- Raphael Ouzan is the founder and CEO of A.Team, a startup that links tech freelancers with businesses.
- A.Team has raised $55 million in funding from investors like Jay-Z and Adam Grant.
- Ouzan says adaptability is grossly underrated and looks for people who have switched roles rather than the 7-year Google veteran.
- You also choose to interview candidates through Slack, email, and other digital spaces rather than in person.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
This essay as stated is based on a transcribed conversation with Raphael Ouzan, the founder and CEO of A.Team. It has been edited for length and clarity.
We all know that teams matter. Every company is at least one team, often many more, yet outside of sports teams, we haven’t built the science and technology to build high-performance teams. It’s about time we were more intentional about building tech teams that can win, especially given remote and increasingly distributed offices.
My still-stealth startup, A.Team, is a network of highly-skilled independent developers, product managers, and other tech professionals who come together in teams to help companies develop new products and features.
When COVID-19 hit, my company had just graduated from the idea phase and was starting to build my founding team and this community of tech developers.
Immediately, we received thousands of requests from designers, engineers, and data scientists, and that’s when it really became a reality. We were building teams from left to right to help solve big problems like contact tracing and mass vaccine distribution.
Hundreds of A.Teams later, I’m happy to share some hiring and team-building tips for this new era of work, even if some may seem pretty contradictory.
Here are 3 things I think product leaders need to do when building a team from the ground up.
1. Look for adaptability
Adaptability is the number one most underrated skill of this century. Think about it, you might be looking for the best blockchain developer with excellent Web3 skills. Yes, that hard skill is very relevant right now.
But what about tomorrow?
What an applicant knows before they are hired is not relevant to me six months later. What matters most is how much they can learn in six months. I invest in adaptability: people who can change their area of focus or way of working as quickly as your business needs.
It’s the same with experience: I don’t think more means better. Often with experience comes rigidity and an inability to react to change.
In fact, I look for people who have jumped a bit, either by hiring or working for various companies. In this way, they have had the opportunity to train that muscle of adaptability to different environments, cultures and methodologies.
If you hire a typical seven-year Google veteran, you’re probably going to get somebody great, somebody super smart, somebody super experienced. But do you have someone who can excel in a hyper-growth environment where reality changes every week?
Instead, I try to delve into moments in an applicant’s life when they had to change themselves or their views in a significant way in a new environment. I also ask people about their failures because the most significant learnings come from the need to approach things differently. Businesses that are going to thrive in today’s changing climate need people who are open-minded and can learn extremely quickly.
2. Don’t interview candidates in person
Just because someone is really good at their job doesn’t mean they’re going to be a great team member. The office is no longer the same as before. It’s across oceans, time zones, in
, text messages and email exchanges. It is distributed. It is remote and asynchronous.
While we used to bring people into the office to see how they fit into the company, this of course no longer works. Their new office is online, so I’m asking my team not to do the first interviews in person, even if they live next door.
For the people you’re seriously considering, invite them to a chat on your company’s Slack channels and ask them to contact you and the team in writing. For example, I am hiring a talent manager. I forwarded a few emails to one of the top candidates after she signed a non-disclosure agreement. I asked her opinion on sales commissions, for example. She and I had an email discussion, but we needed a little more, so I added her to a Slack channel. Right away, I could see how she interacted with people, and that she wasn’t afraid to communicate or voice her opinion.
You can gauge a lot about a person by how quickly they respond, whether they offer short or long answers, and how well they can relate to peers they’ve never met.
3. Look for mini-CEOs
I really don’t believe in the “there are leaders and then there are doers” frame of mind for startups. Fast-paced environments require a special type of self-employed entrepreneurs, with a vision and a desire to make an impact.
When your address to a team member is simply “do”, the cross-functionality stops. And then there are people who work in silos, not knowing how to get something from A to B. I build small teams that have big missions, that rise to the vision and goals of the company.
This allows us to build more efficiently, but of course it’s not always easy. We have to have the right processes and, more importantly, the right people.
There are three traits I look for when looking for someone’s inner CEO:
- Optimism and empathy: There will be times when you are building something new and it sucks. Nothing works, and nobody seems to care what we build. In these moments, optimistic and empathetic people are needed to get ahead and not blame each other.
- Confidence: Sometimes we come across a problem that we have no experience in solving. I’m looking for people who have the attitude and strength to try to figure it out anyway. Even if they fail, they have learned something, and now they have the experience to solve that problem.
- Self-sufficiency: In a cross-functional team, you might have a product manager, an engineer, a data scientist, a salesperson, or someone else. Each brings a different piece to the team to accomplish a specific goal. The good thing about that is that you start thinking in terms of results, rather than how many hours the team worked. Having smaller teams working on one goal reduces coordination overhead between teams. As a result, you can move faster.
I want to choose what I work on, who I work with, and I want my work to be meaningful. I try to find like-minded people so we can go and build wonderful things from scratch. When I look for these characteristics, I get to work with some of the most amazing people in the world.