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Feb. 22, 2021

Building the team - how, where and when do you start? By Nick Miceli.

Building the team - how, where and when do you start? By Nick Miceli.

Nick Miceli, Senior Tech Lead/Engineering Manager at Google talks about assembling the right team, choosing to go remote or hiring within your city, going through a dev-shop or contractors and other choices that the startup founder has to make while building the product. We also spoke about the major problems team managers face and how to deal with them.


Nick's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-miceli-59078a85/

Interesting book on team management: Leaders Eat Last

 

Transcript

So, specifically we'll discuss who should hire a team that is working, remotely throw the whole globe who should focus on Diaz based.

People or even they seem to see where you are located. So today we'll talk mostly about team building and also about fund raising as usually we do. So, Nick, let's kick it off by.

You're giving us some background on yourself and on your position at Google. Awesome Thank you for having me. So yeah, I'm Nick. I'm an engineering manager.

Um, I've been at Google for 8 and a half years now. Um, got to hop around across a few different efforts started as a software engineer writing code moved down to tech lead and tech lead management realized.

My favorite part of the job really was building teams, helping people grow. Creating an organization that can function and if anything impress.

And finding and recruiting talents, I, I find that even more fun than designing the system. So I've been enjoying that. I am now currently working on a team that.

Build internal tooling for Google, focusing on how to scale the unique culture of the company.

Nice. That's really cool. So, 1st question is we're talking about startups of course, not about huge corporation such as Google. Uh, so, 1st question is when should a startup founders start hiring people full time.

So, what do you think is the right moments for our founder to be like, okay, now I can hire full time developer and the United States.

Yeah, I think technology and particularly software based startups have a really unique advantage of.

You know, you don't need necessarily a brick and mortar location, or you don't necessarily need to invest in a factory set up or whatever it might be for other forms. You basically could just start with.

Cloud spin up a server and just get going prototyping, build that proof of concept. So. I think it depends a little bit on what your product offering is.

If it is itself a service or a tool or something that is software, you're going to want to jump right into that off the bat because that's going to be the cornerstone.

If software is merely powering a greater service. So, what you're offering is something that may be as access through the Internet, but the focus is less on the software and more on content or more on the.

The interaction, and then potentially you can just start by.

Playing with things that are out of box or, you know, existing products that aren't exactly what you want, but you could bootstrap it. So it really depends on on what is that core offering that's gonna get people excited about your startup perfect description. Absolutely.

Love it. So now, let's talk about choosing the full time employee versus freelancers slash agency. So a lot of startups I know, are sticking with part time freelancers who work for them.

I know 4 or 5 hours per month, or 2 actual agencies who take care of the whole thing. So instead of managing their own team of developers, they just hire an agency who is just working on the background while they're taking care of the sales marketing. Etc.

Etc so which option do you think is best for?

Yeah, and there's a whole nother category as well. Right? Which is just buy a thing, right? Like, you don't build out.

So, it's funny coming from from Google everyone I know in the startup world.

Is themself an engineer 1st and so I mostly have experienced with the form of engineers, our core employees, and the start ups, right?

Like, the start up itself is selling or a service, and therefore it was began with usually a engineer and a business person in a partnership. So.

I'm a little biased, but I'll say that I think. It really the big advantage of.

You know, contracting it out is the, you don't have to worry about it. Right? And I think that's great for if again the thing you're doing.

It's not necessarily that novel. I need a web page that a user can log into. I need that log in to be secure. I need them to be able to post this information and read that information. Right great. That's bread and butter. Let's go. Jump in and make it happen.

Where it gets interesting to bring on someone full time is really where you want to have that.

The software itself, there's something unique or special or innovative that you're doing in that realm. Right? Because then.

The biggest challenge with a freelance, or, um, you know, part time is you only have so much.

Sway over them, and, um, if you try to start giving a lot of criticism and push back and know this way know that way, or hey, I, I actually want the code to be maintainable. This is my product that's going to be living over a long time.

So, can you please documented and carefully keep track of things.

Then you tend to get the no, I'm, I'm working by the hour here. Right? I'm going to get you your feature and then I'm done. So, the advantage of having someone full time is you get a lot more bespoke.

Output of it again and I think personally those are the things that I think are very exciting is where.

Your building the next Instagram, right? Like, I want to build an app or a service that is itself the product that people are excited about.

In my mind there, you you want to have maybe again, maybe for the prototype or the validation for that 1st round of fundraising. I just need a proof of concept that shows what it is.

Right. Bring on a freelance team to slap some, a wizard of Oz together, right? Where it looks from the outside and behind the scenes, it's all smoke and mirrors. Once you're actually talking about. I want to build v1 of my, my MVP.

I I think folks undervalue the advantage of having.
A full time engineer who can really dive into the, the details of the product.

Higher percent very accurate response. Absolutely. Loved it. So now, let's move on to the next question, which is especially crucial to your in deep endemic or for people who are thinking of what's going to happen after the pandemic is over.

So choosing remote versus not remote team. What are I don't remember what does this thing office? What does the exactly.

Yeah, I mean, this has been so the pandemic has been a nightmare for everyone.

The, it is almost offensive to say there is a silver lining, but if there had to be 1, it was interesting to have a forced experiment of work from home.

For companies that would have otherwise never considered it right? Like big companies like Google were often going to lag behind in that. We're going to follow the traditional office experience.

Hey, turns out, you can be pretty productive with the remote team. Um, in fact, we've brought on consultants from companies that built from the ground up with the intention of being remote. I think.

There's a ton of advantage to having a company or a team that was built with the intention of being remote.

You open yourself up to a much wider talent pool.

You stopped thinking in terms of traditional things like, I have to block out this 2 meeting 2 hour, long meeting. Right? Whereas if you're if you're intentionally remote, then you start thinking, in terms of work being a synchronous.

So, I actually think unless you have a brick and mortar element, you haven't in person element or.

You really value that people being in a room sketching on a whiteboard together model. Like that is your management style. I think folks should start off by saying, could I run this remotely? Right there's so much great technology out there that facilitates that.

I mean, I'll put a little plug the product I worked on previously at Google was called jam board. You can go to jam board deck Google dot com. It's a collaborative white boarding.

So you can do just like Google, Doc style collaborative drawing and detailing and whiteboarding. It's free through the browser through the app. It works really well on on iPad tablet.

There's also a 5500 dollar, 55 inch, 4 K, physical whiteboard that you could buy. That is a beautiful experience, but you don't have to sync on that right away. But my point is, there's so many great tools to manage a team software development. Whiteboarding planning.

Video conferencing that, like, if we were having this conversation 10 years ago, it'd be very different, but where we are today.

I think it's, I think it's actually a huge advantage. Like, for me, when I'm looking for my next job, if after this, I want to join a startup.

That's probably going to be a must have I really want a company that isn't reliant on traditional.

Modeling and I have to go in on a commute and I have to sit in on meetings that are the majority of my day. I would much rather find someone who's open to.

How can we leverage talent from around at least the country if not the globe obviously, the downside to global is time zones.

Some cases you're going to need more brainstorming and synchronous work and so from West coast to East Coast, 3 hour time difference. It's not so bad. Right? That's what you and I have right now, right? Yeah.

Trying to do that with India, Australia. That's that's a lot harder. Um, so that's that's, I think still great but only if you know that you can rely almost entirely on a synchronous work.

A 100% and that's again very accurate.

Hiring remotely India's is 1 thing mostly around the globe is a completely different thing. Like, I just have to plug in this story from my own life. Uh, we have an office in Belgium and on this team call where our.

Both our Ellie and Belgium offices come together 1 person from belly and was like, oh, we should have lunches together and I'm like, dude. Okay when you're gonna have a lunch.

Is going to be 3 am here and Los Angeles are you sure about this? So those are hard. They are. They are indeed. So, let's say, let's take an example just to be more to have a clear understanding of how this works.

So let's say, I'm a startup founder, just raise my preceed round 1.5M dollars. Now. I decide that it's time for me to hire actual 2 or maybe even 3 developers to finalize the product. Where do I start my search? Should I go on the common tools?

Like, LinkedIn or glass door or any other resource like that or should I.

Go somewhere else. That's the fun part. And what's scary is that could be the most important decision you make. Right? Like.

A 1000 times software is easy. People are hard finding the right people to get a well developed. High functioning team is perhaps the hardest thing.

In my opinion that you will do in the scope of building the actual product, right? Like, and I'm not going to say whether it's harder or easier than the fundraising part. But my point is like.

If you don't get the right group of people, you are going to waste a significant amount of that raised money, paying someone who is just not getting.

The work done, right? So, ideally.

You have some form of a network that you can leverage there, right? Like, if you know people who, you know, are good talents that right there is a huge advantage.

If you don't,
then,
I would say,
at least consult with someone who has done this job before who has done hiring of a software team, because the role of interviewing of knowing what to ask of how to find the right person,

regardless of what tool you use or, where you look,
it's hard,
right?

It's, it's, it's not trivial to figure out.

Is this person I'm talking to the real deal or are they just really charismatic? Yeah. Um.

I think there's a lot of cool layers to that question, right? Like.

I'll be honest, I actually don't know as much about the business side of having to pay international employees. But what I do know is the market is very different, depending on where you look.

Right and this is consistently changing, but, like, the market in India for a while was a lot of very talented engineers, and we're not just talking, you know, like the contracting firms that are out there that can just, you know, turn something out.

I'm saying, like Google engineering and India was hiring, like, crazy and you could.

Value equivalently of what you had to pay an engineer versus, like New York because of cost of living and the market was, you could you could hire 2 engineers in India versus 1 in New York right? Mm. Hmm. So that's a cool facet.

There's the communication layer and and language confidence layer again, there's the, like, do I want occasionally to fly people out and have in person meetings? Well, that factor I think that's 1 of the most.

To me that the fun part of this job of of building software teams is, it's it's a little bit of magic to it right? Of of all the different.

Requirements you have, which are more or less important and then how are you.

Ultimately decide you're going to go from there. I have this small advantage of Google has a pretty strong hiring pipeline. Right? It's a lot of harder when you no 1 knows who you are, and you're trying to attract talent.

I think that's where it helps to have things like.

Yeah, we're a fully remote workforce and we are going to offer you that flexibility and, you know, we're going to work with innovative technologies and do cool things because.

Those are the polls that are going to draw Google talents out of Google, right? I'm tired of being forced to work in the limited domain that I have to here. I'm looking in the this constructs of a big company and the bureaucracy and the nonsense.

Oh, wow. Look at this company. They're building a product that a seems interesting, but be.

They're building a really effective lean novel engineering team. Boy that sounds refreshing after big corporate stuff. Mm.

I'm sorry, I didn't really answer your question. I think that's because.
Again, it's a, I would leverage your network 1st and B. I don't I haven't really had to use indeed or

LinkedIn because luckily I have that network in place.
Once you're out to just cold calling and trying to find total strangers.

At that point, I would just say, cast a wide net know what you're looking for, but go out as broad as you can, and then narrow down from there because there's just a ton of good diverse talent out there. It's not always the.

You know, traditional picture of a software engineer, white male in America, there's so much interesting, good, diverse talent around the globe that depending on what you're looking for, you can build a really.

Cool team. Absolutely 100%. And even though you didn't answer my question from the beginning at the end and before you answer that question, you've answered and now they're really cool thing, which is, you know, interviewing understanding who is actually a good engineer.

Who is not really so, for me, let's say I have absolutely 0T experience in tech.

Or, at least with developing stuff, what should I do? Should I reach out to someone like yourself and be like, hey, Nick, I have this problem.

I need to figure out if this 5 or 10 engineers are good or not but since we're not like 5 year old friends. I mean.

We don't have this 5 year of friendship behind our backs. What do I have to offer you back for you to be interested in this opportunity? You know.

It's a, it's a huge Lee, a deep topic.

The kind of like, I don't know if I don't want it to come across this condescending advice, but ideally, you're not in this situation. If you're building a product where software is your key thing and therefore you want to hire a team.

Ideally, 1 of your core founders, and people in the company has experience with us, because it's rough. Right? It's like a there was a Gordon Ramsey show out there people who tried to start their own restaurants and he comes in and fixes them.

And the vast majority of these failing restaurants are people who always said, oh, I'd love to make a restaurant and have no experience with the restaurant. Like.

If you've never done software and you want to build a software company, or, at least a start up where a core part of your service offering is software.

Again, this is the thing that people spend their entire careers learning how to do how to build and hire and staff a team that's effective. So, I'd say.

Probably lean on, um.

Using those contracting firms where somebody else who has that management and leadership experience is doing it, find someone who's reputable and has a good experience, and is in your budget and go as far as you can with that. 1st.

Make sure that whatever the terms of the the contract is, is that you have full sole ownership of the code at the end of it, et cetera, et cetera.

And by the time, you're ready to bring on engineers. Well, then your 1st hire should be someone you can trust to help build that engineering team with you. Right? Like, you need that experience. And if

you don't have it under team, I think you're going to have a rough time.

100% correct. Loved that answer again. So now, let's pretend that I read the higher the team. I have someone who.

Let's pretend I now understand tag. So the team I have, let's say 4 people on my team working, based on your experience, what would be the biggest challenge for me?

To run that team and was percentage remote as well based in the United States.

Yeah, so again, it I think a little bit depends on your experience. Um.

In mine remote new team.

So, I'll start by side and saying that, like, I have had to build a 2 different team since the start of the pandemic, where.

The 1st, 1, I started hiring in, you know, I started looking for talent in January, February, and then March it. Right? And then the 2nd, 1, we've been doing since we've been doing this for a while. And in both cases, everybody that we brought on board have never met in person. Right?

And the intention is for this to be a CO located team in New York, because that's the way Google tends to do things.

We right now we're all all over the country because, you know, we basically said, feel free to work from wherever you feel comfortable until you feel it's safe to come to New York. So luckily.

I have done this a little bit where we've been developing a remote team entirely during this. Forced you don't get to see each other in person period.
When you get a good team dynamic.
People who work well, together who are.

Proactive yes. And who want to reach out and build those bonds and build a working team and support each other. It's like magic.

When you don't, it's a nightmare where you have people who have egos and are trying to shove for this shyness project, or are, you know, nudging each others, you know, work and consistently criticizing.

If you're doing some sort of a code review process, 1 person says this person's overly pedantic and the other person says this person's code is so sloppy. Those are tough. And that's where you as a lead.

Need to pull people into order. Engineers. Do stereotypically often have big.

Heads comes from a combination of well, paid introverted work and so it requires really being proactive and thoughtful about how you structure this team.

What is the way you do check ins? How does your team communicate? What are the processes you put in place and making sure that, you know.

If you have someone who maybe isn't working as well with the team.
You got to make that call either just let them go they're eating up that, that precious money that you

have to operate on or.

Quickly have direct honest feedback with them, right. To be able to sit down and say, this is what I need.

This is what I'm seeing and this is why it's problematic. You got 1 chance you got to prove it to me. This is what I need you to be able to do, because it's just.

That will scuttle you that will sink your ship, right right, right. And those.

Confrontations those are the hardest, I think, for the managers so, yes, we definitely identify the major challenge of the management team there so hopefully it's fascinating. Right? Because you can also.

Turn something around, you can have a group of incredible talent who are not working well together. And I don't blame you if your instinct is.

I got this dream team, I want to make it work. I know these folks are all talented, either because of their backgrounds, or I've worked with them, or they come highly recommended. It's ridiculous that this team isn't working. And if you can jump in there.

And explore, you know, being what, what is often called radical candor, right? I'm going to be openly blunt with you. Respectfully, but I'm not going to do that, like, oh, it's not a big deal. No, no, listen. I know you can do this. I know.

You're talented individual.

But you cannot speak in meetings this way, or whatever it is right now to continuously jump in and undermine everyone else on the team. It's not going to work. And if you can build that rapport and that trust, it's magic. Right?

All of a sudden, you've got the startup of a bunch of high functioning talents who are just churning out.

Features that you can put in front of your next round of investors, or, you know, in front of the market as an MVP and say, like, look how cool this thing is.

So, that's the part of the job where, like, yes, it sucks. And it's rough, but like.

If if you, you know.

Engage in the challenge, it really can be magical seeing what comes out of a well managed team.

Absolutely, and it does sound like a decent challenge and it does sound like a challenge that might have really good reward there and I love how you're solving it. Absolutely.

So, I don't where are people who want to, like, you know, just just hire a consulting firm. I don't want to deal with this. Like, I don't blame you. It is hard stuff, but it's a fun challenge.

A 100% I'm not sure about how fun is and my brother developer as well and gosh, he's hard person to communicate with. I cannot imagine. How I would do is if he was not. My brother who might be your brother. Yeah.

20 years. Yes. So well, people who decide to do this good luck, I believe, in you, but for people who want to find a CO founder and or listening to this episode right now, and they're like, okay, Nick sounds like an amazing guy.

I want to get him on my team. So question for you, Nick, how should he, or she reach out to you? What

kind of approach do you think would work on people who are working on those big companies? Yeah, I don't know if there's a 1 size fits all solution there. I mean, for me.
It sounds a bit conceited, but, like, I think.

When you have something like a big company, your profile on LinkedIn, you get a lot of random cold calls and at this point, like, there are certain keywords for the common kind of roles that they're trying to recruit before that I have email filter set. Fine just send them.

I'm, I'm not interested. I'm, I'm happy where I am. And so, your random company holds minimal lower to me. Right? And even a company that I've heard of can be mildly tempting, but I have my reasons for why I'm here and not there at the moment.

So, if you wanted to again, unfortunately, it sucks. So much of this comes to networking and knowing people like, if I have someone I know and trust and they say, hey, I know this guy.

He's building this really awesome. Start up. You should have a conversation with him. I'll generally say yeah, sure. I'm happy to chat with them. No promises.

It's just when when I have no idea who you are, and you're trying to recruit me and you're saying all these shiny numbers, Ah, as much and funding we've got all these good things going for us.

I know the statistics I know the number of software companies, startups that succeed and failed. Right? And so I'm unlikely to risk my comfortable work life balance and job security for a total.

Unknown so I'm sure you've said this a lot on your show and and it's 1 of the things that I'm sure folks are sick of hearing, but like, building and maintaining that network is just key.

A 100% I totally agree with you. And for those people who have not heard the bird, the absolutely fundraising radio. That's exactly why I started the whole podcast for networking. Literally the entire goal of the podcast in the 1st.

And 7, 8 months was just and networking. That's how much I needed it. And that's how much time I was willing to put it into this whole stuff. So, yes, it is extremely important. It's like and day. Right?

And if you have, you know, someone that you can leverage, and even if they act as a bridge, they're not the person you're looking to get. They know someone it's so much easier than going in blind.

Absolutely, like there's just.

So much difference that though the cold outreach versus warm introduction, those 2 things cannot compare. So, yes. Do you put time in your network reach out to people help people out?

Because if you do not provide them value, why the hell do they need to help you back? So, on this note.

Positive negative not even sure let's talk a little bit more about you and the start. How do you intersect? So do you mentor or do angel investments in the start? Ups?

I mean, unfortunately, I don't have as much experience as I'd like to, at this point, because it's absolutely something I want to do in my career. Um, I was offered an opportunity to be, you know, like employee number 1 at a startup.

It was an extremely compelling option again. This is somebody that I knew.
So the company is then, then TV they do E sports TV. It's really awesome. You should check them out.

They are beast at fundraising. I recommend Googling and seeing what they've done.

It was something in the realm of, like, 14M in the 1st round, because there is a brick and mortar layer to it. But the 1 of the CO, founders of that area horn was the director of sports at right.

Games for the company that makes league of Legends, and he knew everybody who's everyone in that industry and they knew if he had an idea, there's probably something to it.

So he had made me that offer to jump and be 1 of the 1st people on board. For that company, there's a part of me that really wondering what would happen if I had taken it. Ultimately, I made the decision.

I had a child on the way, and I wanted to stick with known work life balance, rather than I know if I'm joining this company I'm going to bust my a** and make it successful. I probably can't offer them 100%, but I want to with a child on the way.

So I intend to at some point and I've been following them very closely to see their success. I'm rooting severely for them.

And then I've got a couple other friends who are ex, as we call them. Uh, and, um, that are working on, um, related startups at the moment. And again, I'm, I'm less advising and more just.

Giving my, my suggestions and input here and there and offering advice.

The little things like, um, here, I'll say, probably 1 of the most common pieces of advice I've given to to friends in that space is.

To really the 1st thing you need to do if you're building a software related startup is to identify that core piece of user value that you're giving right? Cause it can be very tempting.

To want to build something that's beautiful and robust and full featured and does all the things. Right? But, like, at the end of the day for everything that tick tock is what is it about tech talk that keeps people coming back to it?

If you strip everything else away, what is it that made it popular?

What is it that made air? Bnb successful? What is it that made the base successful? Right? Like you identify that 1 piece of core, use your value.

Get that down 1st, get a prototype, get an MVP that snails that even if the is ugly, even if there's rough edges and obvious features it should have. And doesn't.

Otherwise, you risk building a Jack of all trades master of none that excites nobody, right?

You got to find that 1 key feature and I think that's hard that's another skill set that's project management that a lot of engineers don't have we want to build the fold. Cool technologically, no crappy code just get the thing working.

So those are the kind of bits of a little bit of mentorship that I'll do is I'll hear what people are going and I'll try to just provide nudges. But for the most part, they're just like coffee chats to see how far.

Nice nice. And that's actually that's perfect advice. A few times I've seen pages where founders were like, oh, we'll have way more features than our competitor. I'm like, come on. That is not a competitive advantage is just not. It's not.

You've done a very valid point. There just make it running test out the major, a value proposition and see if it's if it's resonating with the users. So, on this a really positive note, I think we are moving on to the last question to these episode.

So, Nick, what do you want to do as soon as the episode is over.

Yeah, I think the best thing you can do. So, I assume if you are still listening to this episode and you're excited that you are thinking about that software start up, right? And good for you.

It is an amazing space with a ton of possibility, and just a ton of verticals that haven't been explored yet and, I mean, that's why we love it as it changes so rapidly and there's a ton to do here. Right? The, the, my advice to you, the 1st thing is.

Do your homework to so many people jump right in with their idea without really looking 1st across the landscape and seeing who else has tried that idea where has it succeeded and failed where are the success stories? And how did they get there?

There's just a plethora of resources. A lot of folks in this industry.

Like, to talk about it, there's, you know, conferences that were recorded, there's, you know, other, um, interviews and blogs and things where people will tell you their adventures and there's just so much you can learn from it. So.

I would say, like, dive in, it's a really exciting space. It's a very cool space and I'm. I hope that a, I hope that I get to see your start up as the next big thing.

100, if you, if you get big and you get successful, don't don't lose your ethics for, for, for value, right? You can think a lot of money without having to sell out people's privacy. Well, there's just too much of that right now.

You can be successful and moral. It is possible. I believe in you.

Well, that's a really positive ending of today's episode. My call to action is going to be similar to Nick's.

Diving to your competitors, understand what they're doing, who they are, you know, how are you different from them? And if you see, that's.

The products the solutions are we to similar? That may be you're. Just not doing something that's bringing value to people.

So just understand your competitor, make your research and this stuff understand what your previous competitors who die now I mean, as companies not to people not not not competitors. That is not what we're advertising.

Definitely. Not a very, very good point here, so yeah. Do that and also check the description of this episode. I'll make sure to leave a few links there.

Maybe I'll follow up with Nick to see if he has any recommended articles, or maybe books on teen managements. Matt slash team building, so definitely take a look and the description of his episode, maybe there's going to be some cool stuff there.

And as you usually have a good.