Five Hiring Lessons from Flipboard CTO Eric Feng

May 20, 2014 at 6:00 AM by Kathleen de Lara

Behind Hulu and Flipboard is a CTO who knew exactly how to merge all the fun things in life under a single, convenient viewing platform. And not without the help of a team of well-curated talent.

The secret’s in doing what you’re not told to do, and despite Eric Feng’s former status as a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins, his advice? Forget the investors, and do what you know is best for your business.

The Flipboard CTO and former Hulu CTO recently spoke at Beijing’s Startup Grind event and shared his insights on what it takes to create a product people love. Here are the main takeaways from his talk.

Make recruiting your #1 priority.

Founders and CEOs must make it their prime concern to build out its foundation. Recruiting is hard work. It’s not something that comes naturally, nor is it something that people stumble upon, Feng said.

Recruiters often make the mistake of thinking there’s a quick fix to find talent, like changing up the location of their candidate searches or concentrating on finding individuals with the ideal skillset. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. “There’s no shortcut to it anywhere. There is no mysterious land of untapped engineering talent. It doesn’t exist, so all of you, just give up on that and admit that its hard work. It’ll make life easier,” he said.

Over the long haul, recruiters must constantly be on the lookout for talent. Whether it be attending networking events, browsing through their social media connections for prospects, or meeting with candidates now for a position that may be available in the future, recruiters must be taking advantage of all their relationships to source top talent. Another way to look at it is to consider scouting a part-time job requirement of everyone’s role, especially in a smaller company or startup where resources are strapped and limited.

Balance your focus on building a team for the future of the company.

What some recruiters aren’t doing right is not hiring for what the company will become, and in particular, Feng points out that startups tend to focus too much on building their team of engineers, rather than balancing on hiring for the rest of the company. Give each department a little bit of love, as the company’s service or product goals are likely to shift in the upcoming months.

See: Marketing hacks to apply to your recruiting strategy

“There’s a 90% chance that what you think you’re working on will actually become different a couple months from now. What you’re doing will change and what you’ll need is someone who’s a great culture fit with high’s not about their skillset or background to date.”

Hire candidates who are a good culture fit for the company and have the potential for growth.

If you’re hiring for a startup, focus less on the desired background or expertise you’re looking for in a candidate. Qualified employees are capable of growing into their role and learning the necessary skills to be great at their job, but one thing that can’t be undone is hiring a candidate who rubs the rest of the team the wrong way.

Companies often set apart good culture as a perk, rather than a foundational element, of working with the team. There isn’t an in-between when it comes fit — either candidates are right for the team, or they’re not. Trust the gut instinct about a candidate, and hire a “package” that includes an individual who can work efficiently, get along with team members, and who can be quickly trained into developing into their position.

Commit to building your network of referrals.

“There’s nothing more powerful than your referral network in building out the team,” Feng states. Of Flipboard’s team of 140 people, about 60% came from referrals.

What happens is companies informally ask employees to refer their qualified connections for roles, but don’t actually implement an employee referral program to accurately track and measure the source of hires, quality of hires, and how much the company saves for hiring a referred candidate.

At Flipboard, getting referrals is considered an integral part of the onboarding process. After getting a new team member oriented with company processes and day-to-day tasks, Feng asks the employee to go through their LinkedIn and other networks, and find 10 people who would be a good fit for the company.

Proactively recruit for referrals to reduce your time-to-hire and to get the team in line with the company’s hiring efforts by leveraging the people they already know. That saves you a few steps in making the first touchpoint with a candidate.

Create a solid company brand through your product’s relevance and usability.

Feng suggests that to be a successful ambassador for the company, you need to create a product that users love and want to share with others.

“It’s far better to have 100 people love your product than a thousand people who like it,” he said. By focusing more on user engagement and constantly learning what users need, a company can learn how to adapt its product. What this means for recruiters is that similar to engaging users to measure customer success, recruiters must act as brand ambassadors who stand behind not only a high-quality product, but a company that candidates should want to work for.

If product marketing emphasizes the features and benefits of using a company’s tool, being an effective recruiter translates to emphasizing what features and benefits of the company will be most appealing to a talent pool. Work on building engagement with your audience of both customers and candidates by keeping track of which approaches work and which ones aren’t as successful. Recruiting for different positions requires a slight variance of outreach messaging. What appeals a candidate to an engineering position is not the same as what appeals a candidate to a sales position. Feng also argues companies should focus less on growth, as that can come later. Build momentum on the company’s social presence and the virality of the brand, and more candidates will be interested in finding out more about what the company does and how they can be a part of creating a great product.

Think of hiring as a two-way street of product marketing and talent acquisition. In order to build a better product, you need to hire a great team. In order to hire a great team, build a better product. At the end of the day, Feng rallies for focusing more on engagement. How well are you building your relationship with talent? Does your product’s success meet candidates’ standards for standing behind that product’s company? Happy users tend to make even happier employees.

Here’s the full recording of Feng’s talk:

entelo webinar

Which of Feng’s hiring lessons is your team already putting into practice? What’s working and what’s not? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet us @Entelo!