• June 6, 2023

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Startups struggle to hire and retain candidates, especially in a hot, growing economic times. Continuum, a startup “creating the marketplace for connecting world-class, fractional executives with venture-backed companies,” aims to be the solution to these startups facing hiring executive challenges. Continuum founder and CEO Nolan Church shares his advice and perspective on how startups can identify, recruit and cultivate experienced and trajectory hires.

Frederick Daso: What would be the ideal balance between hiring experienced operators versus trajectory candidates for early-stage startups?

Nolan Church: The best ratio is one experienced operator to 1 trajectory hire. The company has a bench of folks who know how to get work done and an up-and-comer bench they’re grooming for the future. Team dynamics are also important. An in-person environment is easier to grow folks with trajectory. It’s possible to grow trajectory hires in a remote-first environment, but the structure needs to be intentionally designed for success.

Daso: Beyond having a growth mindset and a strong work ethic, what else should startups assess while interviewing a trajectory hire?

Church: Perseverance. Overcoming difficult challenges in life translates directly to work. It’s an unteachable skill.

Daso: When it comes to giving trajectory hires more responsibility, how can startups thoughtfully cultivate said hire’s capability without completely overwhelming them? How much is the startup responsible for intelligently developing a trajectory hire’s talent versus the hire’s drive and hustle to prove themselves?


Church: Being overwhelmed is part of the startup experience! But being constantly overwhelmed is unhealthy and detrimental. Companies have a responsibility to tell prospective hires what it’s like to work at the company. Candidates have a responsibility to ask about the culture and expectations. The candidate is a little over their skis every day in a perfect world. Growth – especially rapid growth – is uncomfortable.

Daso: Across your professional experience, what are some of the best methods and practices to build informal or formal mentorship networks to help trajectory hires succeed?

Church: Formal mentorship programs are terrific. We built a program at Carta where anyone in the company could sign up as a mentee for an executive mentor. The execs would pick how many slots they wanted to open each quarter and meet every two weeks. New matches would happen every quarter.

Informal networks are also powerful. But it’s up to the individual to build their network. The people with the best networks are typically 1) fearless when approaching someone they want to meet and 2) great at following up and thanking the other person for their time. I highly recommend cold emailing people you admire and offering to take them to a 30-minute coffee.

Daso: Given that startups are naturally an environment where failure can happen, how should a startup set up a culture where failure is seen as something helpful in one’s career instead of purely detrimental?

Church: Encouraging failure and risk-taking is a common theme of great companies. To build a culture that promotes failure, the leadership team needs to 1) codify a principle or value that encourages failure and 2) live that principle publicly in front of the company.


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