/Heartland Tech Weekly: VC firm wants to find the Midwest’s hidden startup talent

Heartland Tech Weekly: VC firm wants to find the Midwest’s hidden startup talent

The narrative goes that in order to really build a successful rocketship company, Heartland tech companies have to recruit some upper-level talent from other places — namely Silicon Valley — that have worked for fast-growing startups before. But are companies overemphasizing the need to find talent with prior startup experience?

That’s the thesis of Robert Hatta, talent partner at Drive Capital. He thinks that the Midwest is sitting on a ‘motherload’ of untapped startup talent, mostly tucked away in the region’s corporations. He recently created a test that attempts to measure whether or not a person will be a “fit” for startup work, without looking at whether or not that person has prior startup experience.

When Hatta joined Drive Capital 5 years ago, he said that he spent a good portion of his time trying to recruit talent to ditch Silicon Valley for the Midwest.

“It’s worked, but it’s also a long sales cycle,” Hatta said. “Our companies are no different than those in Silicon Valley. We need the best people in the world to make these companies, and [people] assumed that the best people in the world aren’t here, and we’ve found that not to be true.”

Hatta said he realized this was belief was misplaced after the CEOs of Columbus’ Root Insurance and Pittsburgh’s Duolingo — the two most valuable companies in Drive Capital’s portfolio — both said that many of their highest performing employees have never worked at a startup or tech company before. This held true even for more technical roles, like engineers.

Hatta wanted to find a way to identify this hidden talent, so he began creating a test to do so that could be used to attract interested talent to Drive’s portfolio companies. The test is 30 minutes long, and Hatta said that interviews are scheduled with participants who score above a certain score.

He stresses that it’s not a “scientifically rigorous experiment, and he won’t be publishing his results in an academic journal.” He developed the test with the help of a friend who holds a PhD in psychology and human behavior. He said that he doesn’t want to share too much about the test as he doesn’t want people to try game the results. But he said that generally speaking, some of the core attributes of high performers identified by Root and Duolingo include the ability to learn quickly, and to constantly redeploy themselves when faced with a new problem or data set.

In nearly the month since he posted the test online, Hatta said that about 75 people have taken it, and he’s started to schedule initial meetings with the high performers.

I think that a test like this is a good first attempt to widen the Heartland recruiting lens. It gives area workers who are curious but hesitant about applying for jobs because they don’t know much about startup culture a low-effort way to test the waters. The risk comes in taking the results of a test like this as canon — will some people who score poorly be discouraged from applying for startup jobs altogether?

And as with any test there’s the risk that it may be inadvertently biased against one group or another — Hatta acknowledged that in internal tests, people with dyslexia performed poorly for example.

Do you think a test can truly identify startup fit? Send me your thoughts and feedback via email.

Anna Hensel
Heartland Tech Reporter

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