Back in 2016, we hired four young and talented Leverege team members through a program called Venture For America (VFA) . Since then, we’ve added seven more and it feels like the perfect time to write about VFA and share our experience.
Channel talented young people to early-stage companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence and other U.S. cities to train as entrepreneurs. This would help the companies succeed and create jobs in these communities. It would also prepare our young people to go on to become the builders and entrepreneurs our country needs — A.Y.
In an effort to achieve Andrew Yang’s vision, VFA created a fellowship program for recent college graduates to launch their careers as entrepreneurs. Fellows spend two years in the trenches of a startup in an emerging city, where they learn how to build a business while making an impact. VFA trains fellows to become highly productive startup employees who can help their companies grow, then provides the mentorship, network, and resources they need to become successful entrepreneurs.
Since 2016, VFA has helped hundreds of recent grads kick off their careers in a meaningful way , with 26% of their fellows going on to start their own business. It certainly looks like VFA is well on its way to achieve its goal of creating 100,000 new jobs by 2025.
Now that you have some context on VFA, you can probably see why we were so excited to be involved. We started our association with VFA in 2015 when we were a judge at their Selection Day. Selection Day is an event where all the Fellow hopefuls come to NYC and are put through an intense, competitive business experience — just imagine a hyper accelerated version of the Apprentice, but with judges and entrepreneurs watching your every move.
Unfortunately, in 2015 we were unable to hire any VFA Fellows since the location of our headquarters was too far from Baltimore (which was added as a VFA city in 2015). But, if Selection Day was any indication of the level of talent we could add to our team, we knew we had to expand our presence into Baltimore to qualify for the program. So in 2016, we founded our Baltimore office and were able to become a VFA company partner.
After that first Selection Day, we were sent a list of the accepted fellows for the Class of 2016 and we immediately started digging in. We reviewed their LinkedIn profiles and resumes and began ranking 160+ fellows based on our needs and organized everything in a shared Google doc. A few weeks after this, VFA sent out credentials to join their Match portal where companies and fellows have the opportunity to securely connect with one another and begin the interview process. Fellows created profiles about themselves, and companies created job opportunities for fellows to explore and apply for.
We intended to let the fellows come to us but soon discovered we were way too eager and started initiating the process. We began sending connection requests to our top choices to set up initial phone interviews. By the time we finished our culling process, things had gotten a little out of hand (in a good way). We had over 50 interviews scheduled over a 2–3 week period! The level of talent was just so good we couldn’t resist. Although that number of interviews put a burden on us internally, we felt it was worth it.
(One thing we did discover was that sometimes the impression you get from reading someone’s resume vs. actually speaking to them can be very different)
Next, we came up with questions — everything from general strength and weakness questions to an abstract set of logic questions that gave us insight into the candidate’s thought process. When you ask someone, unexpectedly, “Which state in the U.S. would they get rid of and why if they had to choose one?”, or “How would you describe the color yellow to someone who is blind?”, you get to see how they think on their feet.
The next couple of weeks flew by with interview after interview (sometimes 6 or 7 in a single day). As we worked through the process and updated our shared Google doc, we started to realize how difficult our decision would be. Each candidate was remarkable in his or her own way. But we’re a startup and difficult decisions are what we do for a living. So we ranked all of the candidates for each of the four positions we had available and invited the top picks to our offices for a more in-depth 2nd interview. The in-person interview was a critical component of our hiring process and allowed both sides to quickly judge cultural and technical fit. We also found that we were able to get verbal commitments in some cases.
After the on-site interviews, we began extending official offers to our top choices. While a few wanted to extend their “free agency” to explore all of their options before committing one way or another, we were ultimately able to land our top picks for each position. We couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out and know our company is stronger now than before we started.
Since this experience in 2016, our company has grown to 25 employees with 11 Venture for America fellows. VFA has allowed us to build a company filled with passionate, curious, recent college grads and we believe it’s been critical to our success thus far.
Ryan is the Chief Strategy Office at Leverege and EIC at IoT For All. He is an experienced tech entrepreneur with a passion for building businesses, digital marketing and company culture. In his free time he enjoys playing golf, doing Crossfit, and live music.
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