Building teams

Culture and hiring are everyone’s business: Octopus Ventures’ new Talent Manager tells her story

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Earlier this year I joined the Octopus Ventures team as the portfolio talent manager. In short, I’m here to help our portfolio companies scale their teams to build successful businesses. I love early stage startups and believe that people are their most important component. My journey to Octopus Ventures has shaped the way I think about the role people play in growing companies today.

It started in Scotland

At University I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. To cut a long story short, I ended up at an unusual internship with a startup brewery based in northern Scotland: Brewdog. The company was around six people then and the punk outlier spirit was already in full force. It was a small team with a big mission to build a brand that was “for the people”. Despite their phenomenal growth, their values remain the same today. They’ve recently closed their X Equity for Punks round — a crowdfunding scheme in which their employees and customers (“the people”) can invest in, and build, the company that makes the product that they love. Here’s proof that being authentic to your values builds trust and loyalty not only within the company but amongst consumers too. 

Back to Ann Arbor

One of my first jobs was as a High-Tech Anthropologist® at Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company designed and develops software, and operates in a state of constant experimentation. When I was there all our work was done in pairs, with developers sharing a keyboard and a monitor. Juniors and seniors worked together so closely that the tower of knowledge stayed completely diffuse and grounded. We called ourselves High-Tech Anthropologists® (yes, they trademarked the term) and it worked. There was nobody solely responsible for people or culture or hr, as it was a part of everybody’s job to contribute to recruitment. What resulted was a universal high level of ownership for the company’s culture.

“The fact of the matter is, recruiting is the most important thing you can do as a scaling business.”

Harry’s

When I moved to NYC I was lucky enough to be introduced to the team at Harry’s, and even luckier that they hired me. When I joined we were 15 people and I was tasked with building out our recruiting function. By the end of that year we had grown to a team of around 40 and over the following four and a half years we grew to a team of hundreds across New York, London, Germany, and China. Early on we established a culture where everyone was involved in recruiting – it was a top priority in business activities and everybody responded accordingly. Eventually I concluded: recruiting is the most important thing you can do as a scaling business.  As any entrepreneur knows, it’s all about getting the right people around you in the right place, doing the right things. In addition, good people hire good people. (And not so good people hire not so good people). So get it right from the beginning and it’s a virtuous circle.

And into VC…

With Harry’s growing into a substantial company, I was lucky enough to discover the opportunity to work, through VC, with a broad range of early stage companies. Hiring strategy was developing into a sophisticated function in the US, so it was front of mind for most portfolio companies. Transitioning from single startup to broad portfolio assistance put me at the cutting edge of the hiring strategy revolution. CEOs were really understanding that people are the most important component of their business, so it was an exciting time for hiring in the startup sphere. Now bringing these learnings to London continues that journey whilst keeping me connected to my entrepreneurial roots.

My learnings summarized:

  • Culture is everyone’s job
  • Recruiting is the most important thing you can do
  • Live your values, your brand and your culture

The view from Octopus Ventures

Helping companies with talent is one of the most impactful ways to support their growth. I will be focusing on scaling our ability to do this effectively over the next year at Octopus. We are also thinking about wellness in the startup/scaleup sector. The role Octopus as a VC can play in improving the quality of working in high growth companies is something we are looking at in-depth.

Our portfolio company jobs board is now live and we’d also love to hear any comments and thoughts on talent, culture and values. You can reach me at lauraw@octopusventures.com.

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