Why hiring for experience can help your startup change the world

River City Labs chief executive Peta Ellis. Source: Supplied.

The startup sector is a funny thing. As an industry, like most of the startups in our ecosystems, we’re in a scale-up phase of our own.

For the past 10 years we have focused on tech, problems, solutions, disruption, platforms and investment. We’ve been pitching and creating so many solutions for problems that exist, and problems that we want to exist, because we created a solution and desperately want to apply it to something.

Today, we are looking at meaningful tech, and impactful and sustainable solutions that solve really big global problems. These are solutions that are shifting entire industries and creating brand new ones.

Recently, at a Law Society event, the topic of a panel conversation was ‘entrepreneurship, innovation and the future of tech and law’.

It was intended to open up a discussion around getting the law sector up to speed in the entrepreneurial revolution, and keeping it thriving through the fourth industrial revolution.

Law firms, in particular, are keen to understand how they can provide a safe space to try new things, and to fail. They’re looking to shift away from traditional business models like billable hours to something that could provide legal support and services to more people in a different, more efficient, but still effective way.

Facing change within so many levels of an organisation is scary. It will take time, and the right people. There is an internal mindset shift required, as well as a need to evolve products, services and methods of delivery and access.

All of these things are challenging to tackle in one hit. However, in the discussion within large service-based industries like law, human practitioners are the core of the offering. It is less about innovation and more about people, culture and change management.

Youth vs experience

Entire industries are shifting, business models are becoming redundant, and customers are demanding different products as the future generations have more tech in their hands, and attitudes we are not equipped to understand yet.

The generations of the immediate future will shape what tomorrow looks like, not us. They are driven, they have the globe in the palm of their hands, and they have a deep purpose to reconnect with what previous generations have lost.

They have all the tech, they know the problems we need to solve and they have the drive to solve them. The one missing component is experience.

Currently, there is a huge demand for experience: deep industry experience, time on the job, people who have earned their stripes, gotten their hands dirty, been a customer, worked with the customers, grown teams, sold things the old way, raised capital or even invested themselves, used a telephone. People who can talk, not text, tweet or snap.

These are people who know the art of planning and completion. Those who have done time in the sector, who know where that sector has been and where is going, and have historical knowledge of an industry.

This is valuable. The skillset is valuable. The innate and accumulative knowledge is priceless.

The movie The Intern was a great example of how the experienced ‘old guy’ ended up saving the company, or at the very least providing the younger founder Anne Hathaway the depth of experience that was missing in her business.

I am seeing this over and over again the startup sector. Companies at the scale phase are looking for mature executives to bring into the team. They’re looking for people with experience growing large teams, expanding into international markets, and with time in the game and deep personal networks of influence.

There is also a growing demand for repeat and experienced founders to join companies at the scale-up phase; those who have first-hand knowledge of how to manage an acquisition, a capital raise, or stakeholders, boards and investors. These people can help in structuring the startup like a ‘professional organisation’ internally, and help lift its game in systems and processes.

You can learn as you go, or you can hire in the experience.

When corporate meets startup

Corporate employees are also seeing value in bringing their large-organisation training to help younger companies access the right people within their sectors, and to share knowledge and networks.

The long sales cycle of corporates can be a killer for startups. But, they can be easier to digest if you can shorten the process through the right introductions within corporate and government.

Many companies launch as young, fresh, agile, fast-moving startups, but soon realise that, although they never want to be large corporate, they need allies from the other-side — allies who know who is who, and how to get deals across the line.

The experience and knowledge that comes with time in the game has a very valuable place in young fast-growing companies. As corporates scramble for relevancy, I hope to see more embracing this cultural transformation opportunity to help facilitate a people-powered revolution of knowledge transfer.

The future is bright for the middle-aged employee looking to apply their knowledge and experience to new sectors. Business maturity is in demand, and it’s time to start looking at individual skill sets, as opposed to time in a job, and to harness multi-disciplined opportunities.

As always, it’s relationships, people, and the value any individual can bring that is fast becoming the new norm in the future of work.

NOW READ: What’s the average age of a successful Australian startup founder? And how do we fare against the stereotype?

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