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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The difference between a conference and an unconference

One of the things I really like about unconferences is that there is very little "gyan" and a lot of experience sharing. This came home to me when participating in a session on hiring.

The question was: "What strategies do you follow for hiring and building a team?"

This same topic was discussed in a panel in the NASSCOM Product Conclave last year, with some VCs on the panel. In typical panel style, a lot of gyan was thrown around: "Hire only the best people", "Top people create top teams" etc.

That's stating the obvious. I mean which startup doesn't want to hire the best people? Do these VCs believe startups are intentionally hiring poor people because they believe its a better strategy??

The fact is that there are a lot of on the ground challenges to hiring that these panelists are hand waving away with their gyan:
  1. Startups are always short of cash and cannot match the compensation in bigger companies
  2. A lot of startups hire good guys only for them to leave in 6-12 months
  3. Really good guys are hard to find
  4. Most employees are not interested in stock options (a lot of Silicon Valley returned VCs talk about stock options... one wonders if they have actually recruited in India)
At the end of the panel, the audience is usually unsatisfied. The panelists tell them what they already know without a word on tackling ground level challenges that they face.

Now compare that with an unconference. Once more this topic came up at the TiE unconference.

Look at the answers this time:
  1. Many top people are around in smaller cities, who are not taken by big companies because of a lack of english skills. They are smart and make good startup employees
  2. Find a few people who believe in your vision and then complement them with freshers
  3. Look at 6 month internships - lots of smart people available as interns
  4. Look at your requirements - not all types of work require the best people. Some types of work are repetetive and may just make good employees bored.
  5. Look at the attitude and teach the skills
These are strategies that are coming from the experience of people who actually have to tackle these on-the-ground problems. At the end, the participants feel charged up with ideas to take back and implement the next day.

This is really what makes an unconference different for me. The focus on real solutions to real problems is invaluable.

1 comment:

Narain Rajagopalan said...


I agree on the Stock Options part of it. We need to have guys from the VC / Angel / Legal / Accounting to figure out how this can actually be done in Pvt. Ltd firms or LLPs in India.

May be if we start talking about stock options louder, 2-3 years down the line, employees will also come with a mindset. Just a thought.