Tech Junction III: Recruiting is just like fundraising

Recruiting the right people to help your startup succeed can seem very different in China, and many struggle to find people who are the right fit culturally. Andy Mok, the founder of Red Pagoda Resources, a company that helps startups recruit the right talent, speaks to me at Tech Junction about how to get resourceful to find those candidates.

Catherine Lai speaks with Andy Mok at Tech Junction. Photo from AllChinaTech.

AllChinaTech: How do you find the right people in China? What are the specific channels or strategies that work in China?

Mok: I think one of the reasons why so many startups find it hard to find good people here – it’s a generalization that I don’t think we should take too far, but in Silicon Valley I think people tend to much more want to do their thing, whereas still I think the traditional Chinese mindset is, while there are people who can’t not do their own thing, people are much more willing to join an organization.

I think as a founder, one of the key people in a startup, you have to always be recruiting, and if you talk to early stage investors, they say a CEO should be spending at least 50% of their time recruiting.

As recruiters, we can’t just rely on one channel. We have to use a multi-channel strategy. So similarly, as a CEO, you have to use every resource at your disposal. You need to be known. Think about it like advertising. You first have to create awareness. If your target market, whether it’s product managers, software developers, designers, salespeople, don’t know you exist, they can’t choose you. So whether it’s Wechat, Weibo, passing out flyers on the street….

I know people who have done sandwich boards, and I also know someone who has gone to Beijing’s Xierqi subway station (where many startups are located) to randomly add people on WeChat, and say: are you looking for a job? But that’s the kind of hustle and resourcefulness you need to really build the right team.

AllChinaTech: On your website, you talk about how resumes can sometimes be deceptive. How can you tell if someone’s right for your company? What questions can you ask them to find out?

Mok: You can get false negatives or false positives with resumes. Of course, the way around that is you need to meet people. And that’s very time-consuming, and that goes back to the idea that as a CEO, you need to spend a lot of your time recruiting. But recruiting doesn’t mean formal interviews. It means meeting people for coffee, calling your friends, your former colleagues. You just gotta work it.

I think the tactics matter less, but knowing how much the right person for your startup can make a difference. And if you really know that, and you really care about making your company successful, the tools and techniques will come to you.

For example, Zhang Tao, the founder of Dazhong Dianping, which is kind of like the Yelp of China, when he was recruiting, every time you talk to him, every other sentence was: hey, do you know where I can find a product manager?

AllChinaTech: A foreign startup founder was telling me about how hard it is to find foreign employees who understand China. How and where do you find people like that?

Mok: The market is efficient. It’s not that those people aren’t there. One reason startups struggle to find people is that you’re not paying enough. And that may be something you can’t solve until you get more traction. The other reason is that you’re defining the person you want too narrowly. The third reason is that your product sucks and no one wants to work for you.

One strategy that I’ve seen successful startups follow is to hire interns. One Seattle startup called Urbanspoon was known for doing this. At one point I think they had like 50, 60, interns and four full-time people.

Tech Junction event at DayDayUp. Photo from AllChinaTech.

AllChinaTech: How do you build trust and deal with miscommunication between colleagues from different cultural backgrounds?

Are you clearly communicating your vision, strategy, and tactics? And that’s more than just the words you use. Essentially, it’s your EQ. Can you understand, empathise, create rapport with whoever you’re dealing with?

From a practical perspective, communicate a lot, and have frequent check-ins. I think it’s also important to team building and culture building. The more successful startups actually have someone responsible for company culture. And if you can’t hire somebody to do that full time, then it’s your job.

AllChinaTech: Tell us about how you helped build App Annie’s team. Who did you help them recruit and how did you find them? What lessons can startups learn from your experience?

Mok: The biggest takeaway I have for you guys is that very smart, passionate people are really just like investors, and if you can’t be very clear about why they should invest their time, their energy and their reputation in your company, you’re not going to get very far.

My lesson learned working with App Annie is that you have to be very very clear about what you’re doing, why it matters, and hiring great people is no different than raising money.

About Tech Junction:

A meetup group in Beijing with a stated goal of exchanging ideas in short, sharp dialogues among startups, tech and media professionals in order to shed light on the tech scene in China. Our mission is to establish a tech community to connect with thinkers and dealmakers around the world. This monthly meetup is co-organized by AllChinaTech and DayDayUp. Find out when the next Tech Junction is on

AllChinaTech is a Beijing-based startup media platform, dedicated to providing timely news and analysis on the Chinese tech industry in English.

DayDayUp is a co-working space in Beijing creating an international collaboration community for entrepreneurs from China and all countries.

(Top photo from AllChinaTech)

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