Sam German of SPMB // recruiting upper management and board members to startups across the country [CC082]

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Sam 0:00
I do think the number one criteria that candidates consider when making a move or you know that that could be joining a company or leaving a company is around culture.

Jay Clouse 0:11
The startup investment landscape is changing. and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them, and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to upside.

Hello, hello. Hello and welcome to the upside podcast the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and accompanied by my co host, Mr. fantasy football season himself, Eric horn on we are back, baby. We are back.

Eric Hornung 0:55
I have no idea what I’m doing this year, I’m walking down a hallway blind Jay. I started doing research again. And I was like who? What? Jamal Williams is on the lions. When did that happen?

Jay Clouse 1:05
I just had my first draft last night. It was a whole lot of fun. I streamed several hours of mock drafts on YouTube beforehand. So I get a good feeling for what I want to do. We have not drafted yet. So I’m not going to give you any Hot Tips on who I’m thinking about picking up. But I love our draft. I love our league. I love this auction style to quarterback deeps I love I love deep leagues. So I’m very much looking forward to it.

Eric Hornung 1:29
It’s tough, it’s esoteric. You can’t you know, jump in and just like pull up a cheat sheet and say, Who am I going to draft you got to have come up with a strategy come up with a thought process. It’s kind of like fantasy VC, J, it’s, you know, there’s no, there’s no standardized rules.

Jay Clouse 1:44
It’s true, more game theory that I think is involved in fantasy VC. But maybe I’m not deep enough into fantasy VC. I just love the idea of filling your roster with an incredibly talented team. And that is what we’re talking about today. Here in this episode, Eric, we’re speaking with Sam German, a client partner in SPM. B’s emerging markets practice, SP MB helps companies find top executive talent. They’re a sponsor of the show here. And we’ve seen a lot of trends in the changing way we work in the changing way that companies are hiring right now. 18 months into the pandemic. So I thought it’d be fun to bring Sam on the show to talk about what she’s seeing from her standpoint as PMB

Eric Hornung 2:25
what position is the CEO on a fantasy football team?

Jay Clouse 2:28
Got to be the quarterback right?

Eric Hornung 2:30
I don’t know, does it? It could be a running back, it could be a wide receiver, it’s really up to you j depends what

Jay Clouse 2:35
we’re talking about it I mean, I would imagine that you would want to draft your CEO first, you are probably your highest value draft pick, in which case, it’d be the first round pick. But the CEO is not the only executive talent that you’re going to want to hire that you’re going to fill on your fantasy roster of company executives and SPM. B helps with all kinds of search for executives, technical, non technical executive reporting to the executive. And I don’t know, Eric, we’ve seen a lot of trends with remote work. And you and I talked a little bit about a little bit about what does remote work really look like? Is it really going to be remote or is going to be remote? First? Are people going to have like satellite offices. So all things we can explore here and let’s chat with him. I think

Eric Hornung 3:15
this is super timely, because we’re at an all time low and unemployment are not there. We’re pretty close. And we have been there for a while. And it feels like, Look, you talked to a lot of people, I talked to a lot of people, it feels like the talent market is super competitive right now. So this is going to be a very timely conversation for those startups that are looking at how do we hire that executive team. We’d love

Jay Clouse 3:40
to hear your thoughts on this episode as you listen and what you’re thinking about the future trends in hiring. You can tweet at us at upside FM or email us Hello at upside down FM. And we’ll get to that interview right after this. You know, Eric on the show time and time again, founders talk about the importance of hiring great employees. And they always say it’s so hard

Eric Hornung 4:01
and so important early on to hire the right person.

Jay Clouse 4:05
It makes a lot of sense that it’s difficult because most founders don’t have experience doing high level searches or hiring top level talent.

Eric Hornung 4:12
And they’re also limited to their local talent pool a lot of the times

Jay Clouse 4:16
that’s why a lot of founders choose to work with SPN, the one of the fastest growing executive search firms in the country. For over 40 years. spnd has specialized in recruiting upper management and board members to early stage VC funded startups and larger growth stage companies do

Eric Hornung 4:31
they bring the knowledge of a large global firm and combine that with the personalized service and attention of a boutique.

Jay Clouse 4:38
They have a dedicated team focusing on the Mountain West and Midwest emerging tech markets. So no matter where you are in the country, if you’re trying to hire top level talent spmd can help you out.

Eric Hornung 4:49
If that sounds like you, you can go to slash SP MB to learn how they are closing hundreds of C level searches annually.

Jay Clouse 5:05
Sam, it’s so great for you to join us here today. How are you doing?

Unknown Speaker 5:08
I am doing well. Thank you so much for having me on Jay and Eric, I love the podcast. Kudos to you for creating it. My search practice at spmd is purely focused on executive search for growth stage tech companies that have been founded or are headquartered in the Midwest and Mountain West, basically anything between the coasts. So when I heard of your podcast, I thought, these are my people

Jay Clouse 5:36
totally. And I remember connecting with you probably close to a year or even longer than that before now, what I don’t remember is how you initially found us.

Sam 5:45
I’m about to share an anecdote that feels very pre pandemic, but I was traveling to St. Louis, from Colorado, business, actually to meet with Balto. I had been introduced to Balto, by the team at jump capital was doing my homework, found your podcast with with the team there and was just kind of blown away by that by the caliber of your podcast guests. And really the pulse you have on the startup landscape outside of Silicon Valley, super, super relevant to the work that I do.

Eric Hornung 6:19
Speaking of the pandemic, it feels like that getting on a plane. You know, it’s it’s a whole new world. Now, when it comes to doing work. We all established zoom and remote work became a thing a lot of people were working from home. So I’m curious in your line of work, how has a pandemic directly affected executive recruiting? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 6:40
so I think you’re right, absolutely at a macro level, wide forced acceptance of remote work. And then a remote first workplace happened pretty much overnight. In addition, I think we saw this mass exodus away from the coast, people were moving out of San Francisco out of New York. For us, both the podcast and for our practice. Super exciting eight. For me, specifically, this has created more opportunity on both sides of the talent marketplace, more companies are founded in Middle America than before, I think I was reading something about ROI on VC dollars invested in non Bay Area markets is just staggering. Right now Chicago, for example, has the best ROI on VC dollars in the country. And that includes the Bay Area. And then of course, we have more and more candidates who are not located in the Bay Area or New York or on the coasts anymore. Well, I

Jay Clouse 7:43
know you’re a client partner for the emerging markets practice at spmd. But with the prevalence of remote first work, wrote first companies and opportunities, does that make kind of a geographic specialization a little bit more irrelevant?

Unknown Speaker 7:58
You ask them a very diplomatic way, right? Like, I think you could have said, does what you do even matter anymore. And I’ll be honest with you, I had such an identity crisis around this, I was formerly promoted to partner earlier this year. And when you do that, you have to really create your your brand and create a business plan to the managing partners. And for me, that’s all around non Bay Area, non coastal recruiting really centralized around something that at the moment didn’t quite seem to matter. But as I really sat down and thought about some of these some of these trends, my hot take is that it this geographic specialization actually matters more now than it ever did

Eric Hornung 8:48
before we dive into that heartache a little bit more, because Are you seeing that companies are actually like requiring executives to be located at HQ, or is it something else?

Unknown Speaker 8:59
So believe it or not, yes, I mean, not all of them right. Before the pandemic, we had way more searches that required relocation. But as a firm, we still relocated 27 candidates between 2020 and 2021. to new geographies, I can think of places like Bozeman and Denver and Phoenix and across Canada for example, I’ve clients and Edmonton and Toronto, we were super surprised to see continued threads of requirements around candidate location at headquarters with the exact team

Jay Clouse 9:39
are there particular or like specific functional areas that necessitate or need a non remote leader?

Unknown Speaker 9:47
So it largely depends on the company. We’ve definitely seen themes in engineering and operations. So think customer service, customer support customer success. Basically, any instance for a company might still have a fairly large data center or call center. In those cases, companies would still see it as mandatory that an executive still interact on a day to day basis with teams in those data centers or call centers.

Eric Hornung 10:17
How about like, in general, how many companies are truly remote first, or don’t have plans to go back into an office?

Unknown Speaker 10:25
I think, high level most if I if I had to put a number on it, I’d say 80 to 90%. That said, my body of search work tends to focus on direct reports to CEOs within high growth tech companies. So series A Series B, series C, a lot happens in the hallways at the water cooler, at an ad hoc coffee meeting, I’d say 100% of the time, my clients would prefer to find someone who is either located in their market or willing to relocate, that said, not so much a requirement.

Jay Clouse 11:07
Talk to me about job candidates and their preferences right now how many of them that you speak to or that your firm speaks to? are happy with remote work the way it is working from home versus how many would actually prefer to go back into an office, which is something that I’ve heard from people that sometimes they like that separation at times.

Unknown Speaker 11:25
I love reading about this. And it seems like every day someone on my in my LinkedIn network has posted a poll about this. And the results are always pretty staggering to me. I don’t know about you, too. My preference is work from home forever, but do YouTube.

Jay Clouse 11:44
Same, I feel like I’ve made a lot of life choices just to enable this capability. And now everybody has it. So I’m a little salty about that. But I am work from home person.

Eric Hornung 11:53
I drove 15 minutes from the office to come record this podcast. So I might be in the opposite camp of you, too. But yeah, I like the flexibility of being able to work from home.

Unknown Speaker 12:03
Yeah. And I think Eric, your point of view probably represents the majority based on what I’m seeing. I think it’s such a mixed bag, we could probably record an entire podcast dedicated to this topic alone. Anecdotally, I’ve had search processes that have been remote first, where we engaged with candidates who are at the beginning of a search process that I’m all in, I’m used to working from home, then over the summer, they started to go back into their own offices and interact with their teams and realized I love this, I really, I need this, I need to have the opportunity to see my team regularly. I think people are people that you hear everything from, I’m burnt out all the time working from home, because there are no boundaries to I love the freedom and flexibility like Jay and I. Then to your point, Eric, there’s this new model of hybrid in person and virtual. I think a lot of companies are doing something cool, which is translating some of their real estate dollars into quarterly team off sites that fun locations. I have a client in Austin, who’s doing just that. And they’re planning trips for their teams in places like Jackson Hole and Nashville. And that can be such a wonderful way to kind of get the team together and build morale.

Jay Clouse 13:28
Well, while we’re on the topic of trends and and ways of working that are getting more attention or changing a little bit, something that comes up a lot in my world now also is di diversity, equity and inclusion and how companies are taking a step forward more of a step forward to improve those initiatives. What are you seeing from your position as PMB in terms of companies accelerating or improving their DNI initiatives? Yeah, thanks

Unknown Speaker 13:57
for bringing this up. This is so so incredibly important. And really, I would say Top of Mind across every single executive search at the firm right now and think there, you can think about the unique role of a search partner in helping clients shape their dei strategy. And I think two core ways right. So there is this sort of immediate impact route where in a search, there is a mandate around hiring a diverse executive, whether with how the client that defines that is up to the client. And then there’s this other path by which we can help advise our clients around longer term strategy and so that can look more like bringing on executives with track record and well formed opinions about hiring diverse teams. The other piece is often looking into industries that are outside of tech. So as an example, I had a very successful project last year that resulted in a diverse placement into a consumer mobile tech company. We ended up finding a candidate out of financial services, who was a phenomenal fit in that candidate just so happened to be a diversity candidate. So there are lots of things to think about that bucket again, probably could dedicate an entire podcast to to that alone. But I do think it’s important to partner with a search firm with some experience and guidance on that topic.

Eric Hornung 15:39
Let’s continue down this path of kind of big trends and themes that are Top of Mind lately, in 2021. I think one of them is the great resignation. I imagine you’ve talked to a ton of candidates lately, because so many are on the move.

Unknown Speaker 15:55
It is insane. Search cycles are longer. It is absolutely a candidate driven market right now. I read the statistic last week that a company has something like 28 days to close a candidate once that candidate engages in a process. It’s just bonkers. I I don’t know. It’s top of mind right now. And I think we’re constantly having conversations with our clients about their expectations of the market. And that, that’s another thing I’d throw out there. I mean, I think it’s important for us to develop a collaborative relationship and true partnership with our clients because a spec will change over time, depending on what the market yields. And right now in most executive level searches, we

Jay Clouse 16:46
absolutely need to keep an open mind and have some flexibility. In such a competitive market and setting compensation aside, how do candidates decide, I wish I lived in a world where no candidate was motivated by anything to put aside.

Unknown Speaker 17:04
The big thing to put aside 100%. And unfortunately, many times it does come down to that, especially because the bulk of our clients have SPM B’s clients, particularly in my practice our growth stage, pre IPO tech companies where we might be competing with talent that are coming out of public companies or more interested in a narrower scope role, because it’s an opportunity to join a billion dollar market cap company. There will always be that that subset of candidates that said, optimistically, I do think the number one criteria that candidates consider when making a move, or you know that that could be joining a company or leaving a company is around culture. I mean, I think the number one indicator, the number one stat that I read over and over again, is just happiness with someone’s boss, someone’s supervisor, it’s just, it’s so critical, and I think can just make and break someone’s day to day experience of their working life.

Eric Hornung 18:09
How do you see that reflected in placements? Is there any regionality to that, or what kind of drives happiness and culture?

Unknown Speaker 18:19
I see this all the time in even in churches that don’t have any kind of geographic mandate, particularly for my Midwestern clients and candidates, I constantly see each gravitating to the other. I lived in Chicago for for six years before moving to Boulder. I often tell my clients in the Midwest that I speak Midwest, I don’t know, there’s just a Midwestern sensibility. It’s

Jay Clouse 18:49
kind of hard to explain. It’s kind of like, if you know, you know, but you know, what would you say? Oh, did you say oh, by the same time I said, Oh, yeah.

Unknown Speaker 19:01
Yeah, or it’s a issue of humility is is a quality that comes to mind. I think kindness, politeness respect, not to say those qualities are missing in coastal companies. I definitely don’t want to offend huge swaths of people on this podcast. But yeah, man, there’s just a Midwestern niceness, but that just seems to be the case

Jay Clouse 19:26
over and over again. Does this Midwest sensibility apply to like lifestyle as well? I feel like my Midwestern friends approach to life a little bit different than my coastal friends.

Unknown Speaker 19:38
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I’d be remiss not to call out some themes that are more appropriate to the Mountain West. So I live in Colorado, I’m in Boulder. I have many clients in the Mountain West between the Denver boulder area, Bozeman Salt Lake City, I have a client up in the Canadian Rockies and Edmonton and To overly generalize, but there’s definitely a work hard play hard mentality here. People work their butts off. But then they also go for a trail run or go for a mountain bike ride over lunch or on a work day or in the wintertime, if it’s a powder day, they hit the slopes. I mentioned my client in Bozeman. I’ve done two searches for that company. And we’ve relocated people to Bozeman successfully from both Austin and Utah. I think there’s just a sensibility around that that resulted in a very specific type of person being the best possible candidate for those roles.

Eric Hornung 20:41
So we’ve talked kind of about regional sensibilities, regional lifestyles. Do you see many companies in kind of the central us hiring Bay Area based execs?

Unknown Speaker 20:53
Definitely it happens. I often hear that my clients would prefer not to, I think there is a legitimate fear that Silicon Valley or Bay Area based candidates will turn over quickly. And I think it’s because they live in a highly competitive market. Additionally, many folks may realize down the road, like we said a couple minutes ago that they miss going into an office with a team and would prefer not to work remotely for the rest of their career. But not to mention comp, right, despite the mass exodus, San Francisco and New York are very expensive, the cost of living is high, and therefore candidates in those markets have higher compensation expectations.

Jay Clouse 21:38
Yeah, we can’t always put compensation aside, as we did in a previous question. What about national companies, specifically, Silicon Valley, or San Francisco based companies? Do you see them doing much remote hiring?

Unknown Speaker 21:50
I do. Yeah, I think I mean, there is a broad theme of the concept of a second HQ, or a second or third office, we see co working spaces across the country host. Rarely. Second, offices are fairly large groups of people from companies that are headquartered in the Bay Area, for example. freshworks has a huge presence here in Denver, one of our early clients in Colorado was gussto. And as an example, we helped hire their first chief customer officer to build out what was really supposed to be a customer support call center up center in Denver. But Denver has become such a great place to recruit top talent in tech. But now that office has surpassed their San Francisco office and headcount. In addition, Inc, for Bay Area based clients who are open to hiring someone outside of the Bay Area, it can be really cost effective, like we just mentioned, and my practice is really unique, because I have an amazing research team that is really dedicated to becoming the subject matter experts on these top companies and top talent in these emerging markets. So if a client in San Francisco, not only is open to hiring someone in Chicago, or Indianapolis, or Salt Lake City, but they’re excited to do that, and that’s that’s becomes almost a requirement. We’re armed with the best information to help them be successful in that.

Eric Hornung 23:26
Well, I love when our partners are armed with the best information. Sam, thank you so much for spending time with us today to provide some color and context around what the executive search landscape looks like now that we’re 18 months into a pandemic and in just a crazy time in general, if listeners want to learn more about your practice, and SP MB, where should they go?

Unknown Speaker 23:47
Yeah, and thank you both so much. Keep doing what you’re doing and we are so excited to partner with the podcast and really look forward to new episodes. If anyone wants to get in touch with me. They can of course Find me on LinkedIn. Samantha German g r ma n or my email is Or of course you can visit our website spmd comm which I think has a really nice logo splash page that highlights all of our amazing clients.

Eric Hornung 24:24
Okay, what’s your favorite podcast app named after a fruit?

Jay Clouse 24:29
Gotta be apple.

Eric Hornung 24:30
Can you think of any other ones?

Jay Clouse 24:32
I tried really hard, but I didn’t want I didn’t want to wait for too long. I didn’t want too much dead air.

Eric Hornung 24:36
Hey, you know what’s worse than dead air? Not getting reviews on Apple podcasts from your listeners.

Jay Clouse 24:42
Oh my gosh, it is the worst every day that I wake up and I don’t have a new review on Apple podcasts. I just look up the sky and I go Ah,

Eric Hornung 24:50
I like how the first thing you do when you wake up is to look at

Jay Clouse 24:52
Apple reviews. If only I was lying, but I’m not and I’m looking for new reviews for upside on Apple Park. as Eric and if you are listening to this right now, you could be that person that helps get the day started, right?

Eric Hornung 25:05
All you have to do is go to Apple on your iOS device or web browser plugin and leave us a review. Five stars would be nice, four stars would be great. Let’s do five stars.

Jay Clouse 25:16
Let’s do five stars, if you’d prefer five stars, even if you don’t use Apple podcast as your preferred listening app on an iPhone, please take a moment to rate us there anyway, it helps us bring on great guests. It helps us climb the charts. Our show will get better if you do this very simple app. So please, please.

Eric Hornung 25:39
All right, Jay, we just spoke with Sam from SP MB. And I know where I want to start. But where do you want to start?

Jay Clouse 25:45
Sounds like you want to start in the office, I want to start a home.

Eric Hornung 25:48
Oh, that’s true. Here’s the thing about the office, it’s just a place, I am a big believer in space and you at home have built your entire life around having your space, you have your basement, it is kind of your space to get away to be doing your thing. And unless your kitty cat comes down there and bothers you, there’s really no connectivity between your office and your home. You can feel like you’re out of things if you want to, you can feel like you’re in the office if you can’t, I don’t think everyone has that luxury. And I think a lot of people want the office to be their place to get away to focus. And then when they’re home for that to be home. So I’m pro office, but I’m also pro flexibility. And that is my clarification on my piece from the interview.

Jay Clouse 26:33
I think that’s a good take. Because I do also hear the When can we go back into the office chatter. And I hear it mostly coming from people with families not to say I have no family. But people with children, I should say not because they don’t love their children, they want to get away from their children. But because it is difficult, I’m sure I actually can’t speak of direct experience here. But I’m sure it’s difficult to operate at the level that you and I are accustomed to operating. If we had a human baby or human child here next to us. I have a first child of the cat, the cat is a problem in and of itself. But imagine if that cat could speak English, and had four limbs that were very uncoordinated.

Eric Hornung 27:15
Anyway, so yes, I think that that was that was a good conversation around where people are going, I think that there is going to be a happy medium that we accelerated to where there’s more flexibility. I’m already seeing it in the old stodgy industry that I’m in where people are more comfortable with video calls more comfortable with taking meetings over the phone, or over a video call. It doesn’t mean it’s all the time and face to face still exists. But Fridays have become more flexible conversations have become more flexible. And one thing that I’m curious on that came out of Sam’s conversation is we in this outside of Silicon Valley world, often treat talent and migration patterns as if they’re completely interchangeable. So, you know, you see all these articles where it’s Miami is gaining the most people now or Austin is getting the most people now. And those people all come from somewhere. So I think the regionality concept that Sam was bringing up from her firsthand experience of hiring people. And what is successful is interesting in that it’s not like, okay, now it’s hot to move to San Francisco. So everybody who was born in Florida moved to San Francisco, and then they moved to New York, and then they moved to Austin, and they moved to Nashville, that mobility across regional sensibilities and lifestyles. It’s not interoperable.

Jay Clouse 28:34
I’m not entirely sure I know what you’re saying. You’re saying it’s not about the hot place to be because it’s a hot place to be. It’s more so rooted in does this person have some sort of tie to that area?

Eric Hornung 28:45
Maybe tie or maybe sensibility that’s similar to, but I think we tend to look at those macro numbers and just think people can, can and do move everywhere and anywhere. But there’s a another layer beyond that when you get down to the nitty gritty of finding someone a job and placing them in that job. It’s not just Yes, move here, because there’s a job here.

Jay Clouse 29:07
Something we touched on a little bit that I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about is d i am going through some dei training right now with a great company called the courage collective. And I’m learning a lot. I am reckoning with my privilege. I think that you know, the pipeline question is a difficult question for a lot of companies. And a real benefit of working with a search firm like SPM. B is you can expand the pipeline beyond your immediate pool and your immediate connections because spmd is in this world. They’re building relationships and tapping into new pool of talent all over the place all the time. So if there is a dei initiative at a startup company, somebody’s listening to this and they’re saying, How am I going to solve this issue? I feel like a search firm might be a great complement to your initiatives and at least partial solution.

Eric Hornung 29:57
Absolutely. If you have the intention. You can Given the mandate, whereas you might not be able to fulfill it yourself as readily. Alright, well, we’d

Jay Clouse 30:06
love to hear what you think about this quick episode with Sam from SP MB, you can email us at or you tweeted us at upside FM. If you wanna learn more about SP MB, you can go to slash SP MB to learn a bit more about their practice, get in touch. If this did resonate with you, and you want to reach out to Sam, let her know that we sent you and we’ll talk to you again next week. That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear what you think about this episode. So tweeted us upside FM or email us Hello at upside at FM and let us know. You can learn more about us and browse our entire back catalogue of episodes And if you love our show, please leave a review on Apple podcast that goes a long way in helping us bring high quality guests to the show.

Unknown Speaker 30:54
today have been waiting for munchies now it’s time to COVID

Interview Begins 5:05
Debrief Begins 25:39

Samantha (Sam) German is a Client Partner in SPMB’s Emerging Markets Practice.

SPMB is one of the fastest-growing retained executive search firms in the country, closing hundreds of C-level searches every year.

For over 40 years, SPMB has specialized in recruiting upper management and board members to VC-funded startups everywhere from early-stage to growth stage.

They work with companies specializing in:

  • Technology
  • Consumer
  • Media
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Sustainability
    …and more

They bring the knowledge of a large, global firm and combine it with the personalized service and attention of a boutique.

SPMB has been doing this for a long time. And they are bringing their Silicon Valley success and heritage all across the country.

They have a dedicated team focused on serving clients in the Mountain West and Midwest emerging tech markets. They have successfully relocated dozens of top-tier candidates from the East and West Coasts to the Central US and Canada – including Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Bozeman, Phoenix, Edmonton, Toronto, Denver, Boulder, Austin, Salt Lake City, and beyond.

We discuss:

  • Executive Recruiting During Pandemic 6:19
  • Proximity Matters 8:49
  • DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) 13:28
  • Compensation Factor 16:50
  • National Companies on Remote Hiring 21:38

Learn more about SPMB
Get in touch with Sam

Follow upside on Twitter
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This episode of upside is sponsored by SPMB.

SPMB is one of the fastest-growing retained executive search firms in the country, closing hundreds of C-level searches every year.

For over 40 years, SPMB has specialized in recruiting upper management and board members to VC-funded startups everywhere from early-stage to growth stage.

They can do the same for you.

Visit to learn more.