Start-up Masterclass

Start-up Masterclass: How to attract top talent and how to hold a winning pitch

How to attract top talent and how to hold a winning pitch

By Oliver Milman
Friday, 01 June 2012

General Assembly arrived in Australia with a bang this week, with each of its opening classes packed out in Sydney.


The organisation uses industry experts and entrepreneurs to provide practical hands-on advice to start-up businesses.


It has set up shop in Australia following a successful period in the US and has partnered with StartupSmart.


The two first classes were on the topics of recruiting and retaining top talent and how to conduct a winning pitch, respectively.


We have picked out the key points from each of the classes and will be doing so each following week.


There’s a range of upcoming General Assembly classes in the coming weeks, on everything from generating media coverage to financial modelling. To find out more, click here. 



Recruiting and retaining top talent


Paul Slezak, head of community and client services at Recruit Loop, who ran the General Assembly class on attracting and keeping top talent, said: “One of the most overused phrases in business today is that ‘our people are our greatest asset.’”


“However when it comes to start-ups in particular, staffing is often the first area to suffer.”


Slezak recommends taking the following steps for the HR process:


Job description

  • Have you thought about a job description?
  • Should you use an external recruiter?
  • What do you need to look for in a recruiter?
  • Should you do it yourself?
  • Do you have time to do it yourself?
  • What do you look for in a CV?
  • How do you really distinguish between a candidate’s skills and competencies?
  • The job title must accurately reflect what they will be doing in the role.
  • Clearly define reporting lines and who they will be working with.
  • Defining duties and responsibilities vs skills and attributes.

Getting the right response to your job ad

  • Exactly who is your target audience?
  • Where are they now?
  • What steps are they taking to look for a new role?
  • You need to speak directly to them.

How to frame your job ad

  • Include key benefits (usually in three bullet points).
  • A brief business profile.
  • A summary of the role itself.
  • A profile of your ideal candidate.
  • Any rewards or incentives.
  • Your contact details.
  • A disclaimer.



Slezak says: “Gone are the days of just asking about strengths and weaknesses. And hypothetical questions are definitely a thing of the past.”


“The only way to determine how the candidate will perform in your role is to ask questions around how they performed a similar task in the past.”


Interview process

  • Structured interview.
  • Competency based questioning.
  • Results focused assessment.
  • Interview bias eliminated.
  • Process explained.
  • Timely feedback.

Five questions you need to ask your interviewee

  • Why are you really sitting in front of me today?
    • What are you ideally looking for in your next role?
    • What salary are you on now?
    • Who else is involved in your decision making process?
    • How will your manager react when you resign?

    Staff retention tips


    You need to have clarity in the role, which includes:

    • What’s the plan?
    • What are the goals?
    • What’s the strategy?
    • What are the expectations?

    Retention depends on work environment, which includes:

    • The environment you create.
    • PMA – Positive Mental Attitude.

    It also involves communication

    • You will never be accused of over communicating.
    • People don’t leave companies; they leave leaders.
    • It’s not only about being ambitious; it’s about knowing what lies ahead.

    Typical questions in the minds of your staff members

    • Am I seeing progress in my career?
    • Are they seeing progress in my career?
    • How am I measuring my success?
    • How are they measuring my success?
    • When did I last receive recognition for my work?
    • What makes me want to stay here?

    The raw figures


    More than 700 employees working with start-up companies were recently surveyed. The responses were:

    • 66% felt a lack of progression in their current role was the main factor in deciding to leave.
    • 12% said more money would influence their decision to change companies.
    • 85% believed a clear plan for future professional development was the main reason to stay.
    • 72% believed a strong team culture was another reason to stay.

    Nailing the pitch


    Rebekah Campbell, founder of tech start-up Posse, explained what it takes to impress potential investors and clients in a pitch situation.


    “What is the problem someone has, who are they, what current solutions are there out there for them, why do they need something better?” Campbell said.


    “Try to bring yourself into the story to give you credibility. Show you understand the problem and that you’re a good person to solve it.”


    Here are Campbell’s top tips:


    How will your product work?

    • Be clear but go through the main feature only (not all of the details).
    • Do you have any early evidence that your solution works. If so include them in the description of your solution.
    • Try to fit this on one slide.
    • Try to describe it as a story people can relate to.
    • Try to make the description as sound as simple as possible.

    Tell the story of everything you’ve achieved to date in bullet point form

    • Investors want to invest in a train that’s left the station.
    • You don’t want to sound like you’re waiting for money or need them.
    • They need to want you!

    Market size is the number one thing investors look for

    • How big is your potential market?
    • Is the market growing?
    • Show your research.
    • How much research have you done to work out how big your market really is?

    Always outline your competitors

    • How is your product different?
    • A good visual representation is a slide showing where your product fits in the market.
    • Know your competitors! Investors like to ask questions about companies they know about sometimes to show off or try to throw you.

    Investors back teams not ideas

    • Show that you have a team that covers all aspects of the business. If you’re a business person doing a tech company then they’ll want to know who’s going to build it and vice versa.
    • Advisors are only worth showing when they’re amazing and when you haven’t got a complete team.

    Step through how you will achieve your objectives

    • I like to show a timeline.
    • You may need to elaborate on what resources you’ll require when.
    • Try to find a creative way to display this.

    Have a detailed financial model

    • Show the highlights only on your financials slide.
    • If investors are interested they’ll ask to see your detailed model.
    • I like to do a four-year model as two to three years doesn’t show enough potential to be exciting and five years is too much guessing.
    • Investors want to see ambitious but realistic numbers.

    Start by structuring you talk and writing out what you want on each page

    • Try to replace every page with a visual representation of what you were trying to say.
    • Big colourful pictures are good. Lots of words on slides (like these!) are bad.
    • Each slide must make a point and drive your presentation forward.
    • Don’t add slides because you’ve found a cool image.
    • The fewer slides the better.

    Learn how to speak in public

    • Take some kind of public speaking course.
    • I took a 10 week toastmasters Speechcrafters course. They’re all over Sydney ($250).
    • I also took a NIDA public presentation 2 day intensive but this was quite expensive ($2,000).
    • Practice speaking in public at every opportunity. It only gets better with practice.
    • Film yourself and watch yourself in the mirror.
    • Be passionate and smile!
    • Be the kind of person they want to hang out with.

    Pitch in person to as many people as possible

    • Watch their reactions to various parts of your pitch.
    • Adjust the Powerpoint each night after a presentation. Learn lines that have impact.
    • Pitch to everyone everywhere all the time.
    • Do not fear your idea being stolen.
    • I’ve done over 1,000 pitches and told the Evermore story at every one!

    Find investors who have experience developing the same kind of company as yours

    • Grill them for their industry knowledge.
    • Inexperienced investors or investors with the wrong kind of experience can throw you off track.
    • Successful investors with relevant experience will help you to make better decisions and grow faster.

    Make sure your vision and the investor’s vision for the company are aligned

    • Define what success looks like and then be realistic – it’ll take longer than you think.
    • If investors are realistic they’ll stick with you for the long-haul which is important.
    • Investors must accept you’ll make mistakes.

    The entrepreneur knows when to make hard decisions

    • Make sure your investors trust you and will support your decisions even when they disagree.
    • Otherwise you’ll take the safe (wrong) road and will eventually fail!

    Focus is incredibly important and incredibly hard for a start-up

    • Investors can suggest opportunities & make introductions that’ll cause you to lose focus.
    • Make sure your investors understand you need to pick one thing, do it really well, learn, evolve and then focus again.

    Did you like this article? 

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