Mentored, episode 6: Edward Betancourt
Once the co-founder of startup Shelfie, Edward Betancourt is now the Director of Engineering at InfoScout. He was able to return to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and is now working remotely for the company that acqui-hired his team and company . On this episode of Mentored, Edward gives sage advice to young entrepreneurs.
On the acqui-hiring of Shelfie — and what is acqui-hiring
Usually when a business is acquired, everything is acquired: talents, assets, etc. There’s simpler version, where the business doing the acquisition is more interested in the talent, as it was the case with InfoScout and Shelfie. It has been three years, which is long in the startup world. And, before the startup, we had the idea to return to Puerto Rico. You have all these things tying you to the island, like family and culture. But we ended up in San Francisco and finally, in January 2017, I said, “I’m out, I’m moving back with or without them.” I brought my team to the island and everybody loved it. They saw what parallel was doing, the coworking spaces, that the ecosystem was real. The week of the hurricane, I was supposed to be moving back, but ended up coming back in December.
His role on InfoScout
I lead product engineering and now I’m in charge also of the data manipulation pipeline. I have a 15 people team located in California, Chicago, New York, and Puerto Rico. Timezones are really complicated.
Strategies for a Remote Team
Being part of a bigger company actually makes things a bit more rigid. We have to have people in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Puerto Rico. As the company matures, the flexibility decreases.
For a first time founder and a nomad founder, I have a few recommendations: one, core hours, wherever you are, there has to be an understanding of what time everybody will be on at the same time. Two, if a conversation via Slack takes at least two minutes, that’s a phone call.
I’m a video call fan. It helps establish a relationship not matter the distance, especially at the beginning when we have to make quick decisions. We use Slack, Zoom, JIRA, Waffle, P18 Gen4’s Workep.
On the dynamics of management
From an engineer point of view: In my case, I have two managers and we spend an hour doing one on one every two weeks. It can be very simple. We have a document of things we can discuss, because I am not aware of their day to day elsewhere. I only know what I see via email or Slack. There are topics, like career development for example, that they’d like to discuss. Sometimes we have issues and it surprises because everything seemed fine. With the document, it’s very simple: technical, career, and action — what’s going to happen once the conversation is over.
Now, product management, the best thing to do is to keep in touch with the client and communicate that context to the engineer. That’s the most important thing a remote product manager can do. And in my experience, many product managers overlook this and say, “well, why do I have to communicate with them? They just have to build.” Well, the person behind the keyboard needs to be motivated.
On being a young, hiring founder
During the hiring conversation, there’s a negotiation for equity, etc, and there’s a basic question that you have to define: “what are the expectations?” For example, this engineer is the person that, if hired on Friday will solve my technical problems by Monday. Or if that person needs a week, a month, three months. And all of that is reflected on their compensation. If that person is a junior, then you have to compensate them knowing that you will have to hire more people.
With executive talent, like VP, CPO, the conversation is a bit different. Those people will leaders either in terms of product or personnel trainer. An example of this is being Engineering Team VP vs. a CTO. The CTO will have the capacity to understand the in and outs of the product. A VP will be in charge of creating the team and keeping them happy.
On self doubt as a young, hiring founder
You have to be transparent with the people you hire. You have to say “these are my responsibilities and then there’s my ownership, I’m the one that decides, independently of the team.” Decision making is a big issue among co founders and it helps to be clear. “These are my decisions, these are you decisions, we need you help in these things, but on these things we just need your input.”
You should not be afraid to hire someone that’s better than you and define your roles. Mark Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg because she can do operations.
On hiring the wrong person
When you’re a founder, your vision has to be very clear. Your idea is crazy, but you know it’s going to work, despite all the input from outsiders. If a person you’re thinking of hiring wants to change what you’re doing, then that’s not the right person. At the beginning, everything is about the company and less about optimizing the personal benefits.
Looking at Red Flags
If you’re bringing in a new person, you have to maintain your established relationships. What does the new person contribute? If you’re bringing in a new person and they’ll tell how to do something, then they have to know more about the topic than you. You have to be very clear on the added value that that person brings, you have to be able to articulate it in three or four sentences.
You will always have a very centric core of company leaders. If you bring a new leader in, they have to be a part of it, not put the founders against each other.
Book and Podcasts Recommendations
Podcast/Youtube: Tom Bilyeu Impact theory — He brings different speakers from all over the world and varied topics. I learned a lot with “How to Sleep Better”, it improved my rest.
Book: The Innovation University for anybody considering going back to school.
Mentored is a Facebook Live Series, where parallel18 visiting mentors share their knowledge, experiences and advice. Watch Live every Friday at 10 a.m. To rewatch this episode, go here.
*Translated and edited for the blog