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Bootcamp Breakdown: How to Build Your Team

Meagan McGinnes

A business is only as strong as its team. That was a mantra heard not only throughout the day during last week’s NOSH Live Winter 2017, but also during the event’s Bootcamp for emerging brands.

After the NOSH Live conference last Thursday, a group of budding food entrepreneurs reconvened on Friday for a set of more intimate, informational sessions on how to further build their businesses. A key session of the day was a deeper look at team building and best practices for hiring during periods of rapid growth.

The panelists, which included Josh Wand, founder and CEO of ForceBrands, Meena Mansharamani, CEO of Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods, and Cassie Nielsen, VP of Talent at VMG Partners, outlined a hiring roadmap throughout their discussion.

Here are their main takeaways on who to hire, when to start thinking about growing your team, what to hire for and how to bring on the best people for the job.

Who Should I Hire?

The panelists started by identifying two types of employees: experts and athletes. Experts, they noted, have a specific skills and strength sets, whereas “athletes” are generalists who show potential to succeed in numerous areas. So how do you decide what is best for your company?

“I think the best people are the ones with the most stretch and that you can see in the next level,” Mansharamani said. “Ideally in my company I would love to have everyone really grow in their jobs but it’s really specific to the individual. Not everyone can be an athlete so you are really taking a bet on that person… I love hiring hungry people because the ones that won’t work out are the ones without that appetite.”

Wand said regardless of whether hiring an expert or an athlete, businesses should look for people who aren’t afraid to help with the “gritty” components of building a brand. Aside from personality and work ethic, Nielsen added that she believes all companies within CPG should be prioritizing diversity in their hiring and company culture initiatives.

What Roles Should I Fill First?

Operations, sales and marketing are “the three disciplines in building the fabric of any company,” according to Mansharamani. But the order in which you should prioritize building out those departments is key.

As food safety is a principal concern for all food and beverage brands and Nielsen said she never hesitates to build out an operations team first because “filling operations roles will take twice as long and be half as successful.” She then recommended that companies look to fill their sales team while keeping their finance and marketing departments “leaner.”

However, Wand noted he thinks it’s a little more complicated — and personal — than that.

“There really is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “It depends on the strengths and vulnerabilities of the founding team… You have to be honest with yourself what those are.”

When Should I Think About Hiring?

During NOSH Live, Tyler Merrick, founder of natural gum brand Project 7, spoke about the importance keeping a lean team. However, there will always be a point during a businesses’ life when the company needs to recruit new players in order to grow. During the Bootcamp discussion, Wand advised any company in the process of or considering raising capital to, at the very, least have a hiring plan.

He noted that one of the most taxing areas of a P&L when creating a new product can be the headcount needed to launch it.

“You need to make sure you have the appropriate compensation packages for that gameplan,” he said.

How Should I Go About the Hiring Process?

Even before entrepreneurs start thinking about hiring, the panelists said they think networking and relationship-building should be a top priority for every entrepreneur, even when it feels like there isn’t the time to do so.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn what makes people really strong and what you are looking for so you know by the time you are ready to write a job description,” Nielsen said. “A strong job description tells people what you are looking for, meaning what you want to hear or what they should be telling you in an interview.”

When it is time to actually write a job description, Nielsen said that software system Textio can help elevate the language within the post. Once a candidate is in the door for an interview, she added to throw away the job description and instead try using a “scorecard” method in order to account for unconscious bias.

When it comes to the questions to ask, panelists suggested using words like “how” or “why” to keep them open-ended and allow the candidate’s passion and hunger to show.

“Those who think their employees are just lucky to have a job, think again,” Nielsen said. “Those seeking jobs are interviewing you just as much as you are interview them.”

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