Dan Portillo: Recruiting is a Promise


Dan Portillo of Greylock Ventures discusses his role in growing Mozilla, advising talent teams on how they can best service their organizations, and what it was like being personally recruiting by President Obama.

Full Transcript:

00:44 Rob Stevenson: Welcome back, my dear, sweet talent acquisition pals. Entelo, Rob here, once more, for Hiring On All Cylinders, and we are chomping at the microphones here to bring you another classic installment of your favorite recruiting podcast. I'm joined today by a man who has truly done it all. He's had various recruiting and staffing roles which led him to become the Senior Director of Personnel, and later, the VP of Organizational Development at Mozilla. He advises a flurry of companies, and is currently on leave from Greylock Ventures, where he serves as Talent Partner, as he pairs with the United States Digital Service. Dan Portillo, so glad you can make it.

01:16 Dan Portillo: Thank you very much. I am back at Greylock full-time. I just finished up with the USDS, actually just got written out last week, and so I've been back at Greylock for actually a few months.

01:26 RS: Okay, cool. The USDS is, and interrupt me as soon as I start getting this wrong, is this governmental organization that's essentially taking the startup approach to a lot of really complex problems surrounding how citizens interact with their government. Like Social Security benefits, loans, health care, the stakes are pretty high in all these cases, because people do rely on their services. And, if they can't interact with their local governments or with the federal government, then they might not get their medicine, they may not get their... They may not be able to eat. It's all these huge problems that stem from that. So I'm just curious, what's it like there? What are you guys working on? What are the roles you're looking for? How do you assess people? This is really fascinating to me, this whole project.

02:15 DP: If you don't mind I'll give you a little background on the USDS...

02:18 RS: Yeah, absolutely. That'd be great.

02:19 DP: Okay. So it started with HealthCare.gov. Everyone remembers HealthCare.gov and some of the things that happened with that. Todd Park, who was the White House CTO at the time was brought in to make sure that HealthCare.gov would be successful, and so they did some things that most people would not do. They launched all on the same day with no monitoring or understanding of how the system's are gonna work. So undoubtedly, they all failed. They brought in a guy named Mikey Dickerson from Google, who was the SRE for, if I'm not mistaken, the ads' infrastructure. So, someone that knew how to keep systems up and running. They put together the command center and they made sure that these things continue to work, by pulling in all the contractors that were working on the system. And after that happened, the president met with Todd Park and said, "We should do this for all of our software projects." Because a startlingly number of projects actually fail within the government, and that has to do with the way that they've been historically resourced and run.

03:14 DP: So, the US Digital Service was created to help the various federal agencies actually be better about how they delivered services to the American people. You see projects within the Veterans Administration, and there was just a big article that came out about how they're improving the speed at which veterans can actually get health care. The Immigration Department is actually now able to update people online, which has never happened before. So you see a lot of these interesting projects, and their goal is to have digital teams that span across all of the agencies, but focusing now on a lot of the really important ones. I personally placed the person that's now CIO for Social Security, that's rebuilding their claims system. There's another person working on two-factor authentication and security, and how people access various parts of the federal government. I don't know how much of that's supposed to be public, but there's a lot of really great people working on interesting things. I worked very closely with a woman named Jennifer Anastasoff, to build their recruiting team. They never had a proactive recruiting department, so it helped bring in Silicon Valley recruiters. They were really thinking about outreach to go and tap people on the shoulder that really should be in government, serving their country.

04:21 RS: You were mentioning a minute ago that the government does not source, like this whole outbound recruiting idea of locating people and saying, "Hey, you should come work for us" was completely alien.

04:33 DP: 200,000 people get hired into the federal government every year.

04:37 RS: Okay.

04:37 DP: And that is almost all through applying various job postings into OPM, Office of Personnel Management. And with the exception of certain aspects of security, I think of DoD, there's not a proactive recruiting that happens for most of these agencies. The USDS is really the first time where they proactively went to go look for Silicon Valley-type engineers, product managers, designers, to come and work on very specific problems. And, with the help of various aspects of the White House, all the way up to the president, to give them the autonomy, and to work with leaders of different agencies to actually affect these software projects.

05:16 Loni Spratt: What kind of strategies did they use to attract these type of people, Silicon Valley types? Even though it sounds really cool what they're doing, it's not like the sexy thing that you would find here in the Bay area. How do they actually entice people to even explore? 

05:34 DP: Within the VA, there are literally veterans that die waiting to get medical care. To go and say, "Hey, this person has been waiting years to get their disability benefits" or someone basically was given medication that they were allergic to because their medical records could not make it from one hospital to the next. So, once you start talking about the scale of what these things... And the effect that it can have on people's lives, you get people excited.

06:05 RS: Yeah, definitely. Especially a lot of these tech companies. It's like, "We're revolutionizing the way you e-mail people about the meeting update you have." As opposed to... And then like you can...

06:14 LS: Send cupcakes. [chuckle]

06:16 RS: Yeah, exactly. "We are Uber for getting your car parked by someone else." So this you're able to just put it in terms of, "These are the actual problems we're solving," and it kinda brings it home for people that way.

06:28 DP: They're not asking for the rest of your life, they're asking for one to two years. And I think that you just gotta catch people at the right stage in their life, of wanting to give back and do something that materially affects the lives of millions of Americans. And the ones that are in the most need as well.

06:46 RS: So, recruiting is not a thing that the government has ever done. This new program begins and you're brought in to build a team, essentially? 

06:57 DP: Jennifer Anastasoff runs the team. I had a relatively short stint. My deal with them, it's actually a funny story. And I guess I will...

07:07 LS: Share it.


07:09 DP: The first time I met Todd Park, so they asked me to do it, and the timing didn't really work out for me to be able to take a leave from Greylock to go work on it, so Jennifer came in to run the Talent Department. They kept inviting me to these events. I got to go to the White House. I was there when they were recruiting Megan Smith, and there's 40 people, the president was there; walked around the room, I got to shake the president's hand. It was amazing. About a year ago, Jennifer invites me to this other event here in San Fransisco, and I knew the president was in town. I was like, "Stop inviting me to these events, because I can't do it. I already told you that it's not gonna work out." So I go to the event, there's six people that are invited to meet the president. President comes into the room shakes my hand, and says, "Dan, thank you very much for all the work that you've done. We really appreciate it." And he knew, he didn't say, "Hey this is Dan Portillo." They showed him a picture of me, they're like, "This is Dan. We're trying to recruit him." He shakes my hand, sits across from the table, and the first thing he does is he slams the table and says, "Why can't you help us more?"


08:12 DP: So the President of the United States...

08:12 RS: From the leader of the free world.

08:13 DP: Yeah! If he asks you to do something, you do it.


08:16 RS: Exactly.

08:17 DP: So, I went home...

08:18 LS: Wow, that is a funny story. [laughter]

08:20 DP: I couldn't sleep. I went home, I put everything on a spreadsheet. I looked at how long could I afford to actually do this? We had a daughter on the way, and so I went back to Todd and said, "Look, I'll do it. I'll go to Greylock. And I'll do it up until my daughter is born." And that's kind of the extent that I put it. So, it worked out. I got to help them full-time for about four months. And then I'm still... I was a contractor, or am a contractor up until the end of May. But I don't bill and I continue to help them. And, I'll talk to Todd, probably on a monthly basis about different types of things that they're working on, from aspects of security, to key designers, or people that have data infrastructure. Whatever it may be that they're looking for from a talent perspective, I'll try and work with them on identifying the people they should have in that role.

09:06 RS: Gotcha. So then what was your role in this? Was it to build a recruiting team to sort of set them up, so that they can continue finding talent, and bringing them in once you're gone as well? 

09:16 DP: It was twofold. One was working on what amounts to executive recruiting. I was focused on the US Digital Service leads. Think of Director, VP-level people that would be the lead person embedded in an agency. That was my main goal of moving into individual contributor, which I haven't been for a while... I still recruit, but mostly I manage teams. And I also worked with Jennifer to help build her team. So, identified and recruited a number of people that have joined her and have done a phenomenal job, and have now been there... They signed up for two, three-year contracts with the government.

09:49 RS: So Jennifer is the one that was able to brief the president, and say, "We're trying to get Dan, what can you do?"

09:55 DP: Yeah. I think her and Todd...

09:56 RS: Were the ones that...

09:56 DP: It was a really dirty trick.

09:58 RS: Well yeah. But that is like the ultimate trump card if you're like, "What's your best recruiting story? Like, what's the best tactic you've ever used in your career?" It's like, "I got the president to slam the table and ask him why he wasn't joining us."

10:08 DP: And he was willing to do that for anyone that they were looking to recruit. He would talk to employers, to spouses, and do the hard pitch and he did that on Todd. He was supposed to only do it for a year, and ended up staying for seven years, and still there. He'll be there until the president closes the door, and is out of the office.

10:27 RS: I love it.

10:28 LS: Did you have your baby yet? 

10:29 DP: Yeah. Actually, she's almost nine months now.

10:31 LS: Congrats.

10:31 DP: Or, she's almost 10 months now.

10:32 RS: Yeah, congrats.

10:32 LS: Congrats.

10:33 DP: Thank you.

10:34 RS: Is she gonna be a recruiter someday? 


10:35 DP: I hope not.


10:39 RS: Outbound recruiting was kind of new to the USDS. I noticed on their website they are still doing the 'apply now' thing. Was there a lot of inbound interest as well? 

10:48 DP: There's a lot of inbound. As you can imagine, there's also a lot of crazies that apply as well, so the hardest part was figuring out a way of being able to filter and prioritize the people that were coming through. I went through, looked through the leads, and prioritized a number of people that were coming in. There's a really amazing flow of people that are applying in to join the USDS. But there's still a fair amount of outbound. So part of it is, how do you figure out the right mix of people that are both analyzing what's coming in, but are being very proactive about going out and finding people? 

11:21 RS: Would you look at all inbound resumés? Was the volume such that you could do that? Or what were your strategies for prioritizing and picking out the people that you wanted to look at? 

11:29 DP: You're talking about thousands of applications, so we were trying to filter as quickly as possible. At the beginning, I went to prioritize the leads that have already made it to the second round, and say, "Alright, here's the ones that we should prioritize," based upon some of the rules that we had. But I spent the majority of my time on going outbound and identifying the set of people that we should be working on for the long term.

11:52 RS: Gotcha. And what's the makeup of the team? Is it mostly engineers? Is it kind of widespread? What are they all working on and who are these people? 

12:00 DP: Engineers, product and design. And the problems are different. There are some user-facing problems, so you're building a new interface for immigration, or some of them are data interoperability problems. There's files inside the Department of Defense, those need to move to the VA. Thinking about large scale infrastructure, the teams are tailored based upon, "What is it that you need to build?" And a lot of it is people, technology, and you can imagine that a lot of the stuff runs on mainframes. So they're going back and figuring out ways of making things much simpler than they were before. Looking at the entire system end-to-end, and you're mostly trying to remove everything that's not useful, so that you can streamline as much as possible.

12:41 RS: Gotcha. You mentioned a minute ago that you would prioritize people that had already made it past one stage of evaluation. So what was happening? What was that first stage? Was there a team of people you had to hire to curate these applications, or what was that like? 

12:55 DP: They're basically using the USDS staff to look at incoming applications and triage. And then once the initial triage came through, I did a pass of prioritizing the triage after that.

13:06 RS: Okay. Did you work with the people doing the triage to like, "Here's what to look for? 

13:10 DP: Not as much. I did after, so worked with... Jennifer took the lead on that after awhile.

13:16 RS: Gotcha.

13:16 DP: I knew I only had four months, and I wanted to make sure that I got the most done in that amount of time. And, when you're thinking about what's the time... If I was gonna be there for years, I would have done things slightly differently than if I'm gonna be there for four months. And the four months, the best things that I could do was identify the DS leads or people that could be potential DS leads, and help them put a recruiting team in place that was gonna be able to run and figure out all the details later. And they hired some really great people that have been able to do that.

13:47 RS: Awesome. Well, let's go back a little bit into Dan Portillo origin stories, back to your days at Mozilla. Now it's a global company, a couple thousand employees. When you joined, there was only 20. What was your experience there? You clearly scaled the team immensely.

14:05 DP: Our first problem was the engineers had no calendars. Imagine trying to schedule interviews when none of the engineers actually used calendars. And, it's Mozilla, so no one would use anything Microsoft. Outlook... You imagine, Outlook has a shared calendar, there's no way in hell Mozilla was ever gonna use a Microsoft product. So that was the initial challenge. I was going through printing up the interview schedule everyday, dropping it on people's desk until the point where like, "Look. Everyone needs to get a calendar, right now, 'cause this doesn't scale." So, that was first and foremost something that I will forever remember, that getting engineers to actually use the calendar was pretty difficult. The second was Mozilla was very used to hiring people out of the community. So we have a network of volunteers that contribute to Mozilla, and they were used to interviewing and hiring some people out of the community.

14:53 DP: The problem with hiring out of your community is if they don't make the bar of what you're looking higher, they're no longer interested in contributing. So you have to be very gentle in the way that you hire out of your community. One of the things that we needed to do was find out and identify, "What is it that we're looking for? What makes someone really great at Mozilla? And how do we then find those traits in other people, that don't necessarily look like most of the open source contributors that we have right now, but are still passionate about free software, great engineers, and would get really excited about the mission?"

15:25 RS: Gotcha. So then were you kind of... From 20 people, there must have been some sort of departmental lines being drawn in the sand, slowly. At a certain point, when there's only 20 people, you might have... Your sales is right next to your engineering people, or something like that. Did you have to see these teams developing, and was your role in that helping them to kind of make the hire, so that they could be self-sufficient? 

15:52 DP: Mozilla has no salespeople, which is one of the things that I really loved about the company, for a really long time. And, I would say, I'm the only person, or at least at the time, was the person that had the entire organization in their head. I managed the org chart, kept the org chart intact. I knew how all the teams were structured, and browser's a very complicated piece of technology. So you gotta look at where the teams are, how do you actually hire for each of the teams? Our first line manager started to develop at that point. A lot of it was figuring out, how do we both put these teams together, and understand how things were gonna move forward? We had... So John Lilly, who eventually become the CEO, and a gentleman by the name of Mike Schroepfer, who goes by Schrep, who's now the CTO of Facebook, we all started the same week. Schrep was managing everyone on the engineering side. And a lot of this was building things from scratch, so we had no build and release team.

16:43 DP: This was basically all of the beginning of putting Mozilla and hiring the company. I remember Schrep was running the entire team, and then we needed to hire someone to run platform engineering, and we wrote the spec. When we wrote the spec, the team was 11, and by the time we closed the person, the engineering team was actually 25 people. It shows you how quickly these different leaders have to develop and come up in the company, and it started to grow very, very quickly. And, I'm very proud of my experience at Mozilla, and I think the thing that we did was develop leaders and people that were able to step up. When Schrep left to go join Facebook, the next VP of engineering had been a director at Mozilla, and when that person moved on, another VP came from Mozilla. And so we're really able to develop people from within, and build great leaders that have gone on to other companies, and have done quite well.

17:37 RS: In that sense, you're hiring generational talent. You're like, "Who's gonna be running this company, and who's gonna be in these leadership roles, five, 10 years down the line?" What can recruiters do when they're out hiring? And of course, a lot of this is gonna depend on the hiring manager and some of the other people, decision makers. But what can recruiters do to make sure that they're positioning their companies for the most success, based on how talent will grow? 

18:04 DP: It was a little bit of a different time then. Now, you see people that hang around, two, two and a half years, seems to be the average life span, to really focus on keeping people for as long as we could. And John Lilly, who's the CEO, came to me one day, so I was running recruiting and he said, "You can do anything you want here, except write code. So what is it that you actually wanna do?" I thought a lot about it and, to me, recruiting is a promise that you make to someone. You educate them about the company and you tell them what their life is gonna be like when they come to the company. So I decided to take over Talent, or HR, or whatever you wanna call it, and to take that promise and deliver on that promise for them.

18:45 DP: And to really focus on building a career for people at Mozilla, and to focus on helping them grow and having the right kind of organization that was going to support them. So I didn't really think about HR as the, "How do I make sure I don't get fired, or not get sued," and really focus on the experience of the employee. So, "What is it like to go through our interview process? What was it like to start your first day? What does it mean to be your first week? Your first year? Your first promotion? What does it feel like to leave the company?" And really focusing on that from an experience perspective. So other recruiting leaders at companies need to think past the person getting hired, and past their first day, and really think about the experiences they're creating for candidates and employees.

19:30 LS: You mentioned a big focus was on developing from within. Were there specific programs, like leadership development programs or things that you guys put in place to help foster that? 

19:42 DP: We bootstrapped it at first. We had a meeting that we called our Director's Meeting, which was one of the beginning pieces. We started to do a little bit with training on specifically, first-line manager training. I did a lot of work specifically on one-on-ones. And part of that was, I really believe that development is the interaction between the individual and their manager, and how you have a good dialogue and a good interaction, and a lot of support. We really, really focused on that. And I think that led to a lot of good relationships and helping people be really effective. One of the other pieces that we did was focus on career level changes as the main way that compensation happened inside of Mozilla. We were doing an annual, once a year, relatively small increments. We moved away from that to really focus on, "How do we think about various levels, and what are the skills and expectations at each of those levels?" and focused on people moving through, and progressing from one level to the next. Really educating both employees and the managers on how to make those things happen, and focusing on the dialogue and conversation that happens between people. I think later there was another VP of HR as the company began to sail and I had moved on, that focused on more traditional LMD leadership programs. But the foundation was really on relationships between people inside the company.

21:02 RS: I love the whole notion of recruiting as a promise, and that you are explaining how someone's life is going to be. I think the interview process is often very short-sighted. It's like, "Can we spend a few weeks and a handful of meetings to assess if you can do this job?" Which says nothing about what's it gonna be like for you a year down the line, eight months down the line, whatever it is. And Sarah from Lever was in here, and she was like, "When we are assessing people, we're not thinking like, 'Can you do the job on day one?'" Their question was like, "Will you be a good teammate eight months down the line? What will you bring to the team at that point? When you're fully ramped up, when you're performing really well, what does that look like?" It sounds like you were kind of on a similar thing, that was kind of a similar philosophy at Mozilla. So I'm curious, what is the appropriate time in the hiring cycle to start having that conversation? Like, "Listen, it could be kind of a slog at some points. You're gonna have to grind through tasks and have that grit. This is what it's gonna be like on a random Tuesday, months down the line when you're coming in to the office again for the hundredth time." When you have that conversation, what's the appropriate messaging there? 

22:15 DP: I try to talk people out of jobs, all the time.

22:18 RS: So, into recruitment? 

22:20 DP: Yeah. I believe in transparency and sharing a lot of the ugly parts of the job first, to say, "Here's all the things that really suck about the things that we're doing here but here are the things that are really beautiful about it." And I think the more that you're honest and transparent about what it's actually going to be, the more people both will trust and respect you, because it's never perfect. Companies are run by people, people are imperfect. All companies have various levels of dysfunction that they manage through. It's, "How aware are you of your dysfunction? How transparent are you about the dysfunction?" And, do you actively work to make that better inside of a company? Transparency and really educating, and the anti-recruiting piece is a big part of how I've talked to most of the people that have both worked for me, and are talking to portfolio companies. And I've told certain people that I didn't think roles were right for their career and that they should not take it, because they would be better served doing something else, 'cause they weren't gonna be happy doing it.

23:18 RS: Do you think most recruiters, interviewers are just so overwhelmingly positive? Like, "This is an amazing company. I love everything about my job, there's nothing I would change." Is that common? Because it seems like that's an unfair representation of the company. Like you say, "No company is perfect. Everyone has their problems." And, that's kind of part of the sale, where it's like, "This is what you're signing up for, it's not all puppies and rainbows. There's gonna be some really hard things to work on." Is that a compulsory part? 

23:53 DP: I don't think anyone loves their job 100%.

23:55 RS: No.

23:56 DP: Professional athletes don't love 100% of their job. I don't think that that's... That's not an accurate reflection of how people work.

24:04 RS: Right.

24:05 DP: I think you want difficulty for the right reasons. You don't want the organization that's getting in its own way for no reason at all. There are problems that we face at work, and some of them are problems that we address because the work is really hard. And some are problems that are caused by other people within the organization.

24:26 RS: Right.

24:26 DP: In good companies, you're working on hard things that matter. And in bad companies, you're basically trying to push a rock uphill. If you're running a good company, you figure out how to get all of the rocks out of the way, and that's not to say that the job's going to be easy but it's gonna be at least hard in the ways that get you excited.

24:48 RS: Right. In terms of a challenge to your own skill, as opposed to your skill in navigating the politics of a workplace.

24:56 DP: And I think if people are successful because the company is helping them be successful, versus being successful in spite of the company, there's a different type of connection and commitment to the organization. 'Cause you're only gonna push uphill for so long.

25:11 RS: When you're doing this anti-recruiting, when you're trying to talk people out of jobs, what are these signals of someone where you're like, "Well, they're well-qualified. They come well-referred, great pedigree. They can do the job. But, there's this one thing about them that makes me think that they're not gonna be a good fit down the line." What are those things? 

25:35 DP: The biggest thing for me is if expectations are misaligned. If someone is coming in expecting one thing or understands what the job is but is hoping to turn it into something else, that is an area to just avoid. Either the person really wants that job and they're willing to do it or they're doing that job to do something else, and you have a plan to be able to make that happen, then it'll work. But, if someone is not being truthful to themselves about what the job really is or if the employer is not being truthful about what the job really is, it's just not gonna work.

26:09 RS: Right.

26:10 DP: And it'll not work, fast.

26:12 RS: How do you go about learning that? Is it like you just kinda ask them something like, "What is it you want in this role? What is it you think you're getting in this role?"

26:22 DP: Most of my interviews are always trying to figure out the individual. "What do they care about? What motivates them? Where do they see their career going, and how does the job that we're discussing actually get them to that place?" And motivation is the thing that I really try to understand for what people... "Is it their peers that get them motivated? Is it the job that they're actually doing? Is it the mission?" And so, the more that I figure out what the person wants, the better it is for me to place them.

26:54 DP: In some ways, I view my job as sitting in the middle of a marketplace. I talk to a bunch of great people, we're invested in a bunch of companies. And if we don't have anything that makes sense for someone, I don't try and shoehorn them into one of our companies. I'll actually send them to a different VC and say, "We may not be the right firm for them, and they may invest in other things that make more sense." So, someone's super-excited about robotics, or other things like that. "We don't do those kind of investments. But you should go talk to this person, 'cause you're gonna be really much happier doing something you love."

27:23 RS: Sorry for that ambient noise, everyone. They're apparently sawing the conference room next to ours in half.

27:29 LS: New office problems. [chuckle]

27:30 RS: New office problems. Loni went down and laid down the law, so I think we should be good. We were talking about, just assessing in people, the things that might not make them be a good fit down the line because there is often that need, perceived need, recruiters are incentivized based on the amount of hires they make, right? They're like, "Alright, gotta put asses in seats." But then there's other side of the world, it's like, "Look, I'm not gonna make this hire, because you're gonna burn out. It's not gonna be good. I'm gonna be hiring for this role again, then I'm gonna have to do this all over." But then you can refer them to other... That sort of one of the valuable things about your role at Greylock is that you have this wide swath of companies that you know are recruiting for, and you can kind of match talent to opportunities that make more sense for them? 

28:23 DP: Yes. And I think, a little bit more broadly, almost everyone that I've hired to work for me over the years has started in agency because you get a lot of experience learning how to hunt and find people.

28:33 RS: Sure.

28:34 DP: But the job, when you go inside, is fundamentally different, is that you have to learn how to say no. And it's no longer about making a placement, it's about hiring the right person because you have to live with wrong decisions in a way that agency people do not.

28:49 RS: Right.

28:49 DP: And so it's a very powerful thing to be able to talk to a bunch of hiring managers, and say, "No, we should not hire this person, because it is gonna make us a worse company." I like people that are able to make the transition that know how hard it is to get someone excited about a company, who've had to hunt and do the work, but are deliberate in their thinking, to make sure that they're making the right decisions for the organization.

29:13 RS: How do you help them make that transition? 

29:16 DP: I tell them that their job is now fundamentally different. "Your job is not to make hires. Your job is to build a great company. And with each mistake, you set the company back." So, being very thoughtful about who comes into the organization. We all make hiring mistakes. I've done that at every place that I've ever worked. But being thoughtful and learning and not making the same mistake again.

29:38 RS: I love it. It's blunt right off the bat. I love that, "Every hiring mistake hurts the company." And like you say, that happens, but it's preventable in the case where you can sniff out that it's not a good opportunity. Learning about someone that even, despite the fact that they could be qualified, that this doesn't mean they're a good fit.

30:02 LS: You mentioned you like to hire people that come from an agency background. When you started at Mozilla, the company was small. What did the recruiting team look like? How did you build it out? How did it evolve during your time there? 

30:13 DP: The recruiting team was me, at first.

30:14 LS: At first.

30:15 DP: So, I was the very first one. The first recruiting hire that I had is a guy name Bret Reckard, that now runs a big chunk of the town org at Sequoia Capital. I'd helped him get his first job at an agency called Coit. I sent him over there for a couple years, he did really well. And after he'd kinda cut his teeth on the agency side, I hired him. John Lilly did not wanna hire Bret, and I pushed it through. And since that day, John has said, "Dan can hire whoever the hell he wants," [chuckle] because Bret was amazing. He gives me a lot of credit for that decision, he's gone on to have a fabulous career. So it started with Bret. The second person hired is a woman named Julie Deroche, who built our university program, and she was at an agency. And, I had taken the day off, I was out in Napa with a number of friends, and she kept calling me over and over and over again. I told her I had the day off, but she would not leave me alone because she was trying to push this candidate through. So, the next week when I went back to work, I had her go to lunch, and then I recruited her out of her agency job, because I just really loved the tenacity at which she was...

31:21 RS: Relentless, yeah.

31:22 DP: She just wouldn't let it go. That's always been something that I've looked for with everyone that I've hired, like, "How tenacious are they?" And I will optimize for that over almost all other things. I like people who have a keen eye for talent, and who are tenacious. That's been a lot of... Most of the people that I've hired over the years. The team was small. I think I've... My shortcomings are that I keep teams probably a little bit too lean. I didn't bring a coordinator in earlier. I really focused on people...

31:51 RS: A really, really common regret. We've heard that a million times. Like, "Should've gotten a coordinator earlier." I think Zach, your [31:56] ____ guy, said that as well.

32:00 DP: I like people doing the work. Not just the good parts, but you got to do the shitty parts, too. Sometimes you gotta schedule an interview. I think it's important to have done that piece of the job as well. But I've always kept teams probably a little bit too small, and I should've grown it a little bit faster. But small teams are very productive. With each recruiter that you add, productivity goes down. So part of me is happy that I kept it lean, part of me realizes that I probably should've grown it a little bit faster than I did.

32:31 LS: What are your thoughts on splitting out a sourcer role from a recruiter role, and having those as separate functions? What's your philosophy on that? 

32:40 DP: I would not hire a recruiter that can't source. I still source people all the time. I manage a team, I love showing the kids how to swing every once in a while, [chuckle] so I'll go and source people. I don't source as much as they do. But fundamentally, I personally cannot hire someone that doesn't just love finding and sourcing people. I think that there's a place for sourcing function and that it's important, but I don't love the Google model of, "How do you separate completely, that their recruiters have no idea how to actually find anyone?" And I believe that they've created a great model, it scales really well, it's not something that I would ever want to do, because I like people that are exceptional. And that goes back to having a small team, so that you have people that are very, very good at what they do, allows you to do much more than you can with a scaled operation. I remember talking to a sourcer at Google, who's part of the SRE team. The quota for SRE sourcing was two, the average was one, and this person was doing 15 a quarter. So 15 times more productive than the average person, making 10% more than the person that's doing one. And that's because Google's system, one, doesn't really value recruiters that much. Probably gonna piss off...

33:53 RS: Hot take. Hot take. [laughter]

33:54 DP: I'm gonna probably piss off a lot of friends that worked at Google. But they value outliers in engineering, they don't value in operations. And talking to people that are highly productive in that function makes them wanna go do something else. Because it doesn't allow them to really blossom. And I'd rather have a small team with people that are 10 to 15x more productive, than to build this beautiful system that's consistent. My view in the things that actually get me excited, I don't wanna work for a 10,000-person company that's worth $10 billion, I wanna work for a company that has 10 people, that's worth $2 or $3 billion. That's exciting to me of, how do you get the leverage per person? And not to say that scale isn't great, but I think there's particular people that are built for that, and that's not really me.

34:43 LS: Is there anything you do special, in terms of when you're recruiting recruiters? How do you suss out tenacity and things like that? Separate the highly productive ones from the ones that are just...

35:00 DP: The first thing I do is I look at our overlapping network, and who we overlap. If it's just a bunch of recruiters, then it's a little bit less interesting, I probably won't take the meeting. If it's a bunch of high quality people, like either engineers or executives that I've worked with, that I know are very good and that overlaps, that's a much better way to get a meeting.

35:19 RS: Interesting.

35:19 LS: That's great.

35:20 DP: If your networks are recruiters, it's just not gonna work for me. I look at who they know, and I will look at people that had to recruit for companies that weren't shiny. It's one thing to hire people at Google or Facebook that everyone knows.

35:35 RS: Everyone wants to work there, yeah.

35:36 DP: It's much harder to hire, no name startup, and hire a really good team. I'll give you much bigger points for being able to do that. Jason Lohrentz, I don't know if you guys have had him on the show? 

35:44 RS: I've been trying to get him on for awhile, yeah.

35:46 DP: I'll be happy to get him on the phone.

35:47 RS: Okay, that'll be awesome.

35:48 DP: Shopkick is not the easiest company to work for, and it's a great company. If they got acquired, it was a good exit. But getting people excited to work there was hard. And they had to really, really a strong engineering team. And that was his work. That guy...

36:04 RS: He's a machine.

36:05 DP: He's great.

36:05 RS: Vivek sings his praises. There was a period where he was averaging point eight hires a day, or something. It's outrageous. [chuckle]

36:12 DP: It's easy to recruit for a really big brand, hard to do it for something smaller. So, if you can do that, that's usually something that I look for in someone. And then when I'm actually interviewing, I have them walk me through a hard search that they worked on and, how did they go about finding people? How did they get them excited? What do they look for in candidates? How much do they like sourcing? What are the aspects of the job that they're good at? I really look for self-awareness, do they understand where they're strong, where they're weak? And, how did they compensate for things that they're weak on? 

36:43 RS: We're kinda coming up on time. I want to do a new segment that if it goes well, it's gonna be a weekly thing. And Vivek inspired me, 'cause I was talking to him about how he would recruit recruiters. And he was saying that it's very similar to sales, or really any role. You ask them to tell a story of like, just a big win or some huge problem that they were able to solve. He's like, "Any good salesperson will be able to tell you, 'Oh, there's one deal that I had to loop in all these other people. And I had to try and get all this support from other people in their organization.'" And he said, "With recruiting it's similar." Like he goes, "I could tell you right now, just like 10 to 15 stories of where, just really, really awesome, full-cycle recruiting. Sometimes it didn't work, and I learned an important lesson. But then sometimes it did work, and I was just like, that felt really good. It went perfectly and now we have this awesome performer on our team." I wanted to ask you with that, if there's one kind of anecdote of one hire that you're like, "Yes, nailed it," and it felt really good to get that one.

37:38 DP: That's a great question.

37:41 LS: What are we gonna call this segment? 

37:44 RS: I don't know. We'll work on that. Well, you wanna just like spitball while Dan thinks of a story? 

37:50 LS: Yeah, think of a story.

37:52 RS: A Real Recruiter's Story. True Life Recruiting. I don't know. Meet me halfway here, Loni. [chuckle]

38:00 LS: I know. I was thinking, something like real or...

38:02 RS: Yeah. Proud Hires. I don't know. Well, we can beat those. [chuckle] We can beat the...

38:07 LS: We can definitely beat those.

38:08 RS: Well, I'll spend more than eight seconds thinking of one.

38:10 LS: We'll need the Words With Rob segment to come up with the...

38:13 RS: Yeah. That'll be the next Words With Rob segment. [chuckle]

38:15 LS: Okay. Back to Dan. [chuckle]

38:17 RS: Back to you, Dan.

38:18 DP: Back to my elephant hunting stories? 

38:19 RS: Exactly.

38:21 DP: Elephant hunting. We're calling it elephant hunting.


38:23 RS: There you go.

38:24 DP: Adding value. So, there's a couple, actually, that come to mind. One is the longest time it ever took me to recruit someone. So 10 years is the record from the first time I tried to recruit them to when I finally got them, which is probably longer than most of your audience has been working in recruiting.

38:39 RS: Certainly, yeah.

38:40 DP: I met this guy. I was at a company called CenterRun, which is my first company. And he was a young guy, he started his own company when he was in his early 20s, Princeton guy. And I think the company was shutting down and we made him an offer, he turned us down. I reached out to him, I don't know how many different times over the years. And finally, at Mozilla... The funny thing is, I actually left. My last week was the week right before he started, so we never actually got to work together. But he finally joined us at Mozilla, 10 years later. He had a lot less hair than he did when we first met. He had added a couple of children. But went to go and be part of our platform team to work on some pieces on performance. So for me, I always remember those ones that got away, that I'm continuing to track. One of my other favorite hires is, there's a guy named Kenny Mendes that used to run, that runs recruiting for Box.

39:27 RS: Oh, yeah.

39:27 LS: Oh, we know him. We know Kenny well.

39:29 RS: Another guy I'm trying to get on the show.

39:33 DP: I worked on Kenny for three years. And the story I'm getting, Kenny is... We're trying to hire machine learning people, this was now, five years ago. And I talked to a bunch of people that were doing machine learning work and we were trying to hire them. They kept going to this one other company and I'm like, "Who the hell is recruiting these people?" So, I went and talked to the recruiter that was there and tried to recruit him out of the company. He's the one that told me about Kenny, so I went and met Kenny. And over years, we'd sit down, have coffee every once in a while, and then finally he came up to me and said, "Alright, I'm ready. I'm ready to do something else." And I'm like, "I have the perfect CEO for you. I have the perfect person for you to work with," and it just worked out. For me, it's more about timing and waiting, and really getting to know, and managing a network for a long time. And being there for when that right moment comes, you get them lined up with the opportunity that they're looking for.

40:25 RS: With these long games where you spent years recruiting someone, was there a point where you made the ask early on? Or, did you sense that it wasn't the right time, and just kinda hold back, hold back, and just like, subtly planting seeds the whole time? 

40:39 DP: Just getting to know each other for the first couple of years, so you get a sense of when someone is actually ready to go.

40:45 RS: Right.

40:45 DP: And on average, people at Greylock, when they join, we know them for at least a year before they join any of our portfolio companies. In some cases, it's multiple years, three years, like it was in Kenny's case. So, really knowing and identifying, doing the research of who's who, and getting to know them, getting to know what they care about, and either bringing them the right opportunity at the right time or being there when it's time for them to figure out what they wanna do next and being part of that discussion. And helping them manage their career.

41:12 DP: A lot of cases it won't be... I might spent years talking to someone and they may not even join one of our companies. I may send them to go work with someone else. But I think the part of giving value to the network and to people that are great is the thing that I really love about my position at Greylock, and allows me to work across our portfolio. But not just our portfolio across the valley. And my job is to know phenomenal people and put them in the right place.

41:37 LS: Yeah. I was gonna say, it's kind of like the skill that you have to have when you're an agency recruiter. It's all about the long game relationship. 'Cause if you can't place them this month, you've built that relationship, you might place them in a year, or two years. And then when they're ready, they remember you. You were the recruiter that pushed them, but built a real relationship, and they know you're well connected. So when they are exploring, then they just remember you.

42:00 RS: Yeah. And with the slower play too, the candidate knows that they're not just, or you're not just a fill position to them, that they're taking into account your own wants and needs and goals. Well, this has been elephant hunting with Dan Portillo. I think it's gonna stick. I'm not gonna do a radio sound effect elephant though, it's not that kinda show.


42:25 LS: We're not that kinda show.

42:25 RS: We've moved on.

42:27 DP: If people get offended with elephant hunting, you go big game or something else...

42:30 RS: Big game.


42:32 DP: Or fish stories. 'Cause they always get bigger over time.

42:35 RS: Oh yeah, exactly. Exactly. Was it actually 10 years, was it? 

42:39 DP: It was 10 years, actually. It really was 10 years from the first time we met.

42:42 RS: Cool. This has been awesome, Dan. What did we learn today? We learned that recruiting is a promise and you are promising that you're going to connect them with what you say you are, and with something that's gonna be good for them long term. We learned how to shift an agency recruiter into an internal recruiter, because as you say, Dan, you now have a fundamentally different job. We learned about government recruiting. We learned what Google does and doesn't like about internal teams. [laughter]

43:15 LS: We learned how Obama recruits. [laughter]

43:17 RS: Yeah. That is such a good nugget. Oh, man, yeah. Obama, the recruiter. I don't think he's ever been called that before, but I love it.

43:25 DP: Man, I shared a lot of stuff that's gonna get me in trouble. I hope you don't have a big readership or listenership, or whatever it is on your podcast.

43:32 RS: Enough to be dangerous.


43:37 LS: Most of them are in tech.

43:38 RS: Yeah, yeah.

43:39 LS: But around the world, so you never know.

43:41 RS: Yeah. The NSA guy, that's job is to listen to all podcasts going across the wire is gonna be like, "We got him. Shut him down." Alright, Dan, this has been an amazing episode. I had an absolute blast hearing about USDS and your background in recruiting. Come back any time. This was awesome. Thank you so much for being here.

43:58 DP: Thank you for having me.

44:00 RS: That does it for us here at Hiring On All Cylinders. One more time, I've been Rob Stevenson and you have been wonderful recruiters. Have a spectacular week. And happy hunting.