A recent guest on my Disrupt Yourselfpodcast, Maren Kate Donovan launched into entrepreneurship in her early university years. Several business iterations later, she became the founder and CEO of Zirtual, which offers virtual assistant services for entrepreneurs, professionals and small teams. The company experienced massive success, but its rapid growth ultimately led to its downfall. Eventually, Donovan recognized that the company would not be able to pay its suddenly large roster of employees for completed work, so Donovan made the painful decision to shut the business down. She refers to the painful learning experience as her "$5 million MBA."
But failure clears the table and learning sets it again for the next feast. For Donovan, the mistakes made with Zirtual drove her to found AVRA Talent, a firm which partners with small businesses to help them fill critical gaps in their workforce through "on-demand talent acquisition."
Hiring and onboarding is expensive, not to mention that every new hire needs to earn a salary and receive benefits, all of which adds up quickly. That’s why making the right hiring decisions is crucial to the success of any business, especially a small one still trying to find its footing—a reality Donovan experienced first-hand. "I tried to hire for a few roles, like the CMO and the COO and I did a terrible job. It was because I didn't know what I didn't know. If I'd had experts who had come in and said, 'This is what a great marketing person looks like, or you don't need a COO, you need a finance person and you need a head of operations,' things might have gone differently," she recalls.
So, Donovan set out to ensure other small businesses didn’t have to face the same challenges that Zirtual faced, teaching them the importance of making strategic hires from day one.
Making Hiring Strategic
Donovan’s new business venture AVRA stands for the four stages of hiring: attract, vet, reference check, acquire. Overextended entrepreneurs are inclined to skip a step—or two—to their detriment. Donovan points out that they are also slow to focus on creating a good employer brand that will attract people.
"They don't do the vetting process to really run people through a thorough understanding of not only their motivations, but also their skills and their personal qualities. Most people don't do reference checking, and don’t really court [candidates] when they’re trying to acquire them, selling them on the vision, selling them on how this aligns with their life and their goals," Donovan says.
AVRA aims to make hiring more strategic and effective by employing an innovative recruitment process broken down into five discrete disciplines: strategy, domain expertise, interviewing, sourcing and coordination. A team of three to five recruiters collaborates on any given role, facilitating a process that is faster than usual, more thorough, casts a wider net and is executed by domain experts who understand the role under consideration.
Domain experts are primarily people who are still actively working in their industry, which means they’ll have a holistic understanding of what a founder needs in the early days of a business. "These are either founders themselves, expert consultants, or directors and VPs at a growing company," Donovan explains. Leaving recruiting to a more traditional HR role, meanwhile, leaves success up to chance, since an HR person may have extensive experience in hiring but very little in the company’s specific industry or needs.
The key takeaway is that entrepreneurs trying to scale their small, growing companies often need assistance in their talent acquisition from experts who know what a novice entrepreneur may not. These experts, which AVRA provides, understand what functions the business needs to fill at the different stages of development, and what kinds of expertise and recruits they need to leverage those limited positions effectively and most advantageously.
Ultimately, AVRA emphasizes the importance of hiring with purpose and offers a new, disruptive paradigm for recruitment in larger businesses—a holistic approach to hiring that ensures a more satisfactory outcome for both employers and those they employ.
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