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Featured on Nov 30, 2011

Jonathan Basker

"The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. - T.S. Eliot"


I'm the VP of People at betaworks. I think of myself as an organizational hacker that was lucky enough to land in the most fertile and varied cultural environment in NYC. I focus on hiring and growth for the betaworks companies while also thinking through the cultural implications and effects of that growth. Most of my job involves spending time with smart nice people, trying to find more smart nice people and finding ways to keep them happy and productive. It doesn't suck :)

  • Title: VP of People, betaworks
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Brooklyn
  • Contact: @jonathanbasker

You mention in your bio that part of your job is to find ways to keep the people at your company happy and productive.  What have you found to be some of the more effective things that keep employees happy and productive?

Keep communication open, transparent and substantive.  Be explicit about the fact that you're building something out of nothing together and everyone is responsible for that creative process.  Create an environment where you'll never be punished for expressing a concern or disagreeing with your current direction.  At betaworks we love disagreement, argument and friction.  As long as the tone is respectful, you want everyone to feel free to speak up.

Oh, and don't forget to put the work down sometimes and just hang out together :)

Overall I mostly find myself asking:
Do people feel like they know what's going on around them?  
Do they have good reason to care about what they're working on?  
Do they trust and respect their manager?  
Do they trust and respect their peers and co-workers?
If the answer to all of those questions is yes then chances are you're doing fine.

We’re right in the middle of the holiday season, so we’re curious - what is your favorite holiday of the year and why?

Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement in case you're not familiar).  I like the idea of wiping the slate clean, while acknowledging that there was something there that needed wiping away.  I like the recognition that we're all fallible, but we're all malleable too.  We grow, we fuck up, we grow some more...taking a day out of the year to take stock can be an amazing experience.

Multiple people have commented on your LinkedIn page that you are an “amazing recruiter.”  Do you have any advice or tips for those out there looking to hire at their startups?

Ha- big question :)  Not sure I can give a comprehensive answer that I'll feel satisfied with so instead here are some piecemeal thoughts.

- First figure out who you are as a company, as a brand and a culture (it's okay if some of these qualities are aspirational rather than actual).  What is the story of your product?  What are you trying to accomplish?  What do you care about?  Why are you fascinated and obsessed with the problems you're trying to solve?  Write the story of yourselves and then spread it as far and wide as you can.  

Next be very honest and open with people you're interviewing about that story.  If you're out to get paid then don't sell yourself as a cause-driven company, if you're out to change the world, then don't pretend to be money authentically who you are.  (If you're thinking to yourself "but who we authentically are isn't compelling enough!" then don't even worry about hiring... you've got bigger problems)

- When out at meetups etc don't be that 'pitch-bro' guy or gal who's up in your face nannering on about your game-changing startup two seconds after meeting someone.  Be cool, go easy and be nice.  Get out there enough, talk to enough people about what you're doing and eventually you'll find the right chill.

- Ask loads and loads of questions.  Then ask some more.  You want to find out not just what the person knows, but what they care about, what motivates them, how they communicate etc.

- Create a comfortable, open interview environment.  Don't get all aggro, don't get can put someone through a challenging, thorough interview without being a jerk about it.

Hiring is hard, and hiring well is insanely hard, but its critical that you keep the process as honest and open as possible.  Your job is to figure out your story, figure out your candidate's story and then find (if and) where those two stories intersect.  The more aggressive, sales-style recruiting alternative does work in the short term (in fact it can even work faster in the short term) but generally results in oddly-formed, frequently unhappy company ecosystems where nothing goes smoothly and ten months in half of your team leaves with bitter stories and bad memories.

Oh and since we're on the topic... betaworks is hiring :D

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