formation. Yes, I think as you said, the increase in tools and motivation will free off people to not necessarily have to serve their time as recruiting coordinators in the traditional path but be able to go straight into recruiting. I think it is also this big secret of this is the most fun I’ve ever had at work. There’s nothing nicer than finding someone on Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever it is, or in real life, whenever that can happen again, and finding a fit for them at your company, seeing them grow and succeed more than you ever thought.

Ben Butler (26m 1s):
There’s nothing, I think, more fulfilling than that. I hope more of my friends who aren’t in recruiting will join in the future but I don’t know. I think the future is bright for recruitment. There might be a few more tools and software to help but I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about. I think it’s a value add for the great people that will continue to work in the space.

Matt Alder (26m 18s):
Ben, thank you very much for talking to me.

Ben Butler (26m 21s):
Thanks a lot, Matt.

Matt Alder (26m 22s):
My thanks to Ben Butler. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening.

Matt Alder (26m 50s):
I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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