4 Steps to Hire Candidates that Fit Your Core Values: An Interview With Allison Kopf & Brett Brohl

January through March is the busiest time of year for hiring so we want to help ensure that you have access to as many high-quality candidates as possible. To make that happen, we are asking you—members of the Techstars network—to #GiveFirst into the Techstars Talent Network and help other founders connect with top talent. Plus, more referrals going into the Network means a bigger pool of candidates who might be a good fit for your company! Learn more about the Season of Vouching. 

When hiring talent, founders often focus on a candidate’s skillset, experience, and overall ability to do a specific job. But finding the right talent takes a lot more than that. In fact, according to Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of Artemis, and Brett Brohl, Managing Director of Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, another factor plays a major role in the success or failure of a new hire. 

“In hiring, it’s important to know whether a candidate is qualified to do the job,” Allison said. “Obviously, you need to be able to walk away and trust this person to do the job without micromanaging them. But, at the same time, you also need to be asking if this person would do well in your team environment.” You don’t want your employees to just survive your company culture, you want them to thrive in it. 

“One of the quickest ways to kill a company is to start adding hires that don’t fit culturally,” Brett added. “You can’t just put butts in seats to fill a need. If they don’t align with your core values, they’re going to fail.”

Hiring people who’ll happily embrace your core values and fit well into your company culture demands a lot of forethought and careful work. More specifically, it requires you to define a clear set of core values with your team, and then meticulously evaluate candidates against those core values. 

Step 1: Define Core Values as a Team

The first and most important thing founders can do is create a set of core values. These can include things like “embracing creativity”, “responding with humility”, “acting with integrity”—or be something else entirely. 

The idea is to decide how you want your employees to work, interact with one another, and communicate with customers, and boil that down to a few core concepts. Done correctly, each of your values will also have a “why:” an underlying set of reasons that explain its worth and act as a call to action for the company. 

“Core values are more than just a set of high level ideas,” Allison said. “They’re highly nuanced. For example, one of our core values is: ‘default to curiosity.’ But it’s about a lot more than just defaulting to curiosity. That value is based on ideas like: ‘all questions are good questions’ and ‘curiosity is the key to empathy with each other and our customers’. It also encompasses concepts like: ‘ideas, tools and workflows can always improve’; and ‘the process is not as important as the destination.’”

Creating such a deeply nuanced set of core values takes more than one person or a small subset of people, though. It requires everyone to be involved in the process to one degree or another.   

“Our core values didn’t come from the top-down. They came from the company as a whole,” Allison said. “I felt it was most important to give people a voice in the company, because I wanted them to feel like they could make decisions, voice opinions, and have a directional say in where we were moving as a company. So while our mission has been set by me, the way we’re getting there is partly steered by the team itself.” 

How do you get from those many voices to a clear set of values? “For us, the path we took to create our core values was very straightforward,” Allison said. “It involved discussing the objective, brainstorming ideas, and narrowing down our options as a group. One of our designers actually led the process, so our core values came directly from the team, rather than being chosen by me or our CTO.” 

And this process has worked in an onward and upward way for Artemis. “Initially, we created a set of nine core values,” Allison said, “but we reevaluate them on an annual or biannual basis to make sure they still reflect what we’re trying to do. And we’re still doing this as a team, rather than from the top-down.”

Step 2: Setting Expectations During the Interview Process

While it’s vital to have a set of core values in place before you start hiring, it’s equally important to make sure candidates understand your value expectations from the get-go. Not only can it save you a lot of time in the interview process by enabling you to weed out candidates that don’t fit, but it can also spare you the sunk costs—financial and otherwise—of a bad hire.  

“One mistake founders often make is not setting expectations early,” Brett said. “They’ll evaluate skill sets during the interview process, but they won’t set expectations around their work culture and core values until after they’ve hired someone. That needs to happen a lot sooner. Your candidates should know exactly what they’re walking into during those interviews.” 

This can be difficult for founders to do, especially when they go through a period of rapid hiring. However, neglecting to discuss core values and culture fit can ultimately be devastating to your company. 

“When you need to hire fast, because you just raised a round of capital and you need to execute the plan you rolled out, it’s easy to ignore company culture or sacrifice value fit,” Brett said. “But that never ends well. Either you end up firing that person quickly, or they just become a drain on the entire organization.” 

Luckily, there are lots of ways founders can be transparent about their expectations. It may be as simple as discussing your core values in the first few minutes of an interview or asking candidates to read about your core values on your website. 

For Artemis, the simplest way to set expectations is emailing candidates the information prior to their first interview. “The first step in our hiring process is to send candidates our core value deck,” Allison said. “This gives them time to read over our core values and spend some time thinking about them, so that everyone is on the same page when they come in to interview.”

Step 3: Evaluate Culture & Core Value Fit

With expectations in place, the next step for founders is to take some time to directly evaluate candidates against the company’s core values. This is often done as an independent step in the interview process known as a core value screen. 

“We kick off the interview process with a core value screen, which is a formal interview where we ask a series of questions to see how candidates line up with our culture and values,” Allison said. “Ultimately, the goal is to have a conversation and get to know the candidate. So instead of just going through their resume, we ask things like: ‘What motivates you?’ What was the most successful moment of your last job and why? What makes you really excited to go to work?’ These questions are designed to help candidates open up, show off their personality and talk about things that excite them.”

While the answers to these questions can speak volumes about a candidate, this is one of those situations where actions truly speak louder than words. Anyone can say they value what you value, but few will truly embody it.  

For instance, say you’re evaluating candidates against a core value of curiosity. They may share examples of times when they showcased it at their last job, but how well are they really exhibiting it? Are they asking questions? Do they want to dig deeper into the topic? Does their body language show a genuine interest in the conversation? If not, they may not really value curiosity—at least not to the degree that your team does. 

This doesn’t mean you need to disqualify said candidate outright. It simply means you should look more closely at how they will mesh with your culture and core values. 

As Allison explains: “This is where founders sometimes mess up a little bit. They assume that they need to find somebody who matches every single one of their core values perfectly. But, in reality, it’s not so much about finding someone who has one-to-one identical qualities, but someone who fits culturally and is able to live up to your values.” 

Step 4: Know When to Walk Away

Ultimately, even the best plans can go awry. You will still interview candidates who are not a good fit. But this doesn’t mean your culture is bad or the candidate is bad. “There isn’t a right culture out there,” Brett said. “It’s what’s right for you and what’s right for the people that you’re hiring. It’s okay to walk away from the candidate because they’re not a good culture fit. It doesn’t make them a bad person. It just means they’re not a good fit for your company.” 

“The bottom line is, you need to be self aware as a company,” Brett added, “You need to know who you are, what you do, and what your values are, and then stick to it when you start hiring.”

Build Highly Successful Teams With Techstars Talent

Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of Techstars Talent: a new offering that will enable startup founders to build highly successful teams and gain a competitive advantage when it comes to Talent. 

Founders can take advantage of Techstars Talent by connecting with our referral network of top talent, learning best practices from our content center, and leveraging best-in-class partners and services.

The broader network can benefit by connecting into the Techstars Talent Network. It allows candidates to access job opportunities across one of the largest entrepreneurial networks in the world. 

“Techstars is always adding to our amazing Talent Network. Through our accelerators, our community programs and more, we attract amazing people year after year. Now, Techstars Talent enables you, as a portfolio company, to get access to that great talent network.”  — David Cohen, founder and co-CEO of Techstars 

After spending five years as the VP of People Ops for Techstars, Sabrina Kelly is now spearheading Techstars Talent. She is joined by Bala Girisaballa, President of Techstars India, to build out the offering internationally and give our companies exposure to global teams. Jason Thompson, Techstars VP of Diversity and Inclusion, will focus on building diversity and inclusion into the foundation of the Talent Network.

Want to get connected to the Talent team today? Go to talent.techstars.com to get involved. 

Building Organizational Culture in Your Startup

How do founders go from a couple of people toying with an idea, to managing a great team with values, good rapport, and everyone’s favorite phrase, strong culture?

Recently I set out on a fool’s errand to gain some insight on building organizational culture in startups. The truth is, this field of research is still in its infancy — not a lot is known.

We know a lot about organizational behavior in established firms and how they design their culture. But, startups are trying to build something that’s never been built before and they are brand new companies. By nature, startups are super weird and hard to make sense of in a way a researcher would like to.

There are lots of organizational culture theories out there when it comes to startups. It is 80 percent the founder of the company. It is established in the first 20 people. Things get weird after 150 employees.

A while back, researchers published a study in the California Management Review about different models of organizational culture in high-tech startups, which I believe are still hold relevant lessons for entrepreneurs today.

The study looked at five types of organizational models: Star, Engineering, Commitment, Bureaucracy and Autocracy. The researchers identified how each model retains, selects, and controls talent.

Star model employees are high-skilled talent that will grow and develop with the startup.

The Engineer model has high-skilled employees producing high-quality work, but they may expect to have beer and ping pong tables around.

The Commitment model treats employees like they are family.

The Bureaucracy model formalizes the work environment.

Finally, the Autocracy model pays their employees a lot for more transactional assignments.

Many companies choose a hybrid of these employment types. I will share some of the study’s findings and the implications for startups.

Choice Model of Startups

While startups vary on the model they choose to use, the Engineering model seems to be the Silicon Valley default. Furthermore, while VCs more commonly bureaucratize startups, VCs also attract many other different types of cultures and like the emotional bonds of the Commitment and Star cultures.

Does the Founder’s Background Impact the Model?

Founder background does not link to a particular employment model. The founders’ intended business strategy seemed to have the most bearing on the employment model chosen — marketing, service, and customer based models went more toward a Commitment employee model.

Think Zappos, which continues to be a company that is known for their organizational culture and customer service.

How HR is Leveraged in Startups

Companies that had a Star or Commitment model brought HR expertise in earlier than the other employee models. According to the researchers, star companies need HR expertise to recruit and attract Star talent. Commitment companies use HR to build a strong culture as a talent and retention plan. Engineering companies make sure employees have access to enough caffeine, sugar, and alcohol to fuel their startup environment. Bureaucratic companies rely on HR mainly for administrative purposes.

Success and Pitfalls of Employment Models

According to the research, companies with a Commitment model are the fastest to IPO. Companies with the Autocracy model were most likely to fail. However, Star and Commitment models can be more difficult to scale. Star models deal with turnover issues because of the need to screen out the non-stars, and they rely most heavily on equity options, so when it does not look like the equity will work out, employees are more likely to leave.

Transitioning to a New Model

Transitioning from one model to another can be negatively disruptive and costly. Companies that were founded on Star or Commitment models that switch to another model have a hard time with the transition. Bureaucracy, for example, would be a difficult adjustment from the Commitment model, particularly because this often involves the departure of their founder-CEO.

The researchers explain that it is incredibly common for startups to not put the thought into culture and HR, however they cannot imagine a scenario where a startup does not have a strong and thought-out plan for marketing, pricing, fundraising, and the milestones attached to those things.

Knowing how important talent is for startups, this non-strategy strategy can be a big limitation down the road.

At Techstars, we try and help companies think through organizational culture and other points along the way to success. By helping companies understand the type of organization they want to run, hopefully they will think more about their plan to build a sustainable organizational culture.

What model does your company follow? If you could have thought more about this earlier into your startup, would you?

BBVA Open Talent 2015 Competition

The BBVA Open Talent, is a startup competition inspired on the open innovation model of BBVA, with the main objective to identify the most innovative projects, support them, look for sinergy and implement them in the organization. The three concepts that best define the essence of BBVA Open Talent are entrepreneurs, startups and open innovation.

The competition is thought for entrepreneurs and startups with technological, innovative and centered on the fintech topic projects. This is the seventh edition of an international contest aimed for entrepreneurs and startups. We want to foster innovation in the financial ecosystem, in these topics:

  • Mobile banking
  • Payments and money transfer
  • Consumer Loans
  • Cryptonetworks
  • Alternative loans
  • Risk analysis
  • Investment managementes
  • Financial inclusion and education
  • Fraud management

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BBVA Open Talent takes twenty finalists per region and provides them an opportunity to present to reputable judges. All finalists will spend the day before the competition interacting with key global BBVA executives and decision makers. Even if you don’t walk away a winner, you’ll walk away having gained new experience and insight that can’t be found elsewhere.

During the immersion course, winners will spend a week in Mexico gaining first hand experience with the LATAM market and international scaling. This is paired with a week spent in London, spending more time with venture capitalists, embracing the local startup ecosystem.  It’s access to powerful thought leaders like none other.

Winners will also have the opportunity to enjoy a unique experience in El Celler de Can Roca, appointed as the best restaurant of the world in 2015, with the Roca brothers in the heart of their restaurant and in La Masía, their innovation center.

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Also, the Special Award for Financial Inclusion of BBVA Open Talent 2015 looks for startups with digital financial solutions for low income customers or small business. The winner will travel to Maputo, Mozambique, to pitch his project in the Global Policy Forum in September 2015 and will also participate in the Immersion and interaction program.

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How to apply?
To apply, just follow these simple instructions:
2. Fill your application, and in question number 43, select Techstars.
3. Done!
Good luck!
For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/OpenTalent15
To see this post in spanish, click here. 

White Paper 2.0: ¿Cómo se ve el emprendimiento en Latinoamérica?

En septiembre de 2014, UP Global en conjunto con Google for Entrepreneurs, lanzó el White Paper, anunciando 5 ingredientes que ayudan al fomento de un ecosistema de innovación y startups. En este documento, se ofrece un esquema de trabajo y lenguaje común para las comunidades de emprendimiento alrededor del mundo. La publicación resalta cinco ingredientes críticos que soportan a los ecosistemas prósperos de emprendimiento: talento, densidad, cultura, capital y ambiente regulatorio.

En Latinoamérica buscamos lanzar la versión 2.0 de este proyecto a finales de 2015; teniendo en cuenta las ciudades principales de Latinoamérica e incluyendo diferentes tipos de mercado en la región, hemos estado trabajando en conjunto con Google Latinoamérica para el análisis de problemas y soluciones en la región dentro de los cinco pilares.

La semana pasada, se llevó a cabo el primer workshop de la Ciudad de México en WRK, espacio de co-working anfitrión de la oficina regional de UP Global. Dentro de este taller, tuvimos la participación de representantes de la comunidad de emprendimiento, instituciones universitarias y de apoyo al emprendimiento, inversionistas, aceleradoras, gobierno, y más.

La dinámica, liderada por Leticia Gasca, de Fuckup Nights, tuvo un gran resultado; se obtuvieron los principales problemas de cada pilar en la primera parte del taller y durante la segunda se crearon grupos de trabajo para generar soluciones a esos problemas específicos.

Este proyecto, que ha llevado a cabo sesiones en otras 5 ciudades latinas, incluyendo Bogotá, Buenos Aires, San José de Costa Rica, Lima y Guatemala, se realizará además en Guayaquil, Guadalajara, Medellín, Viña del Mar y Santo Domingo; y continuará con una serie de Hangouts y Mesas Redondas en las que se discutirán las soluciones para así crear un segundo documento enfocado en la región.

Para más información acerca del White Paper 2.0, sigue a UP Latam en redes sociales. Twitter, Facebook y LinkedIn.

Gymy, 11th Hour, Edutrade and other ideas at #SWDub

It’s lift off at the April edition of Startup Weekend Dublin and the ideas to go through the weekend are finally decided on.

Day 1 saw participants get into the #SWDub spirit with Half Baked. The winner Prison Post, a paper based social network to help inmates get ready for the world outside won.

The game is however over and it’s time to get down to business. 32 ideas were pitched and after voting these 11 have emerged as those to be worked on during the weekend:


1. Gymy – Airbnb for Gyms



2. Health Assist – Health professional directory with online booking



3. Car Safari – Keeping kids engaged while on a long journey



4. Sober Sean – Uber-type service to get you and your car home after a night out



5. Be My Hermes – Last mile postal service via commuters



6. 11th Hour –  Connecting local businesses with last minute temporary/shift workers



7. Skills Bank – Peer to peer skills swap



8. Startup Compost – Liquidation platform and knowledge repository for failed startups



9. Twirle – Social network connecting shoppers from the fitting room to fashion enthusiast



10. Xiron – Virtual coaching platform for gaming



11. Local Mi – Connecting customers to local businesses


The teams have been formed and it’s time to get into the trenches to validate ideas, build products, get customers, and priceless feedback from our on-the-ground and virtual mentors.

Many thanks to our sponsor Domino Pizza, Google for Entrepreneurs, DCU Ryan Academy, Bank of Ireland, and The T-Shirt Company for the support so far.

Keep up with the action on twitter via hashtag – #SWDub.