Quotes"Interest in #blockchain jobs follows the price of the #cryptocurrency markets. People are interested in putting their money into #bitcoin and also interested in working in that industry." ~@crypto_bobby, founder of @ProofOfTalent Click To Tweet "Unlike startups in industries with proven models of success, there's also this technology risk of a startup that's building in the #blockchain and #cryptocurrency industry." ~@crypto_bobby, founder of @ProofOfTalent Click To Tweet "You've seen people within the #crypto Twitter world – they put in a lot of work. People respect that, and they are open to helping out new people whether they have 5 followers or 50,000." ~@crypto_bobby, founder of @ProofOfTalent Click To Tweet
Welcome to this conversation with Rob Paone, founder of Proof of Talent, a boutique recruiting firm focused on the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries. Because he specializes in blockchain and crypto, Rob is able to offer precise insight into recruiting top talent and getting hired in these areas.
This conversation with Rob is split into 3 chapters:
- Chapter 1: The state of hiring and recruiting in the blockchain/crypto space
- Chapter 2: How to get hired by a crypto company
- Chapter 3: A Q&A covering the importance of networking, trends in remote hiring, and Rob’s competition
Topics Discussed In This Episode
- How crypto-related job searches tend to be correlated with the Bitcoin price
- Hiring in a competitive market
- Why employers should always make a clear value proposition
- Rob’s concept of risk squared: startup risk + technology risk
- The importance of flexibility in job searches and hiring
- Where the blockchain/crypto jobs are
- How product-market fit determines which jobs are available
- Developing transferable skills in your current job
- The benefits of networking – both online and in-person
- How to stand out as a job-seeker
- Proof of Talent’s business model and 2020 recruiting goals
- Building a personal brand in crypto
- Trends in remote work
Links Relevant To This Episode
- Popular Crypto Weekly Newsletter
- Clay Collins
- Rob Paone
- Proof of Talent
- Rob on Twitter
- Proof of Talent on Twitter
- Binance Coin
Clay: Welcome to Flippening, the first and original podcast for full time, professional, and institutional crypto investors. I’m your host, Clay Collins. Each week, we discuss the cryptocurrency economy, new investment strategies for maximizing returns, and stories from the frontlines of financial disruption. Go to flippening.com to join our newsletter for cryptocurrency investors and find out just why this podcast is called Flippening.
Clay Collins is the CEO of Nomics. All opinions expressed by Clay and podcast guests are solely their own opinion [00:00:30] and do not reflect the opinion of Nomics or any other company. This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon as the basis for investment decisions.
Welcome to this conversation with Rob Paone, founder of Proof of Talent which is a boutique recruiting firm focused on the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries. I should note that this particular episode was recorded in front of a live audience. If you’d like to attend a live Flippening Podcast recording [00:01:00] and directly submit interview questions to guests, then please go to Flippening.com and subscribe. After you’ve subscribed, we’ll be sure to send you email notifications before live recording sessions so you can join us. Space is limited to 100 attendees per recording, so go to Flippening.com to subscribe and join us for the next live recording of this podcast.
With that established, let’s talk about Rob. Because Rob deals exclusively with blockchain and crypto hires, he’s able to offer insight into recruiting top talent and getting hired [00:01:30] in these areas. As he points out, large, established recruiting firms often have a small blockchain practice with access to the firm’s resources but little understanding of the ins and outs of the space. That understanding is what Rob shares with us.
Our conversation is split into three chapters. In chapter one, Rob covers the state of hiring in crypto, difficulties that employers face, and how to recruit in crypto. In chapter two, we discuss how to get hired at a crypto company if you’re a job seeker. Finally, in chapter three, [00:02:00] we do Q&A. During this Q&A, we cover a range of topics related to recruiting and hiring in the blockchain/crypto space and take questions from the live audience present at the time of recording.
We’ll get to the episode in just a second, but before we get started, I’d like to pause for a moment to tell you that this episode is brought to you by the good folks at Nexo.io. Here’s a word from them.
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Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program. Here’s my conversation with Rob Paone from Proof of Talent. Enjoy. [00:06:00] Let’s start with Chapter One, the state of hiring in the blockchain and crypto industries. Rob, could you give us a sense of where employers are at with regard to hiring new candidates? Is there more supply than demand or is it the other way around?
Rob: This is something that I think people might [00:06:30] not have a tremendous feel for, but in 2019, demand for talent really did exceed the supply of talent. This probably does not come as a surprise, but interest in cryptocurrency and blockchain jobs largely follows the price of Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency markets at large. When you have a year where Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency markets goes up, usually there’s a lagging indicator. There’s kind of a lagging effect [00:07:00] of people, not only are the interested and potentially putting their money into Bitcoin or other crypto assets, but they’re also interested in working in that industry full-time because they have a lot of belief or conviction in the industry, and they feel like that might be a fantastic place for them to go and to work.
Interest within the, you know, interest within the actual industry as a whole from an employment standpoint is really correlated heavily to the price Bitcoin. Job postings to me indicate there are more opportunities [00:07:30] in the industry. People are posting more jobs. There are more jobs available, generally speaking.
Interestingly enough, you’ll see with these job postings that there’s been an increase in job postings year over year, every year since 2015 up to 2019.
Rob: Even in the bear market perhaps, we will say, of 2018 to 2019, you’re seeing a 26% year over year increase in the amount of jobs that were posted on Indeed in relationship to Bitcoin, crypto, and blockchain.
[00:08:00] On the other end of the spectrum, you can see in 2019 a large decrease in the amount of searches that happened on Indeed. In 2016 to 2017, there was a 300% increase in the amount of searches for job candidates, obviously the price of Bitcoin and crypto went nuts. In 2017, there was a massive increase. In 2018 to 2019, now you have a 50% plus decrease in the amount of searches.
Why do I think that’s important [00:08:30] for companies to understand? Well, when you have a 26% increase there of job opportunities, you have 50% plus less people that are less interested in those opportunities. While there is still even more demand for talent, there’s even more job opportunities that you’re competing against as an employer, you have people that are roughly speaking about 50% less interested in the industry. That is really important as an employer to understand that things were even more competitive that they’ve ever been really in the blockchain [00:09:00] and crypto industry.
When it comes down to competition, as I said before, we’ll look at things in the lens of, hey, there’s a quarter more opportunities and there’s 50% of people that are less interested in those. How can your company hire effectively in this competitive market? And here are three things that I really look at, and this is from personal experience. This is from working with companies on a consistent basis at Proof of Talent.
One of the first things that I look at is having clearly defined roles. [00:09:30] A big issue for companies, and I work with a lot of organizations that are let’s say seed, series A, series B type companies. One of the big issues that these organizations have is they struggle to define the roles that they actually want to hire for. That can oftentimes be an issue because when you struggle to define those opportunities, you’re not able to be time-efficient in the long run. It might seem like it makes sense to maybe skip out on going through a process of really strongly identifying and defining a role upfront [00:10:00] when you’re trying to hire for somebody, but that can really bite people in the back end of that process.
For example, somebody might come to me and I’ll work with an organization. It might be hiring for an engineer or for some other type of talent. They might provide me just an outline of talents and say, “Hey, we’re looking for somebody that’s an engineer, we want to go ahead. We want you to help us hire them.”
We’ll go through the process. We’ll find some candidates. They’ll interview some people on their own as well. Maybe a month plus later, they’ll come back and say, “You know what? [00:10:30] We went through that whole process, but yeah, we’re actually looking for something a little bit different right now, and I think we’re gonna redo the search.”
That’s a huge waste of time for that company. It also wastes the time of the company life cycle for a lot of that. In that time of interviewing those candidates, you’re really giving the competition potentially a headstart on getting to market first and a variety of other things. If you take the time upfront to really clearly define your hiring in this space, it’s going to save you a lot of time [00:11:00] in the back end.
The second thing I think is really important here as well is on interview process speed. With that being said, again, it is a very competitive market. One of the easiest ways that companies are losing out on candidates is being slow in the interview process. The interview process is something that is so clearly in the control of the company of being time-efficient and kind of driving their process forward. If that’s something that you tend to slack on [00:11:30] a little bit, it can really hurt you in the long run.
There are certain candidates that a lot of companies would like to hire and I’ve seen this happen over and over again. A good software engineer comes in the market or a good product manager comes in the market, those people are not on the market typically for very long. When those individuals come and they might start an interview process. The first step of that interview process is a phone conversation two weeks out, and then the next conversation is another phone conversation [00:12:00] two weeks out, and then there’s maybe a face-to-face interview another week or two out.
You’ve already taken up potentially four, five, six, seven weeks in a very slow, drawn-out interview process. Whereas a motivated, time-efficient company might wrap up and offer in two weeks or something like that. You don’t necessarily have to go through an offer process in two days, that’s a little bit ridiculous. But just understanding that the interview process and the speed of which you do that is really important, that is critical [00:12:30] when you’re talking about competitive hiring.
The last thing that’s important, too, I think is the value proposition, and understanding the value proposition of not only your company, why somebody would want to work for your company, but also the value proposition of the role. As an employer, you want to have that idea. You want to have that understanding of what value are we bringing to potentially these job candidates both on the employer’s side, as well as for the specific role. How can we sell that in both manners? Because oftentimes, the candidate [00:13:00] might really, really like a company. They might think a company is fantastic. They might really understand the value of why they should work there. The role is just not a good fit, though, and they’ll turn it down because they don’t want to get stuck in a role no matter how great the company is.
On the other end of the spectrum, they might have a fantastic role, it really seems like exactly what they want to be doing, but they just don’t buy the value of the company. You really want to understand the value proposition in both scenarios.
That really leads me into my next point as well. That is something called risk squared. [00:13:30] This is a kind of a phrase that somebody that I really spoken to early on in Proof of Talent. He’s the CEO of a crypto payments company, a startup, venture-backed startup. I was talking to him about some of the troubles that he’s had with recruiting in the past, and some of the challenges.
He said, “The challenge I face is essentially we face risk squared when we’re recruiting.” What is risk squared? Well, number one, he’s a startup, the company itself [00:14:00] is a startup. With every startup, candidates will have risks in mind. Any intelligent job candidate would know there are a variety of risks when it comes down to working at a startup. Is it properly capitalized? Are they gonna have enough runway? Is this company going to work out in the long run? There’s a number of different things that can pose startup risks.
Unlike traditional startups that are in these fantastic industries that have been around for 10, 15, 20 years, and have relatively proven models [00:14:30] of success, not only is the risk on the startup end, but there’s also this technology risk. What do I mean by that? Well, the technology risk of this is a startup that’s also building technology in the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry. As we know, there’s a lot of regulatory concerns. There’s concerns about the market.
Anytime the price of Bitcoin might drop, people get worried. Things happen. Not only do you have the traditional issues around candidates being worried [00:15:00] about the things that they should be worried about with startups, that they should have concerns about, but you also have to worry about candidates having some concerns around the technology itself, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Some people are obviously incredibly passionate about this industry, but if you’re trying to draw people from outside industries, a lot of times they’re gonna have concerns about what that might be, which leads to this little phenomenon known as risk squared. I think it’s important as a company, when you’re hiring, to think about that [00:15:30] because you want to address both risks in your interview and in your hiring process. Wanna make sure people feel comfortable when they are working at a startup, but also feel comfortable when they’re working at a company that is developing technology that might not have a super clear future for some individuals as well.
This is something that I kinda jokingly call the House Hunters Paradox. It’s a problem that I think a lot of startups in general face, but especially startups in the cryptocurrency world face. If you haven’t seen an [00:16:00] episode of House Hunters, which if you haven’t, I think you’re lying, but if you haven’t seen an episode of House Hunters, basically, the premise is it’s a show on HGTV. Usually it’s a couple, or an individual, but usually it’s a couple that is going and they’re shopping for a house.
The first step they do is they go and meet with their realtor. Usually, they’ll go to the realtor and they’ll say something like this, “We’re looking for a four-bedroom house. It’s got to have three bathrooms. It’s newly renovated. It has old rural charm, but it’s also right next to a perfect school district, and I want a 30-second [00:16:30] commute to work, and I also want super easy access to the city. Oh, yeah, and our budget is $350,000 near New York City.”
That sounds great and all, but the problem with that is these individuals haven’t necessarily done their research, and that house that they might be shopping for is maybe $700,000 or a million dollars. What do they do? Do they up their budget [00:17:00] or do they look at potentially maybe knocking a few bedrooms off or a bathroom, or maybe they don’t have a newly renovated house anymore, et cetera.
You have the same kind of issue within startup hiring as well. A lot of times, companies will come to me. In many scenarios, I almost feel like the realtor here, but companies will come to me and they’ll say something like this, “We want to find a senior software engineer that has 7 to 10 years of experience. We want them to have graduated from Stanford, or Harvard, [00:17:30] or MIT, or an Ivy League school with a CS degree. We also want to have seen them work at a Facebook or a Google or a big tech company, so we know they’re really experienced and they’re strong, and they also have to have a background in the exact type of technology that we’re working in, and oh yeah, our budget for this position is something like 150 or 170K.”
Well, that’s fantastic, but that person might be making $300,000, or $350,000, or $400,000 at Facebook, [00:18:00] or at Google, or at LinkedIn, or wherever they might be. That presents a problem. What do you do in that scenario? Do you, A, do you increase the budget of the house? Do you increase the budget for the candidate? Or B, do you look at a variety of points where you can say, “Okay. Rather than needing 7 to 10 years of experience, maybe we still want somebody that went to Stanford, or MIT, or Harvard, but we’re fine with 2 or 3 years of experience,” or alternatively, maybe you want somebody [00:18:30] with 5 or 10 years of experience, but instead of that degree, maybe we’re fine with a coding bootcamp.
There are a variety of levers across the compensation spectrum that you can kind of play with and you can adjust to meet the needs, but it’s important that as a hiring organization, you don’t get too hung up on this because it’s something that can, in many ways, create unrealistic expectations for you. You have to understand that there are levers that you have to adjust over time [00:19:00] to find candidates that are going to fit for your startup or for your company. I think that’s something that you definitely want to note and always understand.
This is applicable to both job candidates, job seekers, as well as for hiring companies. This is something where when we’re looking at talent location, specifically in the US, and I will say that I do have a US-centric view. Proof of Talent is headquartered in New York. I live in New York. [00:19:30] We also do a bunch of work in a variety of other cities in the US, but I have a pretty US-centric view. Obviously, there are huge presences within the crypto and blockchain industry in Asia, in Europe, across the world, but this is just a little bit of info in the US.
I would break down things in three different tiers; tier one, tier two, and tier three. Not to say that any of these cities are better than any of the other cities at all. I’m not saying New York is better than Miami or Seattle, but when you’re talking about the sheer number [00:20:00] of job opportunities in the industry, as well as the sheer number of people that you could potentially employ, San Francisco and New York City are both far and away the largest cities when it comes to the amount of talent and the number of opportunities.
If you’re looking to work in the industry, you are gonna find the most opportunities in either one of those cities. From data with LinkedIn, from data with Indeed, Angel lists across the board, that is basically backed by cold, hard data, as well as anecdotally [00:20:30] from things that I’ve seen in talking to a thousand plus candidates at this point in time.
Secondly, you have some slightly smaller cities, which are also less expensive cities, but you have Chicago, LA, and Boston are places where you’re also gonna find a good number of opportunities, not merely the amount of opportunities that you would find in New York or San Francisco, but there are definitely opportunities in the crypto and blockchain world. Chicago was large, [00:21:00] high-frequency trading like FFT or HFT talent pool. Boston has Harvard, MIT, a lot of great schools where not only can people find awesome engineers, but there’s also a lot of former engineers and technical talent that have started companies in the Boston area and LA just being a huge city.
On the third end of the spectrum here, tier three, is what I would consider. Not saying these are worst cities, but just in the number of opportunities. You’ll also find [00:21:30] some companies kind of scattered throughout Austin, Denver, Seattle, and Miami as well.
Whether or not you’re looking to hire or if you’re looking for employment in those areas, those are cities that I would look at specifically. There are also remote opportunities within the industry, but I would say they’re fewer and farther between probably less than 25% I would estimate are remote opportunities. The industry [00:22:00] is all about decentralization, that doesn’t necessarily mean the office or the workforce is decentralized yet. Something to take of note as well.
Clay: With that, let’s kick off chapter two, which takes the perspective of a job seeker looking to break into the blockchain or crypto space. Rob, how do things look from the job seeker’s point of view? What kind of hurdles might an applicant face or what can a candidate do to get a job in crypto?
Rob: I look at product market fit really within the blockchain and crypto industry, and how that determines the diversity [00:22:30] of opportunities. When I say the diversity of opportunities, I mean the variety of different types of roles that a company tends to offer.
With the blockchain and crypto world, kind of getting back to that risk squared point, with the blockchain and cryptocurrency world, you have not only some challenges just industry-wide, but there are not a whole lot of companies that have yet to find fantastic product market fit. Many are still pre-revenue. What happens in that scenario is you have these companies that are very heavy hiring engineers, [00:23:00] and there are not as many other opportunities out there.
A seed company might just be past the minimum viable product, they just got their first round of funding, they’re mostly hiring engineers. Series A, they might be starting to hire people in the legal department. They might be starting to hire marketing or operations or maybe their first salesperson, et cetera.
As companies get to that later stage series A or potentially approaching series B, you start to see a lot more diversity of opportunities, [00:23:30] and that’s something that is definitely helpful to understand for people that may be nontechnical as well.
When you look at the opportunities in the crypto space, again, getting back to that kind of “issue” with product market fit, and just how early we are as an industry, much of the work is still being done on the engineering side of the house. Until products get built, until people start using a lot of these tools, the bulk of the work will continue to be on engineering. [00:24:00] As things continue to mature, as the industry continues to mature, as companies continue to grow, that engineering number will likely turn back a little bit, and you start to see some increases in sectors like sales and marketing or operations or management, et cetera for nontechnical individuals, but also for software engineers, and more engineering-related individuals. You want to improve your candidacy as much as possible.
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Rob: The first and the best thing you can really do is build transferable skills in your current job. If you have a career path, if you have a job that transfers over well into a growing company within the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry, you want to build up [00:28:00] that skillset as much as you possibly can. That is typically done in your day job.
Whether you’re in sales, or if you are in marketing, or if you’re in accounting, or if you are a software engineer, just be the best accountant, software engineer, build up your transferable skillset, build up the best one that you possibly can so that when you go over into that new role eventually in the blockchain and crypto space, you have a really solid base.
The next thing I would say to build up, not only transferable skills, but blockchain-specific skills. This is something that you’re likely [00:28:30] gonna have to do on your own. I’m just guessing and assuming that most companies out there are not gonna have something that you can do internally that is going to allow you to build up a skillset with blockchain technology.
Do what you can to figure out the role that you want and try to build up a complementary skill set that translates and shows your interest within the blockchain world. Whether that is on the engineering side of the house, getting some type of maybe specific experience with solidity or just working directly with Bitcoin [00:29:00], et cetera. Building a blockchain-specific skillset is important.
The last thing I would say is networking. Whether you’re US or you’re international, if you live in a major city, there are certainly advantages to that. The blockchain and crypto industry as a whole is so online-focused. You can certainly build up a great network of friends, of contacts, of people that you can lean on in Telegram, on Twitter, in Reddit, [00:29:30] wherever it is.
Don’t discount that, but if you live in a large city where there are people interested in this industry, take advantage of that. Whether it’s meetups, hackathons, that type of thing. There are a variety of things that you can do that will just help to build your network, and in many cases, having a network in this industry is really, really, really valuable.
Sometimes it can be difficult too to stand out. How can you actually do that? One thing I would recommend and really all this or much of this [00:30:00] goes back to just having some type of like provable, verifiable thing that you can go back to.
As a recruiter, a lot of people will come to me and they will say, “Hey, I’m really interested in this industry. I want to work in this industry. It sounds great. I want to do it. Let’s do it.” I’ll say, “Okay. That’s fantastic, but what do you know about it or what can you share with me about your interest?” They might just have some very surface-level kind of just not great explanation.
[00:30:30] Whereas sometimes other individuals will say, “Hey, here’s my Medium profile. Here’s my GitHub account. Here’s this, here’s that.” People have verifiable information that shows they’re truly dedicated to learning and growing within the industry. That is the type of thing that you want to focus on as much as possible.
One of the easiest things–and this is more on the engineering side of the house–but contributing to open source projects. It’s really a no-brainer, but if you are a software engineer or if you’re even just curious about the industry as a whole and [00:31:00] you’re slightly technical, contributing to open source projects, the entire industry is really built off this open-source ethos, whether it’s Bitcoin, Ethereum, whether it’s a number of different projects that are built around that. Whatever you like, it doesn’t really matter. Contributing to open-source projects is something that people can always go back to in GitHub or anywhere else, and see the work that you’ve done. That is really something that’s, that’s great.
But for some of the people that are nontechnical, a lot of individuals I’ve seen get hired have some type of Medium or blog [00:31:30] or a place where they share their ideas and thoughts. That’s really important, writing that down and putting that out there for the world to see. It can be a little scary sometimes giving people the opportunity to judge you on Medium or somewhere else about your own thoughts, but it has been something where I’ve seen a lot of people have success. This is kids straight out of college or transferring different industries.
It’s something that has proven to hold interest for hiring companies [00:32:00] when they can really see somebody’s taking the time to write maybe 5 or 10 different blogs about this, about Bitcoin, or about Ethereum, or about some other technology within the space, just something generally speaking about that. They’ve taken the time to write a thousand words on multiple different occasions and they find that interesting.
That’s something that you can do even if you’re not highly technical. Again, going back to the networking portion, attending hackathons and meetups, go to meetup.com, ETHGlobal [00:32:30] is like a hackathon event that I’ve been to. If you are technical, those are fantastic. There’s Bitcoin-related ones really across the board, especially if you’re technical, but even not. You do not need to be highly technical for a lot of these, but going to meetups in-person is a fantastic way just to meet people, to build up your connections in the space. Whether it’s individuals that are hiring, just friends. It’s a great way to do and just continue to network on a consistent basis.
Clay: Let’s transition to chapter three. In this section, we’re going to cover several [00:33:00] topics related to hiring and recruiting in the crypto space such as the importance of networking, disclaimers, or things people wish they knew before looking for a job in crypto, trends in remote hiring, and Rob’s competition.
Most of the roles in the space do seem to be development-oriented, or for software engineers. If someone is a salesperson in the space and looking to differentiate themselves or sort of get a role is there that’s industry-specific that they should [00:33:30] know about or is this pretty much like getting this kind of role anywhere else, you know, other than sort of domain knowledge?
Rob: It’s a tough question. I would say that networking is really crucial for sales and for biz dev talent. There is a little bit of, I don’t want to say like a renaissance, but the industry is kind of figuring out what they need to do about sales and I’ll give an example, too. Many of the exchanges might have business development folks, [00:34:00] especially on the custody side. You have all these different custody providers right now that are kind of fighting each other for assets under management.
I have actually spoken to a few people in particular, and somebody would come from an Oracle type background to going to one of these exchanges that has this assets under management approach and, basically, his or her job was to go out and to work with these different funds and kind of get them to hold their crypto on the exchange [00:34:30] or within a custody solution.
One of the bigger gripes about that was they don’t necessarily know the way to compensate, they don’t necessarily have an understanding of how software sales work. With the preface, I’ll say that I think the industry is still figuring out how to sell a lot of the software, and how to compensate sales reps or biz dev talent for a lot of the software.
I will also say that biz dev [00:35:00] as a job title is something you always want to flush out because many companies have different definitions of business development, and you want to make sure that if you’re coming from a traditional sales background, that it is a company that is actually bringing in money, and the business development, that you just want to make sure that there’s actually business to potentially develop there.
Clay: Maybe the next place to go would be to explore what a disclaimer might be for someone [00:35:30] who does want to work in this industry. Something that I’ve heard quite a few people in this space say is that they got a job in this industry because they’re really excited about it. They wanted to disrupt the world. But then when they did get a job, they found that there were quite a few challenges.
First and foremost is that it wasn’t as exciting as they thought it would be. It was kind of like working for any other corporation or any other kind of fintech job, whether it’s Robin Hood or if you’re gonna work for like JP Morgan [00:36:00] and they’ve got an engineering team. It’s pretty much just like that and it’s not any different just because it’s crypto.
Another kind of comment that I’ve heard from folks has to do with the nascency of the space. If you’re a top salesperson at Oracle, I’m sure in those cases there’s a lot of sales collateral that’s there, here’s SDRs hitting the phones. It’s the 5,000th iteration of the comp plan and everyone kinda knows what they need to do.
[00:36:30] They might go into a crypto company that’s headed up by a product-focused engineer. They hear they need to hire some salespeople, but you’re right. It’s not as well-defined and, it’s a lot harder to hit on target earnings compared to going to, you know, if you’re a really talented salesperson, going to bread and butter enterprise SaaS shops.
What kind of disclaimers might you have to supplement or in addition to what I just said, you know, right now for folks interested working in this space. Taking into consideration that in [00:37:00] your role, it’s probably bad for your compensation if people leave in the first three months, right, or the first five months. I imagine you have guarantees and stuff like that in place, but what disclaimers might you have for folks looking to get hired?
Rob: I think when I was talking about this, I was referring to hiring companies, in general. But I think that there is a risk spectrum as a job candidate as well that’s important to think of. I do believe that most people consider this upfront, [00:37:30] but when you’re looking at like let’s say perhaps a seed startup in the industry, there is going to be the most potential upside likely while working at a seed level startup. On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of things can go wrong. A company is probably pre-product market fit, there are a variety of things that could potentially happen that aren’t great.
As you go up that spectrum of seed to series A, to series B, you’re going to reduce the amount of upside that you have. You’re gonna receive likely less stock options [00:38:00] or less equity, but there’s also a slight derisk that happens at every single level.
On the flip side to that though is the industry at large, you kind of get that to the point of the startup risk is somewhat predictable, let’s say, but you also have the technology risk as a whole. A lot of companies within the industry are still very dependent on the market. If the Bitcoin market goes down, if just the cryptocurrency market goes down, [00:38:30] some things can negatively affect certain companies.
Even if it is a large 200, 300 person company in the space that maybe received multiple hundred millions of dollars in funding, there could still be layoffs, there could still be things that could happen. As you’ve even seen with things like WeWork, there’s startup risk inherent with everything no matter how much funding something has, no matter how good something looks on the surface. I think it’s best to [00:39:00] try to do your best as much individually possible to judge the situation both from a management perspective looking at the company, looking at where they are, and just gauging your personal risk tolerance for it.
Clay: At Nomics, we’re at a place where we have I think a pretty impressive sales pipeline but I’m closing all the sales myself. Since I have you here and you have a background both in recruiting and sales, this might be an interesting thing to explore.
We’re consistently making sales. We have consistent lead flow, [00:39:30] but I don’t have a background as a sales manager. I don’t feel like the right next person to hire would be some sort of senior sales leader that’s come from a place like Oracle.
In my head, kind of thinking about who I’d want to hire, I’m thinking I’d want to hire someone who has some sales experience but also is capable of being the very first hire in a sales organization [00:40:00] and sort of collaborating with me on things like comp plans, and the creation of collateral, sales ops, and things like that.
What would be your advice to me? Because I know of quite a few crypto companies that are in this place where they’re looking to go upmarket. The entire industry started with sort of a consumer focus, but is sort of slowly but surely going upmarket. There are more sales roles and more need to interface with enterprises. What should that first hire [00:40:30] in the space look like?
Rob: When I look at that, I think a little bit depends on collectively like the skillset that you really need, but a lot of it does come down to the culture. That’s something that, and again, most of the companies that I work with now are seed, series A, and some series B, but mostly in like the series A timeframe where they might have, let’s say, between 6 and 50 employees. That’s a fairly wide range.
On the lower end, especially when you’re talking about the size of some of these smaller [00:41:00] companies, the hires are so critical and it’s something that I’ve definitely felt as somebody helping these organizations to find talent is how critical it is to get that hire right because if you make the wrong hire, when you have 8 or 10 employees and you have to let that person go, that’s 10% of your workforce. That’s a large issue, it’s a large pullback. There’s a lot of time involved, things like that.
I think understanding and getting that culture is really right. I also think you want to figure out [00:41:30] upfront the type of skillset that you are not qualified maybe necessarily to teach, and what somebody can work and figure out on the job. I think that’s important. I think a lot of times companies that I work with will try to find somebody that can do everything day one. In reality, there are only so many people that fit like the exact box that you want, day one.
What types of skill sets can somebody have that you can kind of predetermined upfront, [00:42:00] clearly define and say we want somebody that has closing experience around whole deal cycles at a software company, understands how to prospect on their own, understands how to take the entire process by themselves, doesn’t really need much hand-holding, but maybe they don’t have a ton of experience with X, Y, Z.
You want to figure out what X, Y, Z is in some respects because that way, you’re able to just maybe more accurately figure out exactly who that person is. [00:42:30] In the ideal scenario, you want somebody who’s going to be able to grow with the company and be flexible. I also think in some cases, organizations will maybe not look at somebody who has worked in a larger company before.
That’s also something I think you want to potentially think about as well, because a lot of times when I’m working with a startup, somebody might say this person has worked at a large Fortune 500 software company in sales maybe for the last five years, [00:43:00] however, we don’t want to look at them. They haven’t worked at a startup. They’re not gonna know how it is. Maybe that person is dying to work at a startup, they just need the opportunity. Maybe they’d be a bad fit, but I do think it’s worth kind of speaking to those types of individuals that could be a fit, might not be a fit, and kind of gauge them on your own because I think a lot of people tend to discount solid talent just off of resumes alone, which can often be pretty silly.
Clay: Let’s say someone comes to you and says, “I’d really like to work in the industry,” [00:43:30] you review their resume and think that they’re a really strong candidate for someone in the space. Will you take them on or work with them? How would you advise someone to pursue working with you if they are, a candidate who’s looking for a role in the industry? What should they do and what will you do for them?
Rob: It’s a great question. For clarity, too, Proof of Talent is a contingency-based staffing agency or staffing firm. When we work with candidates, [00:44:00] they never owe us any money. We basically work with hiring companies where we have agreements and anytime we place a candidate at that company we are paid a fee based upon that individual’s first-year salary.
It’s always in our incentive to have as many conversations with folks as possible. With that, though, we have a roster right now. We have about 15 companies that we work with throughout the US. Many times, they will reach out directly to Proof of Talent, and they will reach out to me, [00:44:30] and they will say something like, “Hey, we’re looking for a senior software engineer, chief information security officer, or a sales development rep,” et cetera, and they’ll give specific positions.
Sometimes they might also say something like, “Hey, opportunistically, we’re happy to have conversations with software engineers or product managers,” or anything like that. For example, there’s a company in New York, and I think I posted about this on Twitter recently. There’s a company in New York [00:45:00] that is an early-stage organization that’s hit some rough times, and they have some fantastic software engineers on their team, all Ivy League backgrounds, CS degrees, young individuals that are fantastic candidates.
I don’t have any specific opportunities for them right now, at least not that I know of, but I reached out directly to the companies that I work with and said, “Hey, not sure if you have any openings right now or if you’re interested, but these individuals are on the market. If you’d like to have [00:45:30] a chat with them, I can definitely link you up.”
Anytime there are people that I think I can help out as much as possible, I do proactively reach out to organizations in addition to talking about the open roles that I know are available as well. Not sure if that helped out at all, but, yeah.
Clay: That makes a lot of sense. I know there’s a lot of candidates who are passively searching. They’re not actively looking for a role, but if someone reached out to them and the opportunity looked interesting, they’d pursue it. [00:46:00] I think you made a good point which is that a lot of companies are also passively searching. They may not have posted a role, but if opportunistically a really fantastic candidate comes across their table, they’re gonna consider it.
I guess the next question, do you have a sense for what kinds of operations roles are most popular? Is it mostly like you’ve got a product person and a technical person,” and they’ve had some success or they’ve raised money [00:46:30] and it’s like, “Oh, ****! We actually have to do HR and payroll, send our investors reports and things like that. We need to hire our first operational person, because we’re not operating from a position of strength if we spend most of our time doing this. Are those the types of roles or is it something more specific?
Rob: It depends a little bit on the stage of the company. I think for early-stage companies, yes, that is definitely something that you see, and a lot of times the operational role is likely some type of junior individual, [00:47:00] probably close to a recent college grad, maybe a few years out of college. Bright, sharp person. Maybe they’ve had a few years of experience in finance or consulting or something like that, and they really want to work in the blockchain or crypto industry, and they kind of hop on that role, and they end up doing just a plethora of activities from HR, to payroll, to schedule. It runs the gamut.
I would say that’s definitely something that early stage [00:47:30] companies that people just kind of get tossed into and kind of do whatever it takes to help that company. As certain organizations grow, whether it’s on like the trading side or some of these exchanges, et cetera, the operational roles I think get a lot more defined around certain things like user onboarding, structuring things like KYC and AML, Compliance, and kind of running those functions. It depends a little bit on the stage of the company, [00:48:00] I think the operations function within some of the larger organizations is definitely one of the bigger functions internally.
Clay: What are your hiring slash growth goals for the Proof of Talent team for 2020? Are you looking to fill any roles yourself or for folks in the industry?
Rob: Absolutely. On the external side, we’re working with 15 plus different companies right now. Definitely recruiting on a variety of roles. Internally, though, I am looking to–in Q1 of 2020 [00:48:30]–hire one to two full-time recruiters. If anybody that is listening who have some type of a recruiting background and just a burning interest in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space and wants to work early on at Proof of Talent, would love to have a conversation. Always feel free to reach out.
Definitely, definitely looking to grow the team, specifically on the recruiting side of the house in early 2020 as we’ve kind of continued to scale up and see increased success towards the tail end of 2019 [00:49:00].
Clay: How does Proof of Talent differentiate between other recruiting agencies?
Rob: I think the biggest thing for Proof of Talent and for us, in particular, is really being native to the blockchain and crypto industry. As far as recruiting goes, it’s a pretty straightforward business in the type of way in which it functions. I think it’s very difficult for people to generate organic interest in job opportunities, as well as with potential clients.
The fact that we have prior experience [00:49:30] working within the industry and we really actually do care about it and have hundreds of existing connections within the industry already really helped to build our business off the ground, but really helps to amplify a message in which other recruiting firms simply will never really be able to reach just because they just don’t have that type of organic following that we’ve been able to generate through truly caring about the industry.
Clay: That certainly is important. What do you think is the importance of having a [00:50:00] personal brand or maybe being a micro-influencer in the space, which I think is still really doable, given how nascent everything is.
There’s an interesting article on CoinDesk the other day about how price movements and so many of the big shifts in the industry hinge on the tweets of influencers in the space that despite being an industry that claims to be anchored to fundamentals [00:50:30] or delivering real value, so much of what happens in the space is based on thought leadership or aggregating a following on social media.
Everyone has a limited amount of time and you can go to meetups and go to conferences, or you can decide that you don’t want to do that and instead you’re gonna write a Medium post or be really active on Twitter. Does that play a role, and if someone were deciding whether or not they’re gonna spend most of their time going to live events versus building up an online following, which would be the better path [00:51:00]?
Rob: If you can go to a few live events, I think that’s great. It’s hard to replicate the human connection you have online. There are certain conferences and events that are not worth your time. Unfortunately, one of the things I usually say is sometimes you have to go to a few of those to realize which ones are worth the time and which ones aren’t. However, the easiest thing you can always do is to contribute online and I do believe that… I guess, if it comes down to being able to do one or the other, contribute online [00:51:30] first is great, too. It’s easier to potentially build your name up online and just to build some connections overall.
The important thing is just to be genuine about everything, and just take an organic approach. If you try to build up an online presence to build up an online presence, I think a lot of people can clearly see through that. Just doing that in an organic way and trying to provide value in some form or another, and pass along genuine thoughts. People will appreciate that.
You’ve seen people within the crypto [00:52:00] Twitter world, they’re on Medium. They put in a lot of work. They write a really good post. They record something that’s really high quality and highly valuable. People respect that, and they are open to helping out new people on the block regardless of whether they have 5 followers or 50,000. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re somebody providing value.
Clay: Amen to that. Digging into this a little bit further, you mentioned some of the roles that you’d be looking to fill. I imagine that something that’s been a huge asset to you is your personal [00:52:30] brand. I remember the first time I saw you was in the podcast rankings. You were a few spots above us and I was super jealous. You’ve got like 50,000 plus followers on Twitter.
When you think about your next hire, is it attractive, the proposition of hiring someone who might also have a large following, connections in the space, things like that, or are you more likely to hire based on just sort of pure operational ability and experience?
Rob: For me [00:53:00] at this point in time when I look at that next hire, the recruiting hires that I’d like to make in 2020, a lot of that is gonna come down to prior recruiting experience and operational experience. Hopefully, some interest in the crypto world in general. I think that’s important, but for me just being as I’m sure you know, being a small business, you only have so much time for so many things.
Having somebody that does have a strong recruiting background that I’m not gonna [00:53:30] necessarily have to teach how to perform all those activities, they can kind of teach the ins and outs of the blockchain and crypto world, that is probably more important to me, initially speaking at least, than it is to find somebody that potentially has a built-up audience or anything like that. If they have that, fantastic, but if not, I would definitely not hold that against somebody.
Clay: Are you finding that sort of given the dearth of experienced candidates in the space, are you finding that hiring managers [00:54:00] are more willing to take on remote talent or make the positions available to remote candidates, or are companies kinda sticking to their guns about having folks to report into specific locations and drive into work?
Rob: I’ve been slightly surprised to find that most companies to me seem like they’re not as interested in remote work. I think that at least for some of the companies that I work with, it seems like [00:54:30] they’re early on, they’re very keen on building some type of in-office culture and they feel like they lose control or they’re just not able to potentially build a business that they want by having remote employees.
Some of the companies that I work with are very open to distributed workforces, but just with the nascency of the industry and kind of the tech-forward nature of it. I have been a little bit surprised as far as how many companies are actually interested. Even to kind of add [00:55:00] on to that, a lot of companies will say, “You know what? Maybe we’re interested in remote work,” and you might present somebody and then they realize that they’re not so much.
It is slightly difficult because there is a lot of talent that is not in New York or San Francisco, and there are a lot of opportunities in New York and San Francisco, and those places are very expensive to live, as well as to employ talents. There definitely is room for improvement on the remote work acceptance side of the industry.
Clay: What are your thoughts on the biggest competitors, [00:55:30] and how you’re driving leads to Proof of Talent. Is it mostly inbound or are you doing outbound work as well in terms of customer development?
Rob: There’s a variety of competitors. The staffing and recruiting space is not one that has a strong or particularly strong barriers to entry. It was very easy for Proof of Talent to get started and get rolling. We’ve had some nice advantages, but there are some larger firms [00:56:00] that have started these small blockchain practices.
The majority of the competition is large firms or mid-sized firms. They might have a hundred plus employees. They’ve been around for 10, 15, 20 years. They certainly make a heck of a lot more money than we do. They certainly have a heck of a lot more resources, but they just don’t have an understanding really of the ins and outs of the industry.
I think at least for the time being, that’s definitely been our advantage of [00:56:30] truly understanding both from a company side and from a candidate side. The niche areas that really are important to both candidates and companies when it comes down to the hiring process. It’s hard for somebody to understand that. It’s hard for a recruiting firm to kind of pick up on two, three, four years of industry experience in a 30-minute phone call where they’re trying to gather, you know, information about a role.
I think that’s been the biggest advantage on our end and one of the biggest differentiators. [00:57:00] As far as driving leads and just whether it’s candidates’ roles, et cetera, I think one of the things there that I try to look at is 50% inbound, 50% outbound. 50% outbound just being the traditional headhunting methods of LinkedIn, kind of Google searches, GitHub, websites, that type of thing. Just the traditional recruiting headhunting background that I have. The other 50% being inbound.
That’s the area where I think we have the leg up is it’s hard to replicate 50,000 Twitter [00:57:31] followers and just a lot of connections within the industry, and some of the Telegram groups and things like that. Those really provide a useful somewhat of a competitive mote that I hope we can build off of in the long run.
Clay: Is there a bread and butter role that you feel like you could fill all day long or I guess on the flip side if you’re a candidate with a specific skill set, is there a skillset where if you meet certain criteria, that person should reach out to [00:58:00] you at any point in time because you absolutely can fill a role for them? What are your thoughts on that? Is there a bread and butter role that you like filling at Proof of Talent?
Rob: I would say on the technical side, the most common [00:58:30] thing that I seem to find is companies are typically looking for mid-level, experienced engineers. Typically, either full-stack or backend engineers. That is usually the most common thing that I come across. I’m gonna say mid-level. I’ll say between three to seven years, there’s this kind of interesting sweet spot that companies like to hire from where it’s somebody that has a little bit of experience post-college graduation.
They’ve worked at a few other companies or another company before and they have some work under their belt, but at the same point in time, they’re perhaps not as expensive as somebody with 15 years of professional experience, so they’re trying to balance that experience to compensation, sweet spot.
If there are any software engineers [00:58:59] out there that have a backend or a full-stack background, three to five, seven years of experience, could be beyond, could be under that, but in that sweet spot. I think that is where so many of the companies in this industry are really trying to hire talent to supplement their engineering teams or to grow their product in general.
Clay: [00:59:30] Well, that concludes my conversation with Rob Paone from Proof of Talent. I hope you enjoyed it. Before you go, I want to invite you to subscribe to our newsletter called Popular Crypto. With the Popular Crypto newsletter, we don’t cover token hype or announcements of announcements. Instead, the Popular Crypto Newsletter focuses on the mainstream products and services taking crypto to the masses.
To subscribe to the Popular Crypto Newsletter, go to Popularcrypto.news, enter your email address, and subscribe. Again, [01:00:00] that’s popularcrypto.news. Alright, that wraps up things for this week. Stay tuned for next week’s episode. Until then, take care.