What to Consider Before Hiring a VP Engineering for your Proptech Startup

For many proptech Founders, the looming question as the business grows and investors get involved is, how will you know it’s time to hire a VP of Engineering?

The four most commons signs include:

  1. Your product is now a business and your role has changed. You are no longer deep in the weeds on individual functions and are now strategically directing the company.
  2. Your investors are telling you it’s time to bring in someone who has successfully scaled an engineering team.
  3. You recognize the need to bring in someone with a more robust skill set than your own and are ready to defer to their judgment.
  4. You need someone who can lead and grow your team of Engineers, make decisions about your tech stack, and own the responsibility of building your product.

While there are potentially many leaders in the Engineering function — from architects to CTOs — the Head or VP of Engineering is the executive that grows and manages the engineering team, is responsible for assessing the time it will take to deliver features or products, and delivering quality releases on that schedule.

Here are four things to consider before you hire a VP of Engineering for your proptech startup:

1. Are you really ready for a VP of Engineering?

The number one requirement we hear from our clients is “We need someone who will be hands on.” But what does that actually mean to you? 

Often, it means, “We need someone who will write the code for the next three months and then start growing the team.” Or, it’s startup code for “We need someone who wears many hats and takes on projects that have nothing to do with leading people or engineering.” 

If that’s what you need, then looking at candidates who have scaled and managed engineering teams of 50+ is not going to find you the right profile.

Another very common request we see from clients looking to hire their first VP of Engineering is that they only want to target candidates from Google, Amazon, or Facebook. We get it, those are highly sought-after, experienced candidates, but the problem is that they typically aren’t the best fit for a startup. 

Those large companies have processes in place, resources available, support, and budget. Whereas a startup needs to bring in someone who can build all of that from the ground up.

So, before you start looking at candidates, get very clear on the requirements for a role, and make sure that the title you have in mind lines up with those qualifications.

Don’t hire a VP if an Engineering Manager or Lead Developer is what you really need. When you are sure that you need a VP-level candidate, look for candidates who have a track record of solving the kinds of problems your business is currently facing.

2. Do you understand the role you’re hiring for? 

If you’ve got past step one and you’re definitely looking for a VP, one of the most common challenges we see with clients hiring their first VP of Engineering is that the CEO isn’t ready to hand things over.

Engineering is one of the most critical functions at a tech company. It is responsible for developing the core product at the heart of the business. Unfortunately, this also makes it the hardest function for CEOs to let go of. 

The VP of Engineering will be responsible for the quality of the code, the methodology used for releasing the product, and most importantly, the tech stack used to build your products. 

You need to be able to trust the candidate you hire to make critical decisions — if you’re not ready to trust someone else with your product and the decisions required to drive it forward, you’re not ready to hire a VP.

To find the right candidate for the role, start by getting very clear on your requirements. What are the skills and experiences they need to have? Get clear on what is mandatory vs. nice to have:

  • Experience with a comparable tech stack
  • Successful experience building and leading a team
  • Impressive metrics around their impact on a product
  • Deep subject matter expertise about your business vertical
  • A resume that includes tenure with a close competitor
  • An advanced degree 

Really think through the scope of the business problem the candidate will be solving and screen candidates for the ability to get it done. This will help you sort out whether a skill is really a must-have or just a cherry on top.

3. Does your brand attract? 

In our experience, VP Engineering candidates are motivated to move when they have the opportunity to take an idea and build a real product. These candidates are builders; they want to be a part of the next big thing. 

Questions to ask yourself and your hiring leaders: Can you cast a vision for the future of your business? What part will the hire play in that success?

Great VP Engineering candidates are generally industry agnostic; they typically are most interested in using cutting-edge technology. They want to stay current with the latest tech stacks and use those tools to solve complex problems. They may also be motivated by opportunities to grow and lead a team.

When you meet with candidates, be ready to share:

  • The story of your company
  • Your vision moving forward
  • The role of the hire in accelerating that success

Make sure that you understand (before you start doing interviews) what your salary band is for the role and where there is flexibility. For example, equity may be very attractive for a candidate excited about building your product.

Lastly, we know from our conversations in the market that candidates want to have control over making decisions for the product and building it. They don’t want to come in and do maintenance on someone else’s work. Remember that your best candidates are often builders by nature, so ensure you’re highlighting those opportunities.

4. Are you ready to execute quickly and efficiently?

Use all of the tools and resources available to you. This is not a “post and pray” kind of position!

It’s often a smart move to partner with a niche recruitment firm that routinely executes these kinds of searches, as your internal Recruiters likely don’t have the technical expertise to seek out and qualify candidates for this type of role. 

And, while it’s always wise to reach out to your network at the beginning of any search, for a critical role like VP of Engineering, you will want to cast a very large net.

Engaging a search firm specializing in this type of role will help ensure you see a pool of candidates that fit your requirements. They can also offer insights into the market, your compensation package, the interview process, and the profile you’re looking for. 

Hiring a critical, net new position can be challenging for a growing tech company, so keep these four tips in mind as you search for a VP of Engineering to ensure you’re attracting the talent that will truly drive your business forward.

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