Josh Parkinson had a problem.
As an entrepreneur who spent a number of years working in Europe, he’d just decamped to San Francisco with a head full of ideas but not many personal connections. In addition to designing custom Facebook pages for clients, Parkinson had the itch to create apps. He just didn’t have the expertise to code.
Plenty of startups are backed by investors, sight unseen. That’s the driver behind networking sites such as AngelList, where some intrepid investors rely on their intuition to guide their decisions rather than traditional face-to-face pitches. But how to find a trusted developer (and potential business partner) in a metro area stuffed full of tech geeks and fast-talking founders?
"I didn’t know about Meetup.com," Parkinson confesses, "But I just arrived two months before and going out and networking felt overwhelming." Not to mention that bootstrapping necessarily included having the dough to bankroll the six figure salary common to the area. "I just had the prospect of something cool happening," he tells Fast Company.
Turning to hiring sites like oDesk and Elance didn’t help. "I had a couple of developers tell me what I wanted to hear," he explains. These freelance professionals would create a facade for the app with no real back end and drag the process out for weeks, he recalls. "It was a real pain in the ass."
So Parkinson turned to a different corner of the web, this time to find someone who’d developed a similar app and see if they’d be willing to partner up. He found Slav Ivanov, founder of Socially Apps and hit him up on Facebook with a message explaining his request.
No matter that Ivanov was based in Sofia, Bulgaria rather than San Francisco, says Parkinson. After a quick exchange, the two hopped on Skype. "I couldn’t say there was any immediate chemistry between us," Parkinson says. The real test, he maintains, was connecting on Facebook (which they did immediately). Parkinson says he looked through all Ivanov’s posts and photos of him and and his family, something he didn’t have access to with any of the contractors on Elance. "I could see he what he was about, he was a real, actual dude," Parkinson says.
Some founders rely on their gut instincts after a phone call. Jim Eberlin, founder of Gainsight, a customer management platform, is content to keep his office in St. Louis, while the company is based in Mountain View and has another location in Hyderabad, India. There are a number of people on Gainsight’s team who have yet to meet face-to-face, so they use technology to collaborate and stay connected.
As a well-connected serial entrepreneur in both St. Louis and Silicon Valley, Eberlin could have drawn from a big pool of potential candidates when he got set to hire a marketing director. Yet he agreed to give Anthony Kennada, an early employee at Box, a shot based on a recommendation by Gainsight’s CEO Nick Mehta. Rather than foot the bill to fly Kennada to St. Louis, Eberlin figured he’d let Kennada give his spiel on the phone and see where it went.
As the two alternately recount that phone interview, it sounds like a couple remembering their first date. Though he’d come with a ringing endorsement, Eberlin underscores, "You want a lot of [skills]." For his part, Kennada was suitably nervous and didn’t want to let Mehta down. So he sketched out a branding plan (which he uploaded to Box as well as printed and bound) to share in advance. During the call he referred to it to illustrate where he could take the company if hired—all the while hitting the mute button on his phone every time a car zoomed by the Starbucks he’d installed himself in to do the interview.
Eberlin admits there are some disadvantages to being on the phone, like missing visual cues. Still he says, Kennada "did more than a phone call, he had content, he handled himself really well." Kennada sighs audibly at this point, even though Eberlin recalls telling the executive team to make the offer right away.
The two didn’t actually meet until a month after Kennada was hired. "It all worked out," Eberlin maintains. "I wasn’t sure until recently, but he’s the real deal."
Sometimes hiring needs to extend beyond what personal and professional networks can serve up. LiveWatch, an American home security company, hires people in one office for positions that report to others in different locations. LiveWatch Security CEO Brad Morehead looks on the bright side. "This enables us to hire the best person no matter where they are located or want to live," he explains.
Rather than rely on phone calls, Morehead says hiring managers use Google Hangouts. "It's free, which means more cost savings for us to pass along to our customers, and is fairly easy to use across many devices (PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, etc.) and locations," he says.
Beyond being able to see applicants’ body language, conducting the interview on Hangouts gives the manager a good look at how adept they are at using technology—a huge part of what LiveWatch does in the home security industry. To stay connected with staff, Morehead and company communicate using daily video huddles and throughout the day via phone or instant messaging, he says.
As for Josh Parkinson and Slav Ivanov, it turned out to be a match made in heaven, er, Facebook. The two soon launched Post Planner, a scheduling and content curation app for businesses on Facebook. Since 2011, the app has published over 20 million posts and continues to grow along with their relationship, both business and personal. Ivanov is now a minority equity owner in the startup and is "omnipresent" despite the 10-hour time difference. They still haven’t met, but Parkinson is quick to say that part of the reason the relationship works because he pays Ivanov on time and is quick to show respect and gratitude for his partner’s integrity.
"I cant wait until Slav and I can go out and have a beer together," says Parkinson. "I want to make him a millionaire."
[Puzzle: Mazzzur via Shutterstock]