February 21, 2023
April 27, 2023

Unlocking the C-Suite: Hiring Your Startup's First Non-Founder C-level Leader

Georgia May

The secrets to hiring a C-level leader that will drive your startup's growth

Hiring your first C-Level outside of your founding team can be challenging  but A8 Executive function makes it easier. We work with startups and scaleups, helping them save time and money, by providing them with access to a diverse pool of experienced leaders, integrating into their company and culture. This article will guide you through the process.

We recently partnered with Vyking, a computer vision and machine learning company. They deliver scalable 3D, AR and virtual try-on software solutions to the fashion industry, with a host of notable clients including Adidas, Crocs and Timberland. We spoke with CEO Matthew Kilmpke about hiring their first non-founding C-level member and why they chose A8 Executive's embedded executive search model

A Question of Time

Knowing when you are ready to expand your C-suite varies for each startup, but as Vyking's CEO explains, growth and the need for specific skills can drive the decision. 

"I handle partnership strategy, but with a sudden demand for detailed financial forecasts from investors, I realised we needed someone with experience in this field to maintain our momentum after significant growth in 2022."
Matthew Klimpke, Co-Founder & CEO at Vyking.

Embedded Guidance

Vyking is composed of first-time founders, with little experience in leadership hiring and best practices. When speaking with them, it was clear that they needed a lot of support and guidance in the whole approach to finding their first external c-suite hire.

Our  executive talent partner joined their  team and worked closely with the 3x founders to  help them understand their unique needs.  With our partnership, we wanted to support not only finding the right executive, but also equip them with the tools to attract quality talent in the future. 

Traditional recruitment agencies Vyking had previously worked with offered a one-size-fits-all solution, and generally couldn’t help them identify their own unique problems. Our model focused on two weeks of intensive, granular interviews to explore for the company, holistically.

We explored every part of  Vyking in detail, from its eureka moment, mission, vision, and go-to-market strategy, to its client base, growth %, and desired values.For Vyking this was their first non-founding C-level, a crucial milestone, Matthew, the CEO shares:

"Working with traditional recruiters felt like a waste of resources. A8 Executive was a game changer. Our executive talent partner spent the time to understand our needs, and was a valuable part of our team throughout the entire search process. It was a totally different experience and I wouldn't go back."
Vyking's office in Berlin

Foundational Research

At A8 Executive, we believe in taking a comprehensive approach to finding the perfect C-level executive for your startup. We start by rigorously analysing your business, with in-depth stakeholder and team interviews alongside market analysis. This information is used to create a custom leadership profile that aligns with your company's growth goals. Vyking had not experienced such a partnership before.

Our embedded executive search model offers more than just C-suite recommendations. It provides an opportunity for honest self-reflection and an analysis of your company's strengths and weaknesses. Many founders don't know how to begin asking the right questions, and often focus on short-term hiring. With our help, Vyking gained more clarity on the kind of leader its  business needed to succeed, both now and in two years down the road.

Matthew, CEO of Vyking, found this to be true: "Partnering with A8 Executive was like conducting an audit of our team's gaps. We discovered that a COO with a broader operational skill set would be a better fit than the CFO we were originally searching for. We only learned this through the questions ACELR8 X asked us”.
Accessing Diverse Leadership Talent Pools

Many companies mistakenly attempt to hire an executive internally, but are often left two months down the road with no traction. Why? The lack of network, particularly with a lens on gender.

Leadership roles are typically filled through an executive search partner's network. Without access to such a network, it is unlikely that a company will be able to successfully hire its first external C-suite member.

Experienced and talented leaders are not easy to find and can be tricky to engage, this is particularly true of women.  Most startups simply don’t have access to diverse leadership talent pools. Attempting to attract quality leaders through your normal talent acquisition processes is usually not going to cut it.

Vyking's CEO says: "We initially tried to find the candidate ourselves, but didn’t get the results we'd hoped for. Attracting leadership talent for such an important role is difficult, and it’s time consuming. It wasn’t long before we reached out to A8 Executive for an embedded executive search.”
Creating Interview Processes and Systems

With our research and analysis complete, it’s time to take what we've learned and apply it to interview processes. 

When we set out to work, Vyking didn’t have a list of their values, so we actively helped them think about the behaviours and values that embodied them. A8 Executive believes formalising your company’s values is integral, without it we can’t begin a hiring process.  Your founding team may know what your values are but getting them in writing will clarify your vision and help find a leader who aligns with your goals.

Our executive talent partner will help you tailor interview questions and processes for the specific leadership role you are seeking. We offer guidance to founders to help generate the rich data you’ll want to work with when making the final decision.

In addition, our embedded executive search model will help you put processes in place for future hires. We'll help you develop the skills and build the tools to continue attracting top talent long after the initial partnership is complete.

Vyking’s CEO shares : "I was blown away by the level of care and attention to detail. The entire interview process was well-documented and structured, with everyone from interns to C-level executives playing a role. I appreciated how our talent partner even facilitated the interviews as part of our team."
Trust the Process

Vyking often felt tempted to “fast-track” candidates they felt strongly about. This is a perfectly normal response for early-stage startups; however, as experts we must push back on this intuitive response, and remind Founders of the importance of an unbiased candidate experience.

Not only does this boost employer branding, it ensures you can make a detached decision based on all of the metrics that you decided upon before interviews began, focusing your interviews on being ‘topic based’.

Matthew explains: “One of the lessons I learned partnering with A8 Executive was not to rush. Go through the full list of candidates even if you have a great feeling about one in particular. It turned out we had good feelings about multiple candidates. For such an important decision it was helpful to have so much information for each of them.”

The A8 Executive partnership does not just end when the candidate has signed the contract. We ensure we check in with both our client and candidate until the probation period and beyond. For us, this is the definition of success.

Considering Embedded Executive Search

When it comes to crucial senior leadership roles, choosing an embedded executive search is often the smartest option. Successful C-level searches are time intensive processes and critical decisions that have a huge impact on the growth of your startup. We asked Vyking’s CEO for his main takeaway:

“Through our partnership with A8 Executive, we learned a lot. Attracting the right leader takes time. We found the ideal leader and also have processes in place to drive growth going forward.”
A8 Executive

We’re happy to hear from you!

Partnering with A8 Executive ensures you have experienced executive search partners at hand to guide you through the process with specialised knowledge, curated talent pools and years of experience. If you’d like to discuss how we can help you find your next C-level leader please get in touch.

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The secrets to hiring a C-level leader that will drive your startup's growth