Building a company involves overcoming many hurdles, one of the earliest of which can be making your first few key hires. For Spora Health Founder and CEO Dan Miller (ODF3 & ODS1) finding the right mission-aligned employees was critical for the success and growth of his company.
After presenting at a Talent Demo Day held by the On Deck First 50 fellowship (OD50), he recruited three fellows from the cohort for his Spora Health team! We sat down with Dan, Rhi, Shawhin and Vic to discuss how their paths converged.
Before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?
Vic de Aranzeta: I’m a cultural anthropologist and product designer with a background in archaeology and research. I’ve worked for mission-based orgs, startups and was at Google when I joined OD50. I’m now the Director of Design at Spora Health. In my role I focus on product design and design research.
Shawhin Mosadeghzad: I started my career in the CPG industry and moved into office management software as an Account Manager, most recently I worked as a Product Manager at a crypto derivatives company. I’m now a Product Manager at Spora Health.
Rhi Cook: I have been working in just about every facet of marketing and growth for the past 10 years. I came to OD50 ready to leave the startup where I had been working in order to find my next startup role, ideally focused in the healthcare space to help everyday people understand complex problems and concepts. I now do Product Marketing for Spora.
Dan Miller: And I’m the Founder and CEO of Spora Health. We are a primary care network uniquely designed for people of color, Black Americans in particular right now. Formerly I’ve been a designer, product manager, and researcher with companies including Salesforce, SurveyMonkey, Lambda School and others. I was in the third cohort of the On Deck Founders Fellowship (ODF3) early in 2020 and am currently participating in On Deck Scale.
For the OD50 fellows, where were you before joining OD50 and why did you join?
Shawhin: I was introduced to On Deck through a colleague. Doing some research, one thing that really enticed me was the focus. I was at a point in my life where I was looking for opportunities at smaller companies but also seeking a mission to drive my work and my personal life, instead of them [her work and personal life] being incongruent or at odds.
Rhi: I had been working for a startup DTC brand for about two and half years. In November 2020, we were acquired and so the company moved from functioning like an early stage startup to functioning like a larger corporation. I quickly realized that I really enjoyed the early stages of a company: the fast paced culture, wearing multiple hats and not having so many requirements to ship a project.
But, I don’t come from a traditional startup background and I didn’t have the network to really think about how to get in at a startup that I loved. I joined OD50 to figure out what was available, who was hiring, and get introduced to some great companies.
Vic: My decision was definitely based on the value of the connections and network that could come with On Deck. I would say that before OD50, my job search was based heavily on cold applications and networking - trying to connect with hiring managers, and people within the company on LinkedIn and Twitter.
It was definitely a challenge before OD50 to even find out about mission-based startups that were hiring in a space I was interested in. It’s especially difficult to discern between the startups that are truly mission driven from the ones just pretending but are only in it for profit and not to create change. The Talent Demo Days put on by OD50 were ideal for me to get to speak with and learn about companies to make this distinction.
Dan, when you initially were asked to present at a Talent Demo Day, what were your expectations about recruiting and hiring?
Dan: Being a participant in ODF3, I was familiar with the On Deck model and its ability to find folks that were driven to support and help you—and doing so in tangible ways. So when approached about the Talent Demo Day, I knew that the quality of candidates was most certainly going to be there, but I did have questions and reservations about mission alignment.
I figured I would participate, tell our story and try to be as open as possible about the work that we were doing, how I was thinking about things, and let people know the opportunity existed. I thought, if we found folks that were mission aligned, great, but if not this would be a great way to interact with high calibre talent.
There are a few different reasons why mission alignment is so critical for folks joining our team.
Firstly, we are operating in a nascent space in terms of the care model we are developing, meaning that many of our proposals and solutions have not been done before. In our experience, folks that are mission aligned tend to stay engaged and are able to handle the difficulties of operating in a new space.
Secondly, we’re serving vulnerable and underserved populations and so the work can be a little heavy and bleak at times. For folks that have aligned their personal missions with their professional careers, there is a higher probability of being successful, fulfilled and engaged during their time at Spora Health. It really is mission critical for us to find this fit.
In the end, I think that our first three hires have set the bar quite high for candidates that will come through in the future. Each of them went above and beyond during the interview process in communicating that they not only had the capability to manage and critically think within their roles but that they resonated with the mission of Spora.
What was your experience finding “your crew” or building networks and relationships at OD50?
Rhi: When I first started OD50 a concern I had was that the startup scene tends to be a bit homogenous where it’s not necessarily filled with people who look like me or come from where I come from. I was mainly worried that this would affect being able to find people that I could take the journey with, build deeper relationships with, and talk about more private topics such as salary or contract negotiations.
One thing that helped me the most was making the intention to show up as me on day one—I was pretty informal with my communications with people and just tried to be my true self. While reading through all the quirky and impressive introductions in Slack the first weekend, I felt like I was able to connect with fellows so much more than just if I had browsed their LinkedIn profile.
Shawhin: If learning groups were the only thing that happened during OD50, it would have still made my investment in the fellowship worth it. Vic was actually in my learning group and from day one, everyone just “showed up.” Not only in the literal sense of attending the Zoom meeting but being present and being on the same page that, “I’m here; we don’t know each other, we don’t know what's going to happen, but we are here for one another.”
The two things I particularly loved about the programming for learning groups were:
1) that the OD50 team always had amazing themes each week to get the conversations going
2) we always had a structure in our group where people were able to share their highs and lows which fostered this culture of openness and honesty.
The second proved critical during a job search which can be grueling and emotionally intense. We still keep regular calls since OD50 “ended.” We have monthly check-ins where we can be a support group to one another as we navigate this time.
How would you describe the multilayered experience of OD50?
Vic: OD50 is a space for passionate, motivated and talented individuals who are looking to make a change in their career. It’s a space to explore your interests and passions in a safe way and connect with other people who have similar and dissimilar interests.
Rhi: I think the way that OD50 was described to me that has most resonated is that it's a buffet. You can literally gorge yourself by staying busy every minute of the day doing On Deck, but that’s not what a buffet is meant to be. It’s not a bacchanal, you get really intentional about what you’re hungry for and you go and try out a bunch of things and put whatever you want on your plate.
Shawhin: OD50 is a great catalyst for whatever you’re looking for. It was a catalyst for making great friends. It was a catalyst for understanding the startup landscape—what it means to be an early employee, what you need to do. And lastly it was a catalyst for getting introduced to those companies.
Dan: Starting and growing a company from the early stages is an acquired skill. The reason that we see so much failure is because these things are new and if you do not have any exposure and you’re learning for the first time, it can be expensive in terms of your time and the difficulty in finding access and information.
For any founders out there looking for early stage employees, I would highly recommend OD50 and hedging the risk as they are training folks on how to be outstanding early stage teammates to help get you and your company to the next phase of your business.