We talked to the Big Dawg, Ken Horenstein, at Pack Ventures to find out what he’s thinking about the current hiring landscape for Seattle and beyond. While we work with organizations, employers and candidates from all over, Seattle is still our home and we appreciate the hyper-local view. Ken Horenstein is a “Double Dawg” with both an undergraduate and business degree from the University of Washington, home of the Dawgs. His firm is unique in that his venture capital fund is community-based and focused on emerging companies with a connection to the University of Washington.
Q: Why did you start Pack Ventures?
A: Pack was created because of the massive opportunity to support technologies and businesses coming out of the UW ecosystem. UW is one of the world’s best research organizations. Over the past decade, UW and UW alumni have created hundreds of companies, valued over $30B by both public and private investors.
However, UW founders often get undervalued and overlooked by VC investors. Investments flow into founders from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, etc, but we think there is just as much, if not more opportunity right here.
Pack initially was an idea from UW leadership, Matt McIlwain at Madrona, Chris Devore at Founders’ Co-op and a number of other UW supporters and investors who have been involved in the startup ecosystem on campus for years.
Q: What do you look for in companies for your portfolio (besides the UW connection)?
A: There are a number of things we look for in our founders, but I’ll highlight the first few: 1) An incredible founding team with a unique insight into the market they are tackling. These folks need to be gritty, competitive and focused on their customers. 2) The opportunity to build a business that can do $50M+ in revenue, and generate an enterprise exit value of $250M+. Of course, every VC says they look for a huge market – which is true – but for us it’s about the opportunity relative to when we get involved at the preseed and seed stages. We aren’t the right people to back lifestyle businesses. We are rocket fuel to help founders than need to grow quickly to reach economies of scale. 3) Traction. We look for some indication that your customers want to use your product – this could be a beta sign up list, LOIs, POCs, or actual revenue – helps us understand the real opportunity in front of you. This could also be traction on the product and team side. If you come to us three months after coming up with the idea and you’ve built an MVP and hired a world-class founding team, we pay attention to those signals.
Q: What is your take on the hiring landscape now as opposed to a year or two ago?
A: I think talent has had a positive wake-up call. I have talked with dozens of incredibly talented people working at Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Boeing, etc that have resisted leaving their jobs because they felt like they had “golden handcuffs” that they could never lose. I get it, if you have interesting work, and a job that is demanding, but manageable, it’s enticing to stay.
A lot of people realize now that the big company jobs aren’t forever and aren’t guaranteed. I’ve had a ton of friends and colleagues start to question if they love their job enough to stay for only a paycheck.
Now I’m seeing even more people who are extremely passionate about what they are building decide to take the leap and become an entrepreneur or join a company who has values and a mission that these people align with more than their current jobs.
Q: What is your prediction for the next 6 months as far as companies hiring and the competition for talent?
A: It feels like competition is still fierce for the most talented individuals. I recently read an article about seven figure AI/ML engineering jobs becoming more regular.
I think both hiring managers and talent are focusing much more on values alignment during the interview process. Both sides want to find the right fit.
Q: What do you look for when hiring your own people or people for your portfolio companies?
A: Curiosity is probably number one for me. Are you the type of person who will keep learning and keep exploring? If you can keep that curiosity, you will drive for the right answer, the extra piece of research and make the extra connection.
Communication skills are a close second for me. Both written and verbal communication are the number one skill anyone, in nearly any job, can have.
Q: What is your advice for companies looking for top talent?
A: Define your vision and your mission clearly so that your culture develops authentically in the direction you need it to go to be successful.
Top talent is talking with your employees, their future coworkers and sometimes even your customers, to know what it’s like to work with you. You can’t fake these reviews, you have to earn them over days, weeks and years of work.
Q: Thoughts on TalentReach?
A: TalentReach is incredibly connected within the region (both on the talent and the hiring side) which is exactly what you want in an agency. You want to work with good people that have strong relationships with hiring managers, and Jeff and team exemplify that!