In the startup arena, limited resources combined with dwindling capital can make it challenging to gain a competitive edge. Startup founders must be strategic in their budgeting efforts because the tightening financial markets have made it increasingly difficult to obtain the funding needed to expand and scale business operations and staff. A part-time fractional C-suite executive can provide your startup with leadership, expertise, and strategy at a fraction of the cost of hiring the same executive as a full-time employee.
What is a fractional executive?
According to Forbes, fractional hiring is today what freelance work was 20 years ago. A fractional executive is a high-level professional who works part-time or on a project basis for a company, typically in C-suite roles such as CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, or CTO.
Fractional executives are hired by startups, small businesses, and companies in transition or growth stages who need access to specialized expertise but don’t require or can’t afford a full-time executive. Fractional executives work remotely or on-site, providing strategic leadership, guidance, and implementation advisory support for a specific business area.
Startups should consider hiring fractional executives based on their specific needs and resources, but there are many factors to consider. We’ll dig into those here.
In the same vein as the value an experienced freelancer can provide to a startup without the commitment of a full-time salary, benefits, etc., a fractional executive can offer you the full scope of their expertise and industry relationships without the price tag of a full-time C-level executive. Several benefits come with this strategy.
While there is much to gain for early-stage startups hiring fractional executives, some things worth considering could make for a not-so-great outcome. The concept is still in its early stages, and you won’t find one strict way of introducing this role to your close nit startup team, so the following are some considerations to be aware of.
If you are on the fence about introducing a fractional executive into your startup environment, there are a few factors you can consider to help you make the decision:
Need help finding a fractional executive? Hiring a fractional executive can be a smart and strategic move for startups and small businesses that need access to specialized expertise and leadership but don’t require or can’t afford a full-time executive. Before deciding whether to hire a fractional executive, it’s important to consider your startup team’s specific needs and resources, the market conditions for that particular role, and the compatibility of the fractional executive with the company culture and team dynamics. Doing so will maximize the potential benefits of hiring a fractional executive and effectively achieve your long-term goals.
Are you looking to gain part-time, on-demand access to experienced leaders at a fraction of their full cost? Are you seeking specific help to strategically guide your leadership team’s key business decisions to minimize costly mistakes? Learn more about Viaduct’s services here.
This blog was authored by Carl Kutsmode.
Economists put the chance of a recession in 2023 at 63 percent. In response, 72 percent of leaders are starting to prepare and look for ways to safeguard their business, reprioritize how they make decisions, and lead through disruption. It’s been found that cutting jobs and operating costs alone makes it more difficult for a business to survive a recession. Resilient companies invest and grow, and one of the primary ways to invest during times of economic uncertainty is through talent management and having a strategic approach to hiring, retaining, and utilizing talent. However, developing and implementing a strategy that effectively uses your organization’s talent resources while navigating change and evolving goals is not an easy task.
72 percent of HR leaders are somewhat or extremely concerned about losing talent over the next 12 months. Retaining talent at a startup is especially critical because every employee makes essential contributions. Given current talent shortages, startup leaders know the value of top talent and are focused on retaining their best people. Here’s how:
Offer flexible work options: 70 percent of CEOs strongly or somewhat agree that flexible work—including remote—is increasingly critical to reducing employee turnover during an economic downturn. Half of Americans want to work from home in 2023. The happiest people have a healthy work-life balance and can split their focus between work and personal and get value and satisfaction from both. Employee happiness plays a significant role in employee turnover. 75 percent of unsatisfied workers are looking to leave their current positions, so offering flexible work is a successful solution to increase retention.
Focus on employee well-being: Since the pandemic’s start, employees have been dealing with uncertainty. 59 percent of CEOs strongly or somewhat agree that during an economic downturn, there’s an even greater need for firms to focus on well-being—including childcare and mental health. Fear of a recession is now contributing to lay-off anxiety, financial stress, and disappointment over hiring and raise freezes. During times of uncertainty, it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open and foster a culture of recognition. Initiatives like expanding caregiver benefits for children and elder care and providing access to a 24/7 mental health support line are ways to prioritize your workers’ well-being.
Invest in learning: In times of uncertainty, it’s important to connect learning initiatives to organizational goals and use them to generate high performance. In addition to 30-50 percent higher engagement and retention rates,Deloitte research has found that organizations with a strong learning culture are:
Attract laid-off or unhappy talent: 57 percent of CEOs strongly or somewhat agree that with other companies reducing their headcount, an economic downturn presents an opportunity to attract and retain talent. Your more established competitors may lay off workers or become lax and lose talent when employee engagement and morale drop. A recession can be the best time to procure talent your startup could not previously attract.
With a low unemployment rate and strong labor market making it easier for workers to find a job quickly, bringing laid-off workers back could be more challenging than the last recession in 2008. To minimize the effects on your startup, focus on employee retention. For every leadership decision made, weigh all cost management options in relation to the impact on talent.
This blog was written by Senior Talent Management and Organizational Transformation Consultant Andrew Nash.
When you think of a startup environment, there are a few images that might come to mind: A tiny basement with boxes as desks, a group of friends gathered around a kitchen counter, or laptops crammed around a small table at a coffee shop.
The reality of startup environments is that the “startup” stage can last three to five years, long past the early days of Jeff Bezos in his garage, or Steve Jobs in his parents’ home.
Joining an organization at the startup stage requires a unique set of skills that are what we consider “soft”: non-technical skills that describe how you work and interact with others.
So, if you are considering applying at a startup and you meet all the hard skill requirements, take a look at these five soft skills and consider if you’ve got what it takes to succeed.
1. You need the confidence to take risks.
Contrary to larger corporations or more well-established organizations, you will rarely find a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) when you join a startup. This is because not enough time has gone by to determine what should be standard in the operation—your job will be to help figure that out.
Part of figuring that out will require some risk-taking. Under good leadership, you will be given the freedom to try out new ways of doing things. Eventually, you’ll be part of building out those SOPs for future hires.
The only way to truly know what should be standardized is to take a few scary leaps so you can see what really works.
2. You need a growth mindset.
According to Joseph Garvey, people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, skills, learning, and creativity can all grow with time and experience.
This mindset is in direct contradiction with a fixed mindset, which says that qualities and skills are fixed, and therefore cannot change.
Why is one better than the other in a startup environment? Here are two reasons:
In a startup environment, you will receive lots of feedback.
If you struggle to separate feedback from criticism, you may take a defensive approach to leadership, and impede progress. A growth mindset sees feedback as something positive—an opportunity for a better sense of self-awareness and an opportunity to improve.
In a startup environment, you will wear many hats.
The role you are hired for vs. the roles you take on might vary in a startup environment. It’s normal and to be expected—it’s not always clear what roles are needed and how work should be delegated in the early stages of a team’s growth.
Having a growth mindset will allow you to open yourself up to expanding your repertoire of skills, even those that feel far outside your area of expertise.
3. You need resilience.
As we went over earlier, startups are constantly experimenting with new approaches to their operations. This is a necessity. Along with experimentation, however, comes failure. Things won’t always work, because they are not supposed to always work.
As a result of this cycle of experimentation and failure, resilience becomes a key skill that startup employees must have. You’ll need the ability to see failure as redirection in order to find eventual success.
4. You need the ability to over-communicate.
Startup environments are notoriously fast paced, and often the “office” environment takes on many different forms and contexts. Communication follows suit.
While you’ll need the ability to master self-directed and proactive work, you’ll also learn how important it is to over-communicate. Don’t assume your team knows your motives, outcomes, or expectations for the projects you take on. Make room for transparency in your work so that your colleagues can easily jump in where needed, as well as learn from the results of your decision-making and execution.
5. You’ll need curiosity over judgment.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Be curious, not judgmental?”
You’ll find this mantra to be especially useful in a startup environment. In the early stages of an organization, it’s difficult to say what best practices are, or to make judgment calls on how a particular campaign or project will turn out. Instead, approach your day-to-day with a healthy sense of curiosity about what might work best, even if it’s contrary to what has worked for you in the past.
Every industry, buyer, or prospect is different. The ability to ask questions rather than make assumptions will separate successful startup employees from the rest.
The startup world is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it can be extremely rewarding to build something from the ground up alongside a team. If this type of environment sounds like something you’re up for, browse startup jobs here.
This blog was written by Viaduct Senior Account Executive Roger Naglewski.
A C-suite interview has a much different dynamic than a standard mid-level management interview. The stakes are higher because the candidate being interviewed will be a critical leader in the company and this person must share the hiring organization’s goals and vision. A Chief Growth Officer (CGO) should possess the knowledge necessary to drive revenue, reputation, and business growth. Therefore, the interviewer will need to ask the right questions that require the executive candidate to reflect on the past, focus on the present, and envision the future to demonstrate his or her level of competency, skills, strategy, and passion. The interview is also the opportune time to assess leadership skills and communication style. To help find a good fit, we have compiled a list of interview questions targeted specifically to a CGO position.
The Role of CGO
The CGO is responsible for managing an organization’s revenue, market fit, and customer growth. Focusing on external market dynamics, customer needs, and overall buyer behavior, a CGO oversees the marketing, sales, business development, and purchasing departments to foster a customer-centric internal alignment. After monitoring product development activities, the CGO makes sure all marketing activities are driven by a specified value proposition that continues throughout the entire sales process to create a seamless customer experience. A CGO can assist a company cut through the red tape often found between departments and direct drivers to one skilled, innovative professional that is solely focused on overall growth.
1. How does your current company cultivate a workplace culture that’s open to innovation?
To foster organizational growth, a CGO must be able to make bold decisions. This requires a corporate culture open to innovation. Does the executive candidate’s current company foster thinking outside the box? Are employees encouraged to voice less-than-fully formed solutions? You are looking for a leader who’s a conceptual thinker with ideas that are not bound by the typical restraints that often hinder others. Listen for words or phrases like brainstorming, global, vision, cutting edge, and big picture.
2. What strategies do you use to understand your customers and market fit?
To successfully meet your customer’s needs, a CGO must possess the ability to find innovative ways to glean insights into the future to know where your industry is headed to stay ahead of emerging trends. A CGO must keep the customer at the center of all business activities—which requires the ability to listen and understand customer needs and foster trust. Building on this, the CGO must then determine whether the business can meet these needs. If the answer is no, the CGO must adjust strategies accordingly. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, organizations focused on customer experience and satisfaction will emerge as industry leaders. Listen for signs that the CGO candidate is willing to do whatever it takes to deliver products and services that meet and exceed customer expectations.
3. What strategies do you use to drive growth?
Growth doesn’t come from maintaining the status quo. In today’s marketplace, successful growth requires a long-term vision that serves as the foundation of a company-wide strategy. To uncover changing customer attitudes and needs, a CGO must analyze and understand market trends to determine if there’s a need for new product development. Using this information, the CGO must then devise strategies to improve the company’s product or service to create opportunities for growth in the marketplace through customer acquisition—while ensuring long-term retention. Ask the candidate open-ended follow-up questions to get a firm understanding of his or her strategy and philosophy on organizational growth. You want to leave the interview with a clear picture of how the candidate would grow your product or service.
During the interview, it’s important to ask questions that help you access the candidate’s ability to take your organization to the next level. The decisions made by Chief Growth Officer will drive organizational growth through deliberate and strategic efforts. A great CGO knows how to discover, develop, and implement advanced growth initiatives—aimed at driving revenue and business growth—to maintain organizational success.
This blog was written by Viaduct Managing Director Peter Petrella.
Another valuable resource: Adopt These 4 Components of Effective Leadership for a Successful New Year, by our partner TalentRise.
Hiring a dedicated sales executive is a big step for a startup. Choosing the wrong candidate can keep your new business from meeting sales goals and growth expectations. To help ensure you find a good fit for your business, we have compiled a list of interview questions targeted to a startup sales executive position.
Large established organizations can have sales executives that are more focused on one than the other. As a startup, you don’t have that luxury. The few sales executives that you hire need to be able to spend time cultivating current relationships and finding new clients equally well.
People often choose to do business with people they like and trust. This is what gets a sales executive in the door. Listen for signs of genuineness, empathy, and adaptability. If the sales candidate can’t communicate these traits to you during the interview, then he or she will not be able to convey them to your customers.
Good sales executives can connect the dots between the client’s business objectives, pain points, and the product or service they are selling. At the very least, the candidate should be reviewing their customers’ website and LinkedIn information. Facebook and Twitter can also be utilized to provide personal information that can help in relationship building.
When hiring a sales executive, it’s important to find a self-starter that is willing to take initiative. This is especially true for a startup organization! The candidate should be able to communicate some form of an action plan while demonstrating an interest in learning about your organization and how you currently operate.
This question gives you the ability to hear the candidate’s sales pitch at their current company. Listen for differentiators and how the sales executive leverages competitor information. How does he or she demonstrate and communicate value to the customer?
The candidate should be able to communicate the step-by-step process he or she used to close the sale. This will help you gauge his or her thought process using a real-life example. Listen for any challenges that had to be overcome to ensure success.
How did the candidate approach the difficult prospect? Conflict is inevitable—what matters most is how it’s managed. Listen for a clear explanation of the circumstances, the steps the candidate had to take to turn the situation around, and the results of these actions.
The target market of your business may be very different than the candidate’s previous sales position but this question will help you gauge the amount of effort put forth to keep up to date. Websites such as Built in Chicago, business development software like Talent Ticker, conferences, and webinars are good examples. As a follow-up question, ask about something specific the candidate has learned recently about their target market and the source of the information.
The right answer to this question will depend on your organization’s process and sales cycle. However, 80 percent of sales require five follow-up calls so the more persistent the executive, the better. There’s also no such thing as a 9-to-5 salesperson, so the right candidate needs to be available to their customers.
Walking away is never easy—especially after spending time and energy fostering a relationship with the client. Sales executives must have the ability to know when to walk away from a deal that’s not a good fit. Every minute wasted chasing a difficult or low-value deal is time that could have been spent closing a more profitable one. Listen for signs that the candidate doesn’t try to force every deal and can recognize when a client is a poor fit. Sometimes it makes sense to walk away from a current client. If your selling consulting services—how easy is the client to work with? Sometimes sales executives hold on to difficult clients at low rates rather than using that time to pursue better clients that are easier to work with at higher profit margins.
Early-stage companies need executives that are willing to help create the sales process and can deal with whatever is thrown their way. Sales executives are naturally persuasive and good communicators— so as the interviewer—it’s important to ask detailed questions to uncover the sales candidate’s personality and probe beyond memorized answers. Hiring a sales candidate that may look the part—but ultimately can’t perform the job—could be a very costly mistake for a startup.
The blog was written by Viaduct Senior Account Executive Roger Naglewski.
When you think of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, what comes to mind? You might think of people with innovative, outside-the-box ideas, coupled with that perfect combination of grit, charisma and idealism – the ones who are committed to making their visions a reality.
In practice, however, there’s much more to a successful entrepreneur than big dreams and a persistent attitude. The very best entrepreneurs, who build the most lucrative companies, are those who surround themselves with the most capable and enterprising teams who can execute and bring their ideas to fruition.
Of course, like so many aspects of building a business, finding the right people to round out your leadership team and staff is much easier said than done. That’s why we recently sat down with Peter Petrella and Carl Kutsmode with TalentRise, an Aleron company focused on executive search for emerging, high-growth companies, to talk about why and when startups should prioritize hiring as they start to secure more funding – and how to do it in the most effective way possible.
At what point should startup founders start to build out their leadership teams?
Some founders are thinking about their eventual workforce from day one, even before their product or service is fully realized. This isn’t all that surprising, since it’s not only a desire to build something from the ground up that motivates so many entrepreneurs; many are also inspired by the idea of creating jobs and elevating other talented individuals within their communities.
“As a best practice, founders should really start to build out their leadership teams once they’ve completed their series A or initial round of funding,” Petrella advises. “At this point, it’s time to start putting your big plans into action, and realistically, that’s going to require the efforts and brainpower of more than one or two visionaries.”
It’s during this critical time, when your first round of funding is hitting the bank, that founders should be especially careful about stretching themselves too thin or operating too far outside of their wheelhouse.
“Good leaders often wear many hats, but they’re also self-aware. Founders need to be cognizant of their own shortcomings and where additional leadership team members with complimentary skills are needed most,” Petrella adds.
To ensure you’re hiring the best person for the job, Kutsmode cautions against hiring close friends and family into key leadership roles without exploring a range of other qualified candidate options for comparison.
“At this crucial stage of the business, hiring a family member or friend who could potentially do the job, but may not work out, could unfortunately end that relationship both professionally and personally. These complications could make the eventual decision to part ways extremely difficult, even if it’s the best thing for the business long-term,” he says.
Why should founders focus on rounding out their leadership team before hiring individual contributors?
“Strong, competent leadership is the bedrock of any successful business, and startups are no exception,” Kutsmode says. “Leaders who are working to get early-stage companies up and running are doing a lot. They’re constantly shifting gears. There’s less time and bandwidth for hand-holding, delegating, and managing. Anyone you bring on at this stage should be a proven self-starter and understand what needs to be done to get from point A to point B. That’s what will keep things moving on the right trajectory.”
And when the time comes to hire people for those individual contributor roles, having this foundation – a team of multifaceted but specialized leaders – will give your team a better grasp of what to look for and how to manage your growing workforce.
For example, a chief product officer should be able to offer expertise when building out the software development team, while a vice president of marketing can offer insights into what the social media manager’s job description should look like to set up your digital marketing efforts for success.
“As your company grows, it’s critical to have leaders working with you who can hire, manage, and scale high performance teams,” Kutsmode adds. “That means thinking longer-term and identifying people who will bring value not just in the early stages of growth but also as your business really starts to take off.”
Where and how should founders start their hiring process?
Your leadership team should consist of people who can help you meet your investors’ expectations. To that end, founders should seek out peers who bring a wide range of experience and expertise. While you’ll all share the same vision, diversity of thought is critical to startup success, which might require you to look beyond your go-to contacts and existing network.
“Founders often default to their own personal connections – former colleagues, classmates, etc. – when they begin to build out their teams,” Petrella explains. “In some cases, your existing network may be a great place to start. But you should also actively look for people outside of that circle to ensure you’re finding the best possible candidates.”
And in terms of timing, building out your leadership team is certainly a top priority. But that doesn’t mean it should be done so quickly that quality is lost in the process.
“Rushing to hire can be a bad move for any business, but this is especially true in the startup environment when resources are limited and you may only have one shot at doing it right,” Kutsmode adds.
You can also always reach out to the team at Viaduct to help you find the right individuals at any level to grow your startup.