Win the Talent War: Vasu Kulkarni, Founder, and CEO of Krossover
Founder and CEO of Krossover, Vasu Kulkarni runs an online sports analytics platform, as well as being a founding partner of Courtside Ventures, an early-stage venture capital company, focusing on sports-related ventures. He’s been featured in magazines such as Forbes, Sports Illustrated, and on ESPN. Kulkarni was named as one of America’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25 in 2010 by Bloomberg Businessweek. Competition in the job market has never been so fierce, but despite that Kulkarni has been able to attract and retain some great talent and is sharing some of his secrets.
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[00:00] Introduction of Vasu Kulkarni, CEO of Krossover.
[05:59] This start-up experiences rapid growth and a big increase in employee hiring.
[07:13] A snapshot of hiring practices at Krossover.
[12:04] A corporate culture of freedom and responsibility.
[20:41] Objective Key Results.
[25:45] Hiring in a skills-based economy.
[31:00] All the cool new things happening at Krossover.
[33:01] Connect with Vasu Kulkarni on Twitter @vasu.
Krossover: Sports and Tech in a Skills-Based Economy
Vasu Kulkarni is the Founder and CEO of Krossover, an online sports analytics platform. He’s been featured in magazines such as Forbes, Sports Illustrated, and on ESPN. Kulkarni was named as one of America’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25 in 2010 by Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also a founding partner of Courtside Ventures, an early-stage venture capital company, focusing on sports-related ventures.
Vasu Kulkarni grew up in India but relocated to the U.S. when he was in high school. He is the self-proclaimed “biggest basketball fan in the world,” and his love of the sport played a key role in the life he lives today. As a youth, he had grand dreams of playing basketball for his college team, but he soon realized that at 5’9” and 134 lbs., he wasn’t exactly the kind of material coaches were looking for. He managed to make the team after 4 years and got his 15 minutes on the floor. That experience and his passion for sports paved the way for the companies he subsequently founded.
A Little Idea with a Big Future
Kulkarni studied Computer Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania. He had an idea that somehow technology and data could be used to help athletes improve their game, and help coaches, who had to spend hours after every game reviewing plays and video. He hoped that being a computer science guy, he could find a better way for them. He wasn’t sure how he was going to do that, but the germ of the idea was there, and it was the start of Krossover.
Now, instead of a coach spending hours watching the video of a game, he uploads the film to Krossover. By the time he wakes up the next morning, he will have the information he needs for a fraction of what it would cost to have a person on staff doing it. Krossover provides the information online in mobile and tablet apps. The idea caught on quickly. “We went from 45 teams in 2011 to well over 10,000 teams worldwide in 2016, all using our product. It’s every sports coach’s dream.”
Kulkarni’s workforce has grown from 3 initial staff, including himself, to over 90 employees today, mostly based in the New York City area. Competition in the job market has never been so fierce, but despite that, Kulkarni has been able to attract and retain some great talent.
Hire Fast. Fire Fast.
“As for hiring talent, my MO is hiring fast and fire fast. I don’t like to spend months to hire someone. I did spend a lot of time to find the right COO because it is such an important role.” But for most jobs, if someone is passionate and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, he’ll give him a shot, but if it turns out that he can’t deliver, he’ll get the axe. Culture is the most important part of a hire. If they have two candidates and one is a little more qualified, they would choose the guy who is a better culture fit, but they must still be competent at their job.
Kulkarni embraces a corporate culture of freedom and responsibility. They aim to mirror the corporate cultures of Zappos and Netflix. “We have a lot of very young people, some right out of college, but the culture has to reflect who I am or I’d be faking it every day. I am someone who values freedom and flexibility, that’s what I like. I can take a break to play basketball at noon, but I’ll be at my desk and get it done, and you can depend on me, and I’ll work late to have it.” Kulkarni prefers no micromanaging and no hierarchy.
Addressing Upward Mobility for Employees in a Startup
People want to have a growth path and a chance for a bigger role in the company, which was something Kulkarni needed to address. In the beginning of his organization, it was every man for himself. They got a bucket of leads and were paid base and commission. They had a VP of sales, but that’s it. The answer was to create teams within the sales team. Each team has 2 juniors, 2 closers, and a team leader. Each team of 5 guys is always in competition with the other teams. Once a week they have a meeting, called “Hell yeah, we kicked ass.” They talk about what they did that week and why it worked. It’s a fun competition that they enjoy. They’re always looking at new ways to change things for the better. “There are now more players in the market because there are competitors out there, and the low hanging fruit is gone.”
Objective Key Results
Instead of formal employee evaluations, the COO created OKRs, or Objective Key Results. Once a quarter each employee comes up with 2 or 3 things that they decide are most important for them to achieve and that align with the company’s goals for that quarter. It’s not a performance review. It is something the employee decides he’s going to hold himself accountable to for the quarter. “You’ve got to be a little aggressive about these things. It’s a stretch goal for yourself. We create our objectives for the company for the quarter, and each employee creates their own objectives.”
“In my opinion, we have pretty much transformed entirely to a skills-based economy,” explains Kulkarni. “Where you went to school doesn’t matter. What your degree is in doesn’t matter. Frankly, not one time did I ever ask someone where they went to school or what their degree is in, because I don’t think schools are preparing kids for anything that is actually useful for their job.” He says the beauty of the internet is that literally anyone can learn, and all he cares about at the end of the day is that they get the job done. Of course, you still have to get your foot in the door. “We put up a job posting and got more than 100 applicants in the first hour. I picked the first 10, set up meetings, found someone, and that was that. We just don’t have the time to go through 100 resumes, so we hired and we moved on.”
He believes that to get your foot in the door, what matters is your network, how many people you know who might be key to an introduction to your next job. “Getting someone to send a warm introduction for you is pretty much the only way you are going to get a look. And once you get a look, it’s up to you to sell yourself to the company,” Kulkarni advises. “Some of my best engineers are guys who learned online, and they never went to school for engineering. I always tell MBA students you’re wasting a fortune and two years of your life. There’s nothing you could learn in class that you couldn’t learn by volunteering at a start-up, and you might even get paid for it.”
Krossover has branched into more sports, such as lacrosse, football, volleyball, soccer, and next year, probably hockey. He also started a fund, an early-stage venture capital company, Courtside Ventures, which invests in tech companies that have some kind of sports angle to them. In the past 10 months, they have funded about 12 companies, one of which was bought by Microsoft. If you want to connect with him, he is @vasu on Twitter.