For the past few years, diversity in the tech industry, and the lack thereof, has been one of the big issues keeping many Silicon Valley executives up at night. How to improve representation of female and non-white workers, especially at leadership level, has stumped industry behemoths like Google. In fact, in some ways there has actually been a deterioration of the situation with representation of African American, Hispanic and Asian men and women in leadership roles declining between 2007 and 2015. The regular defence by many employers in the tech industry is that the educational pipeline does not produce enough or the right kind of candidates. Facebook’s 2016 diversity report went as far as to say:
“It has become clear that at the most fundamental level, appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system.”
So how does an early-stage company with far less resources ensure that it builds a diverse team with the right skills? And that is an important question with research showing that diversity promotes better innovation and higher productivity, crucial elements for early-stage success.
This was the conundrum that faced us at Eventerprise four years ago when we started out building a SaaS platform for the global events industry. We needed to scale our team rapidly in order to execute our various strategies but faced the usual startup impediment – resources. Our solution was twofold – a decentralised hub-and-spoke model for our teams, and the development of EventerCamp, a digital and entrepreneurial boot camp for undergraduate, postgraduate, and recent students, variously known as Young Guns and PostGrads at Eventerprise.
How is our hub-and-spoke model challenging the Silicon Valley status quo?
“Historically, the challenges associated with remote teams have outweighed the benefits. But today, the equilibrium is shifting for many founders. distributed teams are more common, and companies know what to expect when managing remote offices. Collaboration tools have improved. Next-generation chat, video calling, and project management software help keep teams in sync. Perhaps most importantly, there are now many examples of very successful businesses with distributed teams” – Tomasz Tunguz, Venture Capitalist at Redpoint.
We decided from the start that we needed to avoid the exorbitant development costs of Silicon Valley and other tech nodes if we wanted to utilize our available resources effectively. By spreading our net far and wide, getting rid of any preconceived ideas, and utilizing the latest in collaboration software and technology we have managed to establish productive hubs on four continents. Not only has this approach enabled us to develop a world-class product at a fraction of Silicon Valley costs, but it has also given us access to a diversity of talent and ideas that has had a major impact on our pace of innovation.
Although we are not the first to follow a distributed team approach, we have created a version that promotes agile collaboration between diverse teams with high-impact communication a central tenet of all our interactions. Making active listening and proactive information sharing central pillars of our company culture has been key to bridging cultural differences and creating ownership of our common goals within each team.
What makes EventerCamp different from other internships?
Although we do not have the deep pockets of a Google or Facebook, we do have more than 80 years combined executive leadership and international business development experience, which is at the core of EventerCamp’s value proposition.
It was extremely important to us to differentiate EventerCamp from normal internships by emphasizing the practical application of knowledge in a real-world environment. This is done by offering EventerCamp participants the opportunity to contribute to go-to-market projects, assisted every step of the way by hands-on coaching from our leadership team. In return for their enthusiasm and commitment over the duration of their internship period, EventerCamp Young Guns and PostGrads can expect personal, professional, leadership, and entrepreneurial growth on par with management seminars and courses that cost thousands of dollars.
We also made sure that we offer different tier levels within EventerCamp to cater for the various development stages of participants. Young Guns are given exposure to various modern business disciplines, such as demand generation, revenue operations, programmatic advertising, marketing automation, content marketing, influencer marketing, and stakeholder engagement, while PostGrads are given the opportunity to hone their specialist knowledge into marketable skills by participating in high-level go-to-market projects within the digital platform and SaaS spheres.
A concerted effort was made to be as inclusive as possible in our selection criteria for EventerCamp, resulting in a fairly consistent 50:50 female to male ratio, with participants from over ten countries on four different continents. This diversity has been strengthened by our Africa’s Got Digital Talentinitiative which endeavours to find EventerCamp sponsorships for talented young African students who would otherwise not be able to attend our boot camp. Feedback from EventerCamp alumni, which include participants from top universities such as Stanford, Cornell, and Humboldt University of Berlin has been overwhelmingly positive.
Our talent pipeline was given a further boost with the creation of an Executive Rookie system that identifies and further develops Young Guns and PostGrads who made exceptional contributions during their EventerCamp internships. Our flat hierarchy allows them to work closely with our experienced leadership team on high-level projects with the potential to fast-track their careers. This has enabled us to successfully employ a number of ex-Young Guns and PostGrads as permanent team members. Even our recently appointed US CFO is a two-tour veteran of the EventerCamp PostGrad program in both Cape Town and San Francisco.
Building a diverse team through skills development has made a substantial contribution to our talent acquisition efforts and allowed us to access great young talent in a mutually beneficial manner. We are therefore not shy about our claim that we are building a world-class platform with 50% of our team comprised of Young Guns and PostGrads. In fact, the EventerCamp program has been so successful that we have expanded it to professionals who would like to make a career change, as well as investors who want to learn more about the opportunities that the platform economy represent.
Diversity should not be an afterthought, even if you are an early-stage company. Investing in distributed teams and skills development will not only benefit your top tier business goals, but also promote your company as an inclusive and nurturing environment.