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Episode 25: Paige Carratturo on Talent Recruitment, Retention, & Leadership in the Clean Economy

22 min. read

#Cleantechers —

In a tight labor market, how should clean economy companies acquire talent? I recently interviewed Paige Carratturo, the San Francisco-based co-founder of “talent venture” company Sea-Change. Paige’s firm provides broad talent acquisition services to investors, their portfolio companies, and several Fortune 500 companies.  

If anyone has timely advice on how to address this prevalent issue, it’s Paige.

 

Also listen on Apple,  Radio Public, Amazon Music, iHeart, and Google Podcasts.

Overview

 

Introduction - Getting to Know Paige Carratturo



Mike Casey:

Hey, cleantechers, welcome back to Scaling Clean! This is the podcast that gathers company building and management tips from the most accomplished leaders in cleantech. I don’t know about you but everywhere I go and everyone I hear from in cleantech is wrestling with the same thing - where do we find talent in a tight labor market?  At Tigercomm we’ve got clients that are asking us to build corporate communications partly to support recruitment which is a relatively recent development.  Our guest today is someone with almost 20 years of experience solving that problem, much of it for clean economy companies. As someone running one of those companies, who's also looking for talent,  I'm looking forward to talking with Paige Carratturo, the San Francisco-based Co-founder of Sea Change, which describes itself as a talent venture company. I love that. I suspect if anyone can give clean economy leaders useful advice on handling this super-tight labor market, it’s Paige. I also think the way Paige's shop pursues its mission will equip her with some longer-term insights for us into what work environments and interview processes are best suited for today's talent pool. Paige, welcome to the show. 

Paige Carratturo:

Thanks for having me, Mike. I'm happy to be here. 


Career Evolution from Corporate Jobs to Entrepreneurship



Mike Casey:

All right, given the challenge of the labor market, I suspect a lot of our listeners are going to want to hear what you have to say about their challenge. But let me start with our first standard question so our listeners can get to know you a little bit. How would you summarize the arc of your career as a cleantech leader? 

Paige Carratturo:

Well, I actually wouldn't summarize it at all as a corporate cleantech leader, but really as an entrepreneur. I had a few corporate jobs early in my life that were fairly short-lived. I wanted constantly to innovate in bigger companies, even in support roles and realized pretty quickly that my desires didn't really fit into their construct. So after my first child, I changed gears and started my first entrepreneurial firm called ‘My Virtual Solution’. Funny enough, it was an all-virtual executive assistant business well before that was a thing. So I guess I was an innovator even in my early days. That led to a number of amazing clients and different projects over the course of about three years. And then I ultimately got wooed by one of my clients to help him build a business. And it ended up, really that relationship transformed the way I thought about business in general. And he told me two important things that ended up being very, very crucial in my current kind of role in the industry. One was ‘Specialize, don't generalize’, and ‘the best time to build a brand is in a down market’. And those two comments would ring truer than true when I decided to start ‘EnerTech Search Partners’ in May of 2009 in the middle of the worst financial crisis and labor market situation. And fast forward to today, EnerTech has transformed into Sea Change, and it's just been a crazy ride. We provide broad talent services to investors, portfolio companies, and even some really big innovative firms like Ford and Walmart. 


Transformational Relationship: Managing Growth and Change



Mike Casey: 

Okay, I know we were talking before the show about the differences between the big companies you service and your firm, or perhaps mine. I think actually the size of your firm is going to equip you really well to answer this question. So, if we were going to split screen the way you first started managing other people and the way you manage other people now, and you and I sit back with some popcorn and watch that clip run, what are the differences that we would see? And I'm really interested in that answer, kind of through the lens of what your firm does. 

Paige Carratturo:

Sure. Sure, absolutely. I oftentimes feel like I live the same life as my clients. I'm an incredibly empathetic partner to them because I'm in many cases going through precisely the same growing pains and management challenges and making decisions about who to bring onto the team and when as they are. And early in the history of Sea Change, formerly EnerTech, it really was a lifestyle business that the idea was I would hire a few more people just like me. I understood them. They understood me. We were all kind of cowboys and cowgirls. And it didn't really require a lot of management. But as the business grew, and this is the case with many of the startups that we work for, those first handfuls of folks or people that are in their network just like them, maybe went to school with them, et cetera, very familiar,  and it's a very familial relationship. So it requires less structured, or their perception as it requires less structured management. But as I started to have to build infrastructure to support the growth of the business that was not simply commercially oriented or delivery oriented in terms of the actual recruiting business, I found that it was very challenging to manage other humans. I really wasn't equipped and hadn't really had that sort of formal training or pedigree. The key to being successful today in that situation because I still have a number of people to manage is I had to get very quickly in touch with what I'm great at and what I'm not great at. And there are a number of frameworks and tools for early-stage companies. One in particular is a platform called Entrepreneurial Operating System. And it's really based on the concept of visionary and integrator. And that is really how I've run my business. I am a big thinker and getting me corralled sometimes can be challenging. And it's really about hiring folks around you that have a completely different set of skills that fill that gap and then allowing them to do what they do and allowing me to do what I do. And realized I was never going to be that perfect CEO who could do all of the things, no one can. It's just like trying to be a perfect mother. Doesn't work. 

Mike Casey:

We're plus 20 episodes into this podcast series. I haven't yet met the perfect CEO or even one who thinks he or she is the perfect CEO. So you're in good company. 

Paige Carratturo:

Okay, excellent.



A Happy Accident: Entry into Cleantech



Mike Casey:

You moved into clean economy relatively early in your career, year seven, is that correct? 



Paige Carratturo:

Actually third year of my recruiting career, but I would say about 10 years into my overall career.


 
Mike Casey:

What drew you to this space and what keeps you here? 



Paige Carratturo:

To be honest, it was a completely happy accident. The person that I referenced earlier was this transformational mentor and somebody I worked for before I was in the recruiting business. We were actually in commercial real estate and there are incredible parallels between real estate and the business that we're in today in terms of the process. I was lucky enough to have gotten out of real estate just before the crash in 2006. Moved my family to a little island called Bainbridge Island where I'm actually recording from today, in my summer place. I was trying to figure out something different to do and I was honestly just simply approached by somebody who was a partner in a very big firm who also had moved to Bainbridge Island for lifestyle reasons and it was completely by accident that I ended up in this business. And in the first two years, it wasn't specifically in cleantech. Their clients, this very large firm out of Houston, their clients were the big oil companies, funny enough, and they had all different practice areas and the little practice area I was in was actually sales recruiting, in particular, technical sales recruiting. It was three months into the business, I hadn't necessarily decided was that what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and within three months realized that I would start my own firm, probably within two years, and began making that plan.
 
And it wasn't until just post the election of Obama that I began to see an extraordinary amount of opportunity in smaller companies, emerging companies that were related. Unfortunately, this firm just wasn't interested in working with startups and didn't have a fee structure that would support it. So I gave notice on a Thursday and I had my shop up and running on a Tuesday and the rest is sort of history. My passion for the environment and interest and concern over climate change really evolved through my education in the industry. I grew up with my clients, there weren’t any other firms that specialized in this space in those days, that was early 2009. So I was definitely a cleantech 1.0 person for sure.



Common Mistakes & Challenges in Recruiting and Retaining Talent



Mike Casey:

If I channel our past 20 guests, I think they would all want me to ask you this. What are the biggest mistakes you see companies making and how they recruit and retain talent?



Paige Carratturo:

I mean, the overarching answer is they are out of touch with market dynamics or don't have the tools to illuminate the talent landscape. Sort of like going to sell to a customer that you know nothing about. You're not really sure what their problem is. You don't know who else might be competing against you. You don't know what their budget is. It's exactly the same thing. Or if you use a real estate analogy, very similar. You need to understand if you want a little yellow house with a corner lot and a white picket fence in XYZ town, and there's only one of those on the market, you're probably going to pay more than it's listed for. And if there are eight of them, you probably have more leverage. It's precisely the same in the candidate market. And unfortunately, all of the indicators around things like compensation and demand and candidate psychology, are a little bit like real estate comms, right? They're six months old, a year old, people that compile that data, none of it real-time. And unfortunately, in the crazy news cycle of economics even, macroeconomics, psychology, and demand and supply can change from week to week. You have to take the time to understand who you're looking for, what else they might be considering, what general risk tolerances they may or may not have, based on broader macroeconomic issues - where they're located, what stage of career they're in, et cetera. 



Mike Casey:

I love that phrase - illuminate the talent landscape. What do you mean by that? 



Paige Carratturo: 

Yeah, I think that a company that is large, that has a really large internal recruiting function, a mature business, has the benefit of maybe years of hiring data. They have the benefit of lots of resources, potentially other consultants who can help provide real-time market data. But the majority of our customers that are seed to Series B early-stage venture-backed companies simply don't have that ability. Half the time, they don't even have an internal recruiter or talent person. And so for us, we are building and providing those tools to our clients. It's fairly bespoke. We built those tools for us internally, but we are starting to believe that there is an opportunity to provide that level of transparency broadly to the climate tech market. And we're working through it, there's more news to come on that. I don't want to sort of spoiler alert, and I certainly don't want to self-promote, but I do think there are a number of firms that are trying to provide some of this data. AI has tried to solve this problem, and unfortunately, it's just not specific enough. The models are too broad and too general. You really have to train data models that are very specific, not only for industry specificity but stage of company specificity. Recruiting and trying to acquire talent in an early-stage company is a recruiting discipline all by itself, regardless of what industry sector you're in. 


Staying on Top of the Clean Economy Labor Market



Mike Casey:

How does Paige Carratturo keep track of what's happening in the labor market, the zeitgeist of the talent pool?


Paige Carratturo: 

You have to be talking to people every day all the time. So I have a team. We're eight folks that are in the market every day. We communicate regularly about actual market conditions. We spend time with our customers. We go to all the industry events, but we're also building tools with partners that allow us to use tools like AI to create more scale to that anecdotal market knowledge. And we don't have it solved yet, but we do believe that we have a path to solve that now. When our clients work with us, they get the benefit of us just talking to thousands of candidates a month and being able to compile that data, unfortunately, somewhat manually right now. But we certainly can see easily with technology that we'll be able to provide an incredible engine to what is still a very human-centric, person-to-person business.


Mike Casey:

Another follow-up. If you had to summarize what potential cleantech talent wants in cleantech jobs, how would you summarize that in a paragraph? I know that's a tough question to ask you, but it's your fault, cause you're so interesting I'm gonna have to ask you these things. 

Well, I think first and foremost, coming out of COVID and all of the different work paradigms we've been dealing with, people are not interested in working with people they don't like, respect, or that feel respect them. So I think, honestly, it sounds trite, but culture and work environment are the most important. The second most important thing is what's the mission. How impactful can I be in an organization? Doesn't matter if that's a big company or a small company, but nobody wants to just be in this narrowly contrived role where they're sort of grinding out the same work, product every day, super important. Obviously, people also really want flexibility in their lives to be able to not only follow their passionate work and be able to affect huge cosmic issues like climate change but have the freedom to do that in their personal lives as well. And I think that is really the most important thing. Everybody wants to maximize their W-2, and everybody wants to make sure they feel like they're being compensated fairly in the market, but we have seen some pretty amazing transitions, some that have been in the news, not necessarily represented by us, of folks that have really put aside, who've already made a lot of money in other industries, who have said we're really gonna refocus and try to solve this problem. In many cases, we're seeing people from very large companies, even in an uncertain macroeconomic environment, move into higher-risk companies because they feel like they can really make a difference. 



Top Tips for Successful Interviews




Mike Casey:

What are your biggest recruiting tips? The three that you would just hand out on this show to the listeners? 



Paige Carratturo: 

From the client's perspective any company that is out there thinking about recruiting, whether it's a big company or a small company, there are three things -  clarity, transparency, and cadence. Some people might not understand the difference between clarity and transparency, but let me just clarify it for you. Clarity is communicating with the candidate. So it's sort of like any kind of customer journey. The candidate's journey is just as important. It's going to be a reflection of what it's like to work at your company, period, end of discussion. And so having clarity up front, setting expectations. This is what the interview process is going to be. This is likely how long our process is going to take. Here are the people that you're likely to interact with during the process, et cetera. Being really clear about what that looks like. Are they all face-to-face interviews? Are they videos? Are there projects that all need to do, et cetera? Transparency is once that process starts to have clear and constant communication with the candidate about where they stand, where they are in the process, et cetera. That middle part is super important because if a candidate feels unloved or feels like the company isn't prioritizing the process, they will move on. Even if they stay in the process, you likely won't be able to close them, and that's the biggest challenge. And then the third is simply cadence. That's just about supply and demand and market conditions. And you cannot take three months to get through an interview process. I mean, you gotta figure it out in 30 days if you're gonna have any chance of winning great talent.
 

Mike Casey:

Great advice.



Paige Carratturo:

Yeah, that's the company's side. And then from the candidate side, it's not passive, right? It's just like the real estate market. The very best houses generally are off-market, right? And once a house comes on the market, you're gonna be in multiple offer competition. Same thing with jobs. So if you're really committed to changing jobs or you're in an active surge, you can't wait for that job to show up. You have to absolutely go out, figure out the companies. There are amazing tools out there, Climate Draft, Climatebase. There's a bunch I'm not thinking of and I'm happy to circle back so you can get them in the show notes.


Mike Casey:

Please, please. 



Paige Carratturo:

Incredible outlets for folks that are either not from the climate that wanna get in, help them understand. There's lots of job board aggregation. So sometimes you use the job board aggregation to understand what kinds of companies you might wanna work for. They may not have this specific job, but you need to be connecting directly. No negativity on HR, but they have a lot on their plate. You need to connect directly with leaders in the businesses and their investors that you ultimately wanna work for or that you think are potentially a good fit. I get candidates all the time. I'm also an operating partner with Blue Bear Capital and I manage all of the talent strategy across their portfolio. And I constantly get referred great candidates who have been smart enough to just reach out directly to the principals of the fund about their portfolio, let them know what companies they might be interested in, how they fit in, what their passion is. Those of course get funneled to me and it has been incredibly effective. We've actually placed a number of key folks through that process that probably would have not been uncovered by us at the perfect timing.
So you have to own your own process. You can't be passive, but you also have to build great relationships with great specialist recruiters over your career, super important. 



Mike Casey:

You somewhat answered this on a categorical basis already but I want to get again kind of meat and potatoes interviewing for your typical growth company in a clean economy, the executive team. What do you want them to know about successful interviewing? How should they do it? 



Paige Carratturo:

That is a super subjective question, unfortunately, because every single environment requires sometimes a different one. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no magic wand that you wave. There's not one personality profiling platform that works perfectly. It's really about getting down to figuring it out. Sometimes what happens is there's a job description, there's a whole slate of interviews. Management folks who might be interviewing candidates or even peer-level folks are asking the same questions over and over. The key for a company is for every single person in that interview process that's going to be interviewing the candidate needs to have a goal in mind. Whether it's a peer-level person or a technical, maybe it's somebody who's focusing just on technical things or just on culture or just on leadership or whatever and it's not about consistently taking a candidate through ‘run me through your resume’. That's not going to accomplish anything. You really have to go into the interviews with a strategic plan. 

Secondly, you absolutely need to understand what you're trying to solve. People don't care about what the day-to-day job is. If you're a product manager you kind of understand what your day-to-day role is. What you really want to know and what will help you close that candidate is really communicating to them what value this role is, what is the impact of this role, why right now is this the most important thing, or what does it mean potentially? What does it look like a year from now? You have to be really transparent, what big problems are you actually trying to solve? You can't sugarcoat it, you need to walk a line between selling, meaning being really clear about what the opportunity in your company is, what the opportunity and the role are, and being extremely transparent and, maybe for early-stage companies, even trying to scare people away a little bit, right? Really, being honest about what the challenge is. Because the folks that are fit, the more you scare them, the more they want it, right?  It's been a joke in our company, people often ask me how you screen candidates, and how you decide who you're going to shortlist. And particularly, when I'm recruiting for early-stage companies, the first thing I do is try to scare them away and tell them how big the challenge is, how exciting the opportunity is, but how big it is, and ask them some very hard questions. I try to disqualify them before I try to qualify them. And generally, the way that people react will be a pretty telling sign.

And then you can deep dive into all the details. It doesn't really matter if you spend 30 minutes figuring out every technical skill that this person has or their best deal story. If the risk tolerance isn't a match for your stage of business, you're wasting your time. If their career goals aren't aligned with what your trajectory is, you're wasting your time. So you’ve really got to get out of the weeds and sort of conceptually think about first, what's most important. What is the candidate buying? What do they want to buy? Just like a customer. What do they want to buy? Before you start selling them or information gathering, you really have to set the right paradigm. And I think that's really important. So the first, and I'm again happy to share some things with your listeners in a more structured document, but really it's about setting the context. The first interview is certainly selling, building a rapport. And then as they go through an interview process with other folks in the business to really have a very specific outcome goal for each of those conversations and not to really have folks spend time having them repeat and reiterate things that they've already communicated to others. The other key thing that usually happens in small companies as people are trying to interview is they're not gathering data, none of it is data-driven. It's all very subjective, gut feeling, etc. And some of that is valid, but it has to be backed up with data. You all have to go in saying ‘These are the five most important things that we're going to try and figure out about this person. And then, interviewer one, your job is this thing, interviewer two, here's the other thing, etc. And then you have to call us, you have to debrief, you have to do it quickly. And if you don't have a structured way to capture that data and revisit it because you might be interviewing eight candidates, you're not going to get to a decision. And then you end up relying on your gut and you don't make the right decision. 



Mike Casey:

That is so fascinating. What I hear you saying is essentially taking the interview process that a company has for a particular candidate and whoever's going to interview that candidate, the company is segmenting the decision-making so you can have a conversation-specific goal for each kind. That's really good. Thank you. 




Paige Carratturo:

Absolutely. You got it. 



Mike Casey:

So from the hiring and retention standpoint, remote only, remote in-office hybrid, in-office, what are your thoughts on these options? And are there certain types of people who work better remotely than others? 



Paige Carratturo:

Yeah, I would say by far hybrid is sort of the new paradigm, right? You've got to create a structure that meets the needs of a pretty complex candidate demographic. For instance, earlier career candidates generally want some level of social interaction and face-to-face mentorship. So this idea of being fully remote isn't always attractive to them. They're early in their career. They want to be around other folks who can provide a different level of mentorship than you can get simply with a weekly check-in. And they just oftentimes need more hands-on training and oversight, etc. The reason that is it's likely most congruent with their most recent life experience, right? They might have graduated from college or grad school recently. And it's that's much more the way that they have learned and absorbed data, etc. Now, some of these folks have come through the COVID era and may have done remote learning, but it's still really challenging. And the lines of work and personal time in that demographic are very blurred. So although they want some level of structure, they do want significant flexibility.

Mid-career candidates are generally looking for remote first but with the ability to work in a hub a few days a week or travel regularly to be with their team. Their reasons are generally different. Oftentimes this demographic might have a family. And their home environment may or may not be conducive to working at home, right? They may have very small children at home and they're in there with their nanny and their dog and they maybe don't have a huge house or a separate office. And so being able to provide shared workspace, not a traditional office, but a stipend to allow them to sort of get with another group of people, whether it's other employees or even just other industry people in a shared workspace can be really helpful.

And then later career folks generally tend to favor remote first. They're very experienced people. They can manage remotely. But sometimes they can struggle with the most cutting-edge team collaboration tools and it requires much more support. And you just have to know that going in and have the ability to really get them up to speed on some of the tools, don't assume. And I'm in this group. I sort of know how to use every tool perfectly and I just hired an amazing young woman who's recently graduated from the University of Washington and the impact she's made on her organization just from a technology perspective in the first two weeks has been pretty dramatic.


Mike Casey:

Great answer. Really, really good answer. Thank you. Okay, we'd like to close with two questions. First, if Paige's performance is an essential part of Paige's success, are there hobbies, habits, practices, whether they're at work or outside of work, that you have found boost Paige's performance that you like and you do on a regular basis? We've heard everything from going to the opera to working on cars, to hiking every weekend, to getting up at five o 'clock in the morning. I'm just endlessly fascinated by the answers to this question.


Paige Carratturo:

Yeah, it's a combination. I think I mentioned earlier the entrepreneurial operating system. It's based on a book by Gino Wickman, a famous book called ‘Traction’. And what I've learned about myself is I have to be hyper-organized. And I mean in a very structured way. So we use a tool called ClickUp for our project management. But to even get to a place where I'm not overwhelmed visually by the to-do list because you see this giant structure and you're like, ah. For me, I'm an early riser, so I need about an hour of time before I even look at a screen to just sort of think. I'm not sort of a traditional meditator, although I'd love to learn to do it. My mind moves. It's very hard to quiet my mind. The only thing that really works is walking for me. And I'm lucky enough to live in Mill Valley at a trailhead. So in about three minutes, I can be up on an incredible trail system. And it's really just about the very quiet of the morning and being able to just get, even if it's 30 minutes, there's just something about that physical body-mind connection for me that is wildly beneficial.

In my perfect world, I actually do pilates every morning in addition to the walk. I don't always have the time to do that. But for me, it's mind-body. And then it's absolutely tool sets that fill the place of having a naturally organized mind. I just have a more chaotic brain in the way I think about things. And I have to have a structure. Unfortunately, even just having the structure is not enough, I need someone to manage the structure for me. So I'm high maintenance. But I've gotten better at it every year. I certainly still have a long way to go. But it's been very, very helpful for me. 



Mike Casey:

I'm going to rename the show ADHD Years For Us. That's my working title. I'm thinking about it next year. All right. Last question. Has your work in a clean economy left you a climate optimist or a climate pessimist? And why?



Paige Carratturo:

Yeah, absolutely a climate optimist. And I think I'm so lucky to have this amazing seat at the table where I'm dealing with the investors in the space as both clients and just partners, I'm dealing with the most innovative early-stage companies and also working with huge corporates that have a massive influence on what happens. I mean, a great example is Ford and Tesla's recent announcement about the supercharger network and what that meant for everybody else. And so because I have a front-row seat to all of the moving parts, it just never ceases to amaze me the level of capital brainpower motivation that's coalescing around this problem. And so I'm lucky that I get to see behind the curtain much more than other folks do and I am eternally optimistic.



Mike Casey:

Paige Carratturo, this has been an awesome conversation. I could easily take this into two episodes if we had the time to keep talking. I'm grateful to you for the wisdom you've brought here. Really appreciate the work you're doing in the sector and I'm really grateful you took the time to join us on Scaling Clean. This is going to be a great episode. I can already sense it and I know a lot of people are going to be wanting more. So do not be surprised if we come knocking on your door for conversation too. Just warning you now. 



Paige Carratturo:

Well, anytime. Thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun. 


Topics: Scaling Clean Podcast