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Scaling talent through hypergrowth with Pierre Berlin, ex GM EMEA @ Figma
Pierre shares his insights on talent acquisition, development and retention
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Continuing the series of expert interviews, today we’re lucky to have Pierre Berlin share his insights on building and scaling world-class GTM teams.
Pierre was previously VP Sales & GM EMEA at Figma, being the first hire in Europe where he built out a team of over 140 people across 3 offices (London, Berlin and Paris).
Prior to Figma, Pierre was CRO and GM EMEA at Mixpanel, and Senior Director at LinkedIn. Today, Pierre is an advisor to companies on their GTM efforts. You can find him on LinkedIn.
Sequencing of GTM
Given Figma’s community and bottom-up success in the US, did you transplant the same approach in Europe or did you decide to go top-down given the product’s maturity by the time they opened in Europe?
It’s a great question. When I joined Figma, 83% of the users were based outside of the US, and a significant proportion of these were based in EMEA.
The community was already very big when we decided to build the first team in London particularly in countries like Russia, Ukraine, and the Nordic countries. As such, we took advantage of the approach we had refined in the US but we really augmented it with our local teams to accelerate growth in countries like the UK, France, and Germany, to name a few.
Then, of course, we started to build our top-down motion and have a much more classical B2B enterprise sales approach. The goal was to be able to position Figma more strategically and speak with the executive of our customers about the value that Figma could bring to their organizations. This work took us more time of course and we had a few iterations before we really nailed it.
Pierre, you’ve previously built GTM organizations at leading cloud companies like Figma, Mixpanel, and LinkedIn. At Figma for example you were the 1st European employee, which has a lot of parallels with early stage founders who need to make their first hires. Can you tell us how you sourced your first hires in your first days at Figma (was it through the network, outbound, investors)?
My first hires at Figma were a recruiter and a sourcer to support me in the recruitment effort we wanted to initiate. We looked for an agency which could place 2 people working full time with me. We onboarded them in San Francisco for 2 weeks as if they were Figma’s employees.
Then, with them onboarded, we started to outbound and shortly after make our first hires. In parallel to this outbounding approach, we also started to work on our employer branding strategy as Figma was clearly not known by the people we were targeting (Linkedin, Conferences, videos, etc.) in Europe and specifically London.
Sequencing of Hiring
How did you think about the org structure and the sequence in which you were hiring? Did marketing/TOFU hires come first given Figma’s PLG motion, or did you focus more on account managers that drove expansion?
The first hires were in sales to meet the high demand we were getting; our inbound machine was working very well. The marketing team in the US continued to support us for the first 12 months without a local presence.
Then we hired our first Design Advocate to help nurture the local communities and help the sales team with key accounts.
Then, 3 months after the sales reps, we hired our first Account Managers to take care of our existing customers and transition them from the US team to our local team in London.
When it came to talent acquisition, can you share some of your best practices that maximised conversion rate on offers?
Great question. Over the course of 2.5 years, we hired roughly 160 people and our conversion rate on offers was about 93%.
The key success factor here was the world class candidate experience that we built at the outset.
A super clear hiring process communicated from the beginning with a diverse panel of interviewers.
The Talent Acquisition team’s work on nurturing candidates.
A rigorous disqualification of candidates early in the process.
A follow-up call with the candidate after every step into the process with the Talent Acquisition team and a preparation call before every step to manage expectations and give enough guidance to the candidate.
A challenging role play with a product demo that everyone had to go through, as well as a detailed feedback session at the end of every step of the role play with a score given.
A specific interview dedicated to the culture of the company and the alignment of the candidate with Figma’s culture.
An interview package built with enough information about Figma’s journey, with key figures, investors feedback, etc. Also fun facts to give a bit of colour about what it feels like to work at Figma.
Regular great internal referral sessions to leverage the network of our employees.
Solid references checks for every candidate.
As companies scale, the question of promoting from within or hiring externally becomes more top of mind. How did you think about coaching and developing talent rather than hiring for experience?
Another great question!
I always tried to balance recruiting externally and internally, particularly for management positions. I am very aware of the Peter principle in organisations of always promoting people internally too quickly without the requisite experience.
For every manager I had at Figma, Linkedin or Mixpanel, I built a personal development plan that we were revisiting every 6 months. This document was not a performance plan but really focused on the skills a person would need to acquire to get better in their job and be fit for their next promotion when it is the right time.
A key element here to be successful is to clearly outline how performance is measured for every position. For example, at LinkedIn, we had 3 key criteria to measure the performance of every individual and for every position from the SDR to the Senior Directors levels those criteria were explained very clearly with a clear scope defined. With this job level exercise done, it was really “easy” for every manager to evaluate and explain why an internal candidate was ready for their next promotion OR not.
One of the challenge I always faced is that as you scale fast, you need to have competencies “right now”, you need people “who have already done it” to go faster but at the same time you need to promote internally as many of the people you manage deserve it AND have joined an early stage start-up to personally grow in their career as the company grows. I always say to the team that I manage that “they create their own next career opportunity; as more successful they are, the more we will need to hire people,... more we will need managers, support functions, more sales, etc”. The success of today creates the open roles of tomorrow for which they could apply if they are ready.
When I look back in my career, I have mainly hired externally for key roles at the beginning because I needed to have experienced people with me and they were not inside my organisation, and I had clear criteria defined to explain this decision to the potential internal candidates. Then, in the second or third waves of recruitment, I generally promoted more internal people as I was in a much better position to take “an intelligent risk” as I had experienced people with me already to balance the risk and help me with coaching new managers.
It’s not easy, but between the vision of growth I just explained, the need for experience right away, and the articulation of clear evaluation performance criteria, I always tried to balance and have a mix of internal and external promotion/new hires.
When it comes to talent retention, what were some ways that you retained your best performing reps?
Position the vision of what we are building as a company and how they play a key role in this vision.
Knowing your talent as much as possible, understanding what levers can be pulled to continue motivating them.
Continuing to invest in their development even if they are already excellent in their job; there is always something to improve on, or grow
Helping them to re-define their personal vision/ambition as they grow and are no longer the same professional that stepped into the company 2 years ago, challenging them to pursue their next big goal.
Discern who the top talents are and reward them by allowing them to coach and “teach” new joiners.
Reward top talent regularly through recognition (e.g. yearly sales kick-off or quarterly award ceremony), but more importantly by regularly encouraging them through successes and failures, showing that you see them and care for them.
Do you have advice for PLG founders navigating today’s environment of consolidation?
2 pieces of advice….
1. Don’t move too quickly to SLG. If you have chosen a PLG approach, make sure you get sufficient traction before you start to hire a sales team and build a SLG approach.
2. Protect, love and care deeply about your community.