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EP 22: Seth Welty, Entrepreneur, Talent Expert, YouTuber, and Digital Nomad, Chief Growth Officer @ The Burns Brothers

Podcast Transcript

James Mackey  0:00  

Hi, and welcome to episode 22 of Talent Acquisition Trends and Strategy, today we are joined by Seth Welty. Seth, welcome to the show!


Seth Welty  0:21  

Thanks, James. I'm thrilled to be here.


James Mackey  0:24  

We are thrilled to have you here. And before we jump into some of the topics that we outlined, would you mind telling everybody a little bit about yourself and what you're up to right now?


Seth Welty  0:33  

Yes, absolutely. Just a little bit about my background. I've been in the industry for about 20 years now, I started off my career primarily in talent acquisition and investment banking, and rose through the ranks there. But eventually figured out that I was never going to make it to managing director. So I decided to become an entrepreneur of my own. 


I started an AI recruiting company and made the typical rookie mistake of having a business partner who had the same skills that I did. So that didn't go as far as we wanted it to. But it gave me a lot of experience as an entrepreneur, and then the pains and process of that. But then, most recently, I was in venture capital for four years, primarily working with entrepreneurs, helping them really grow their businesses after they've received funding. So that was a huge learning experience. Most recently, I transitioned to The Burns Brothers, primarily to help them build the firm. So really kind of that concept of doing a bunch of consulting work for four years. 


And now I actually want to do it for myself. So a really exciting firm, which is basically a multicultural marketing agency, and consulting firm. And we are on a mission to create a more inclusive world. So one of the topics that I'm super passionate about is diversity and inclusion, along with helping entrepreneurs and others build really great places to work. So hopefully it will kind of improve people's lives.


James Mackey  2:12  

I love it. Well, thank you, for telling us a little bit about yourself. And I'm really excited to dive into all these topics. I think just to start us off, I want to touch on a topic for startup founders, and maybe earlier growth stage organizations. 


When you get that funding check, right, whether and I guess it depends on what funding round we're talking about here. There are obviously different strategies depending on where they are in the growth phase. What do you think about talent strategy, right? Like putting together the right skills strategy to build a world-class team in organization? So founders get that check? What's the first step? How do they go about developing a business and talent strategy?


Seth Welty  3:00  

Absolutely. I think the most exciting moment in an entrepreneur's career is when they get that first series A check, a significant amount of money, their dreams are coming true, and they have a tonne of things that they want to spend the money on. But you have to get them to pause and think about trying to be strategic about their approach. So in order to get funding, the entrepreneurs had to go through a whole host of hurdles in order to create a really appealing business strategy. 


So when I work with an entrepreneur, it's all about taking that business strategy and turning it into a talent plan. So the talent, that processes kind of the talent planning process, and it's really looking at what your business objectives are against the talent that you currently have in-house, identifying the gaps, identifying the opportunities to promote people and create opportunity. And then also to identify those gaps, think about is this a consulting position? Is this a full-time position? Is this something that's not core to our business, and we should be outsourcing it? And then once you get to that point, you're able to really identify who you need to recruit. 


And then ultimately, you kind of plot that across a calendar, right? Who do we need to recruit in the next three months, is it really what you want to focus immediately on? Then that can also be integrated into you, into entrepreneurs, kind of typical quarterly business routines. So when they go into that quarterly business strategy, discussion, the leadership team, then once they've know how to do talent planning, that should augment that meeting, so that every quarter they're thinking about talent and thinking about who they need to hire next, in order to really get that growth.


James Mackey  4:55  

What are the most common holes that founders fall into? What are the biggest mistakes or most common mistakes that you see when it comes to this process? 


Seth Welty  5:06  

So first of all, not doing the process, or any plan full is really a huge mistake. Because you do kind of get that high of having resources that you've never had before. And you start making decisions quickly because you want to get that product out, you want to go to market, you want to get your next beta test out, like whatever your hot button, business side focus is, is where you start spending money. And then you start hiring people. 


So then the first problem is that people don't migrate from your friends and family hiring strategy. So when you're in a seed round, you're typically hiring people that are in your network, who are talented individuals, but you just may be kind of bringing them in because you trust them and they have a tonne of potential. Once you move into series A funding, you want to start expanding out and actually kind of activating multiple channels so that you have a kind of a diverse candidate slate from a skillset and experience perspective, and that you're hiring people for the long-term. 


So I think that's kind of the mind shift, I would say that's probably the first challenge from an external, from the VCs perspective, is saying, Hey, we got to have a bit of a mind shift here, we're not going to continue hiring all of your friends and family, you really need to start thinking about bringing professionals in that is specialized in the areas that you have gaps in. And you should go through a recruiting process. Obviously, people you know should be part of that candidate slate, but you should be interviewing other people who might be better suited for this particular role at this particular time.


James Mackey  7:01  

Chances are, your friends and family are not going to be the best fit individuals to scale a wildly successful products company or services company. I mean, I think when it works, it's more like, Okay, you worked with these individuals at a prior startup? Right? And so you know the work product they can produce, that's different. I mean, even if they're like friendships that's okay. But if that's not the case, then I typically recommend just avoiding that, right? Because it's just going to create all sorts of issues. In those founding days, or especially, if you mess those up, it's really hard to get back on track. 


So to the extent, I think companies, and people can avoid that. And, at least if they're going to hire people they know, it should be people that they've worked with, or that they can kind of backchannel or go through, whether it be investors or the board or advisors or mentors try to go through their network. And so you can kind of verify that an individual is the right fit. And you do that as much as you can. But then you're right. Like, as you scale, it's not like, Okay, you can't go hire 100 engineers by, you know, that strategy, you can hire like your first team of five. But, there's a point where it's like, Okay, we got to start thinking about a proactive talent strategy, not just be reactive, like, we need to hire somebody yesterday, can we? Can we make that happen?


Seth Welty  8:24  

You also want to introduce people with different experiences, right? So if you used to work at Google, you don't want to hire everyone. In your series A from Google. You want to hire people that have had diverse experiences, people who have technical experiences, people who have industry experience, and people who have functional experiences from different companies from different universities. That's the way that you bring a team together, that we'll be able to truly innovate. Because if you have groupthink, you'll squelch any ability to be innovative moving forward.


James Mackey  9:03  

I could not agree with you more. I think the other aspect too, just like the Google examples, like another way of thinking about enterprise, it's like, it's great when you have founders that, we're product people at Uber or big tech, well-known companies or something like that. But also, it's really good to have people that have startup experience, because it's just a totally different point of impact usually. Particularly at Google or like Adobe or something like that. I mean, you're so siloed within a very specific function so many times. Maybe if you can find somebody that was working on a very specific smaller project within a larger org that can work but you know, sometimes it's going to be kind of like a pretty big shock moving to startup culture and environment. 


And so for instance, like for sales hires, I always recommend, make sure your first couple salespeople they've worked for a startup before, don't get the person from Salesforce. Because chances are they're gonna go in, they're used to having like a whole sales enablement sales operations team, their own SDRs, sales engineers, an entire infrastructure is based, built around them to help them to be successful. And then it's like you're thrown into a startup. And it's just kind of like, figure it out. 


Seth Welty  10:25  

I think we've all seen that kind of early-stage executive that was hired from a big company, who comes in and just basically fails because they just are not used to doing the work. Like there's this kind of expectation of the least someone around them to do the heavy lifting. And that's not the case. 


So one of the things when we start thinking about what values that you want, or values and principles that you want to recruit for, I always recommend that you include the entrepreneurial spirit. So there are people who are very entrepreneurial that work for big companies, and then there are people who do not. So if that person does not, if you're hiring somebody from a large organization, and they are not displaying entrepreneurial spirit, and grit, then you're not going to be successful. 


And there are ways to really kind of create an interview process that can help you ensure that you're getting those values. And without being dogmatic about it, right? lIt's a total generalization to say, we're only hiring people from startups, we're only hiring people from big corps,  consulting firms like those are kind of recruiting techniques that people fall into, that you don't want to do. But it doesn't mean that somebody uniquely could be qualified, who works in the innovation center of vein, right? There are so many different variations of people's careers. 


So I try to kind of not tell people not to do things, but I want them to look at the person, the candidate holistically. And really, really kind of dive in to figure out if they could actually be successful in an entrepreneurial environment. 


James Mackey  12:07  

Yes, that's definitely a more sophisticated way to do it. I think with some of the startups we've worked with in the past, and for whatever reason, sales seem to be the hardest transition from enterprise to startup, I just see a lot of failed attempts there. 


Seth Welty  12:25  

Sorry, go ahead.


James Mackey  12:26  

I was just saying, I'll be honest, a lot of times, I'll just recommend to the founders of like, Look, I'm not saying you couldn't build the right process and interviewing structure and everything to optimize your chance. But the reality is that there is a greater percentage chance of failure, hiring from an enterprise for this specific position. So why take that risk? And but again, the way that you're doing it that's the right way, it's just do we trust the companies to really do it the right way? 


Seth Welty  12:56  

That's why they hire you, and you integrate that into your RPO. You say "look, we're going to create a multifaceted interview process, right? And it's going to include a diverse interview panel, it's going to include a case study, it's going to include whiteboarding sessions for your executives so that we really get under the hood of these individuals' capabilities. Because when you're in a hurry, and you just need to get bodies in place, it's so easy to make mistakes. 


I think in my career, the biggest mistakes I've made in recruiting are primarily in the sales department, right? Because salespeople and recruiters are really good at selling themselves, and they're very personable. And I live and breathe this world. So like, I have an affinity bias for these individuals. And then they get there and you're like, oh, man, they just sold me a bag of goods. 


James Mackey  13:59  

I have a quick question about that. So when you were full-time focusing on VC, right? How often did you try to staff up the founding team? With connections like people, you could backchannel people that knew other people and other leaders in your network versus doing the more sophisticated, multifaceted interviewing process and setting that up the right way. Did you always for the founding team try to okay, we want the first 10 employees to be known quantities or would you recommend implementing this talent process from day one?


Seth Welty  14:44  

Right. So on the VC side, we tried to get into the conversation early and often. So as we are evaluating them as organizations that potentially invest we had conversations about their recruiting strategy, their kind of leadership strategy, who they want to surround themselves with, to get a sense of like, who the early adopters are, and who are not. 


Many times, they've already done some of the work and have decided that these are the people that they want to bring in. And, as a new relationship with an entrepreneur, you're not gonna stand in the way of that, unless it's completely egregious, like the salaries completely off and the person's totally not qualified. But I would say, once we get kind of the next level down, so your directors like not the C suite, but you're kind of director level. 


That's where we typically step in and say, hey, we want you to tap into your network. But let's do a recruiting process and see who comes up, right? What's the worst thing that could happen is  you end up hiring the person that you wanted to hire, but you might find somebody who's better suited for this role and ultimately creates more value.


And also I get very kind of skittish around the whole back-channeling conversations, just because everybody's experience with the company is relatively unique, right? So I could be a rock star in one company and then die in another company or somebody who, you know, I may not have gotten along with or gotten a job over them because Adam would have sour grapes, so I know, everybody loves to do it in the VC space. 


And God forbid, somebody says anything negative about somebody in the market, and then they're off the list. And I always encourage them to say, okay, that's one source of information. The back channel, it's an important one, right? But let's contextualize this, let's talk to the person. Let's have other people on the team talk to them. Let's do a formal reference. Like, if that ultimately overrides everything else, that's fine. But let's not take that one piece of data, totally squash the candidate, and never speak with that person again. So I do like to caution people, not overweighting the back channel.


James Mackey  17:12  

That's some very good advice. I hope everybody's really listening in and taking notes on that. Because I think that what you just said is very valuable. We're talking about this multifaceted interview process.


Can we do something slightly more tactical, actionable. deep dive into that? What does that look like? You know, what types of interviews are we talking about? What types of customer questions? Can you walk through that a bit?


Seth Welty  17:43  

Yeah. So ultimately, you want to have your initial phone screen. I typically want somebody else to do that rather than me. So just really kind of having that phone screen. What is your situation? What is your motivation? What are you looking to do? What's your ideal situation? What's your comp, right? And what are you capable of doing? So that kind of initial like, is this person, a potentially viable candidate. And people can argue about the order on this, I've had many debates on it.  I'm all about efficiency, I don't want to waste anybody's time other people say that you can prioritize these differently. 


The next interview has to be for me a technical interview because I'm not going to waste people's time, like interviewing a candidate that can actually do the job. So that would be a technical interview, whether that's, development or sale, whatever it is, is somebody who's having a technical functional conversation with them and kind of diving deep on Okay, what did this person actually accomplish? And at what scope and scale?


James Mackey  18:55  

Just gonna ask, Does that also include situational questions like saying, Okay, so if this were to happen, or in this type of situation? How would you handle that?


Seth Welty  19:06  

Yeah, I don't think technical interviews need to be that. I think you can really just dive into the projects that they've worked on. Because it's very hard to try and really understand what somebody's done until you understand the scale and the scope and the importance of the project that they were working on. 


So they may be used using the exact technologies that you're looking for, but if they haven't done it in the same context, right, so if you're doing AI and they're using small datasets and you're trying to categorize the entire all proteins ever used in drug manufacturing, to totally different scope. So you then kind of get an understanding, okay, this person has a kind of similar scale and scope of experience. 


And then once that's been done, then you have your basic view, basically your behavioral interview, I combined the behavioral and the cultural interview. The cultural interview is basically focused on your principles or the kind of behaviors you expect them to display. And then you have behavioral questions associated with those particular behaviors. 


So if it's the entrepreneurial spirit, you know, tell me about a time that you started a new initiative internally, what were the results? Or how did you go about getting it approved? What were the results? And how did you measure success? That would be a simple way to kind of get into it. Have they actually ever thought of an idea translated into execution, and then reflected on whether they did well or not. 


And so you can go, pick, four or five kinds of behaviors that are super important within that particular functional group in order for them to be successful. And you can reflect on that on the basketball person and on the team, how they operate. Like, what are they doing on a day-to-day basis that you're like, wow, I wish everybody acted that way. And that's how you can kind of quickly and systematically come up with the behaviors that you want to evaluate. And then you can translate those into behavioral questions as you were referring to. And then you have your behavioral questions.


I think the next step is really your case study. Right? So whatever area you're in, I usually use case studies up to the manager level. So you know, it's just like, here's a problem, think about it and come put together a deck and tell me how you would solve the problem.


When we're talking about more senior folks, I call it a white boy whiteboarding session, just so that people don't feel like they're being interviewed like a junior resource. For example, I'm in the process of hiring a business head for one of our businesses. And our goal is to 10x the growth of that particular business over the next two years. So the business case is going to be based on, you've spoken to five people already, you've learned everything you possibly could about the firm, based off of everything that you've known, come in and have a conversation with us with regards to how you think you can grow the company 10 X. And if you want to put a deck together if you don't, that's fine, too. 


And then it's me and the leadership team's responsibility to kind of provide positive reinforcement, but then also kick the tires and say, okay, so I understand you want to go into new markets? Why are we going into new markets that are going to kind of distribute our resources? Why wouldn't we go deep into this particular market that was successful? So you challenge them, which is actually kind of the most telling part of the process, and the way that they react to that challenge. 


And if they get defensive, that may not be a good cultural fit, if they buckle immediately, that might not be a cultural fit, at least for our firm currently. If you'd like to have a healthy debate, you're a good match for us. So if you push back and say, well the sector you're currently in is a dying sector. And you said you wanted to get to $100 million, like, you're not going to get there. And that would be somebody that I would be attracted to, because of the way that they are willing to respectfully push back on me. And then tell me why I should disagree.


Like in a normal day-to-day conversation on the executive team, that would be a 30-minute debate back and forth. But like for somebody to be brave enough within an interview in a whiteboarding session to say, Hey, Seth, I think you're wrong, which I am wrong many times. That's to me, somebody that's a cultural fit for us. So that's why I love and have a whiteboarding session for senior-level folks. 


And then I think the final step is really kind of coming together in a calibration session. So just bring everybody who met the folks, the finalist candidates, and then just talk about why you liked them or why you don't, strengths and weaknesses. And then for everybody to be hyper-vigilant on two things, is what you're saying and assumption. Do you have evidence of this statement? Or are you just assuming that this is the case and see if anybody else has evidence of that statement. And then secondly, just kind of checking our biases, right? So just ensuring that we don't have any personal biases. So I love Michigan, so I'm obviously going to be super nice to talk to the people who come through my organization that went to Michigan. So the guy, who went to Ohio State, was definitely going to disagree with me. 


So just being able to kind of call that out and say, Hey, I know that I have a bias towards this person because he went to my school or whatever that reason is, are played the cross or whatever, like and be able to say, I'm biased, but let me step out of it, or for me to be able to call someone else out and says, Hey, you know, I noticed on your team that everybody that you work with, you know, ultimately started off at Goldman. So maybe we don't need another Goldman person on the team. So that gives us a lot of an opportunity to sit around a table and kind of ensure that we're picking the right person for us.


James Mackey  25:45  

Okay, yeah, that sounds like a pretty robust process. Is that something that you're implementing? With all the startups that you've worked with? And you're currently partnering with? Is that pretty standard? 


Seth Welty  25:57  

I mean, that's ultimately the roadmap, right? So although it sounds robust, I've been able to make it very simple, with very simple tools, and say, Okay, here you go. Here's your case study. Here's your recruiting checklist, go for it. Tell me how the calibration session goes. So once you get people kind of into these routines, I think they enjoy it. 


Obviously, there are certain circumstances in that, you shortcut it or deviate. But if you have a process that people embrace, by making it easy, it's usually not a challenge to get adoption.


James Mackey  26:41  

Gotcha. And I know that for the last topic today, just kind of going back to your intro, you're mentioning that you want to build a more inclusive world. And we talked a little bit before the show about D&I.  I've always heard and I agree with this, but from a lot of T people officers that the best time to get started with the  D&I is now. A lot of companies, I feel like they think, Oh, we got to be bigger, we got to have more resources to make this a priority.


And one, that's not the case, it's actually easier to get started when you're a younger organization when you can build the culture around that. And when you have a diverse team, they're gonna refer to more diverse talent as well. And so you can build a healthier culture. 


But the other aspect, too, is when you start earlier, you can, again, from the start, you can hire people that are aligned with your mission and are also prioritizing that, right? I think it makes sense to get started earlier rather than later, but walk us through your philosophy on building inclusive cultures and D&I in general.


Seth Welty  27:51  

Absolutely. I mean, this is music to my ears, because I hear this from entrepreneurs all the time. Like, I can't do D&I, like, I don't have the budget, I don't have a chief diversity officer. And,  I always chuckled to myself like there are so many easy things to do that we could do easily, very quickly together, right? 


So if you start from the beginning, right, what are your values and principles? Are you calling out the fact that diversity and inclusion are important to you, in your values and principles? I like to make diversity the value, right, we value diverse perspectives, period. We believe that there's no question about that. And then we expect you as an individual to act inclusively. So if you are not acting inclusively, then you're not aligned with our expected behaviors. And that's a way to just kind of immediately embed it into everything that you do. And then you take those and also embed them into your performance management. Right there, you've done a tonne of heavy lifting, and people will be expected to behave in these ways. 


And then there are really simple things. So from your website, do you actually have diverse pictures of diverse people on your website? Do you use language that is overly dramatic or overly extreme? Or that would turn off, you know, female candidates, right? So there's kind of different dimensions of diversity that react differently to a different language? So does your website have language that is inclusive? Does your job description also use inclusive language? And do you have a diversity statement at the bottom of your job postings, right? And these are very simple things. This is like an hour's worth of work. Right? 


And then I think one of the biggest things that especially the younger generation reacts to is that if they come in an interview with all white males, for example, a diverse candidate has that experience, they will never work for you. They will walk out of there and never consider your organization, right, which is so important to create diverse interview panels, so that they see themselves reflected or at least, for there to be a kind of diversity among the people that they meet, so that they feel like they will fit in. 


So those are really simple things that you can do that don't require a tonne of investment, don't require additional resources, and just, you know, require a little guidance, they can call me up, and I'll help them through the steps and they'll be on their way.


James Mackey  30:47  

And from a value and principle perspective, I don't know what the current stat is. Nick, I don't know if you could actually look this up real fast man. But just what percentage of Americans are employed by an SMB, small business, or medium-sized business? 


Because, just from a value perspective, if you know, D&I is important. SMBs need to take ownership of that and be part of creating that change. Nick's gonna look it up right now. But, you know, a lot of Americans are employed by small to medium-sized businesses. So if enterprise companies are the only ones implementing D&I practices, then a large portion of our country and society is not going to be impacted by those decisions and policies. 


Seth Welty  31:41  

I feel every entrepreneur is very motivated to create a great place to work, they just may not know how. They may be a scientist, they may be a technologist, they just may have a really great idea. And they just don't like to understand these people's practices and their impact. 


So when you get in front of an entrepreneur who loves their company and loves their mission,  they want to embrace these ideas. And then when you make them simple for people, then they're really happy because they can create a better place for their employees to work. And that's what they ultimately want to do. 


James Mackey  32:19  

So Nick just jumped a couple of stats. So 47.1% of the US private sector workforce works for SMBs. And according to the Small Business Administration, small companies create 1.5 million jobs annually and account for 64% of all new jobs created in the United States. So if you're a founder, CEO, and you care about diversity, equity inclusion, just saying, you know, now's not the right time. You know, if it's truly a value that people we care about, then we need to take action and lead the charge. 


Because it's just such a huge part of our small to medium-sized businesses and startups are such a huge part of our culture here in the states too, if we're really going to make an impact, we want it to start with small businesses.


Seth Welty  33:11  

Absolutely. And that's where the next generation wants to work. That's where the people are attracted to work and they expect small businesses to have these things in place. So we just had the team up together and teach small businesses how to do this.


James Mackey  33:27  

Right. I love it. I love it. I love your perspective. I love your energy, what you're doing, I think it's really important. And I'm really excited to see your company grow. So you gotta keep me posted on how you all are doing and I'll try to make as many introductions as I can. 


We are coming up on time here. So I did want to just say thank you for joining us today. And if you're up for it, we'd love to have you on for around one of these days.


Seth Welty  33:53  

Absolutely. This has been such a fun conversation. It is so awesome to meet like-minded, purpose-driven entrepreneurs like yourself, and I'm happy to help out however I can. Have you guys come into our DC HQ. And you can come to check it out. And maybe we can do some events or do some work together.


James Mackey  34:13  

Let's do it. And before we jump off, I forgot to ask if people want to follow you online. Where can they find you?


Seth Welty  34:23  

It's pretty easy to find me. So LinkedIn. I'm probably one of the most networked and linked LinkedIn person says Seth Pablo Welty. On LinkedIn. I'm also a bit of a YouTuber, so if you want to see my journeys around the world as a digital nomad, you can find me at Chow my friend on YouTube, that's also my Instagram handle as well. You can always search for me on YouTube as well under Seth Welty. So I'm pretty visible. It's hard to avoid me these days.


James Mackey  34:57  

I love it and we should do a show at some point about you being a digital nomad. That sounds awesome. I actually, in the founding days of SecureVision, lived in about 10 different countries, just traveling around working remotely. And so I think that would be a lot of fun at some point. We won't talk today but at some point soon, we should talk about it.


Seth Welty  35:15  

Yes, next time because we seem to have a lot of commonalities. And I think we should continue the conversation.


James Mackey  35:20  

For sure. And for everybody else tuning in. Thank you so much for joining us, and we'll talk to you next time. 

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