Office Hours: I’m Laura Del Beccaro, the cofounder & CEO of Sora, a Series A company building HR automation for People teams to create better employee experiences.Featured

ElphaStaff's profile thumbnail
Thanks so much for joining us @lauradb!Elphas – please ask @lauradb your questions before Friday, November 19th. @lauradb may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
KristinaM's profile thumbnail
Hi @lauradb, I have a few questions I would love to get your point of view on:1. Culture is hard to create sometimes. How did you make sure you were hiring "the right people" for the job and the "right fit" for the team? Did you have misses in that department and how did you handle them? (Ex. Had to let go of someone who seemed like a good fit, but wasn't, etc.)2. What tactics and approaches for B2B marketing/growth & scaling did you find worked best, especially as an early stage startup?Thank you so much for taking the time to post here and give us a chance to pick your brain!
lauradb's profile thumbnail
1. Definitely hard to create — it has to be actively thought about all the time. I think this is the whole reason companies should start to think about culture earlier than they typically do — the people you hire are by far going to be the biggest driver of your culture, so you need to think about who you're hiring from the very beginning. I read so many things that say "hire amazing people and you'll have an amazing culture," but what does "amazing" mean? Does it mean they're all incredibly smart, regardless of their morality or collaboration skills? Does it mean they're incredibly nice people, regardless of whether they're qualified to do a job? Defining what you want your culture to be at the beginning helps you make hiring decisions so that your "amazing" bar has no ambiguity — it means what you want it to mean. Our values have explicit behaviors tied to them (see sora.co/company), and we ask really specific questions in the interview process to try to evaluate whether someone exhibits those behaviors. We try to be as objective as possible across job criteria and cultural evaluations, which is super, super important. See my response to @SuzRush below :)In terms of misses, I honestly think we've been incredibly lucky so far. We've definitely had to learn from some interview processes and we've had to add criteria to job descriptions after learning more about what a position needs. But by and large, all the upfront work involved in planning exactly what a given person would need to do to succeed and designing thoughtful interview processes based on that criteria has paid off quite a bit.2. Great question — the truth is that we just threw so many things at the wall and tried to see what stuck. Content has been really useful for us, especially because HR & People teams currently deserve more and better content. Connecting with people on LinkedIn and asking for feedback on our product has been useful for us, because we're able to build genuine relationships with people in the industry, helping our overall brand, and get great feedback on our product all the time. Asking investors for introductions has been huge — I ask everyone for introductions, from Sora investors I've known for 3 years to investors that reach out to me cold.Hope this helps! :)
KristinaM's profile thumbnail
@lauradb Thank you so much for taking the time to give me such thoughtful answers!
susannorton's profile thumbnail
Hi Laura!I have a mature company (25+ yrs) that I bootstrapped growth to date. I am now ready to launch my cyber security risk management SaaS products and will then go out for funding. How did you position your company so that investors were interested. Was it focusing on your UVP or something else?Thanks so much!Susan
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Hi Susan — that's amazing! Congrats on all the success so far, and good luck with fundraising :) There are so many different things investors are looking for that we tried to highlight:1. The problem you are solving is acute, it needs to be solved or else XYZ, and buyers are aware that it needs to be solved / aren't solving it well at the moment.2. You are solving it in ABC unique way, and you've spoken with impressive customers that love your approach. 3. Related to 1 and 2, you have a unique value proposition and existing solutions aren't cutting it.4. You have founder/company fit. Why are you the perfect person to solve this particular problem? In your case, you've done it for 25+ years so hopefully that's obvious to people :)Note that this was for our very first round, when we didn't yet have a ton of traction. For new products, the above is most important. For existing products, you'll want to share impressive metrics that demonstrate their success.Another note that unfortunately, the most common reason investors are interested is when other investors are interested. As soon as we had great investors backing us, the rest came flocking. Try to get introductions to great people you trust, and they should be able to help you find more!
susannorton's profile thumbnail
Thank you so much Laura! I really appreciate the time and the excellent advice. Have a wonderful day!Sue
Thudayy's profile thumbnail
Congrats on the raise @lauradb. I’m curious on how did you find early customers and close them in the early days? Did you have to do demos and closing yourself? For someone with a technical background, what would be the best ways to learn how to sell better from your perspective, especially to decision makers in HR/PeopleOps ?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Thanks so much!Yes — my cofounder and I were selling ourselves. We tried to build genuine relationships with a bunch of People Ops leaders at the very beginning so that we could get honest feedback from people we trusted, and it made it easier to try to sell to those people later.A few other tips for non-sales people that weren't super intuitive for me at first:1. Don't be afraid to push people a little bit with hard questions ("what would you pay for this?" or "is this something you'd push for from your manager?"), and don't be afraid to live with the uncomfortable silence that sometimes comes after. It doesn't feel natural, but you learn a ton from holding back from filling silence — it means the other person will likely try to fill it, and you'll probably get some interesting insight or learn more about how they're feeling!2. Always, always set next steps on a call. At the end of a call, make sure you leave an extra minute no matter what, in case they have a hard stop. Use that minute to talk about next steps. If next steps involve a meeting, or should be a meeting to catch up on next steps later (ideally there's *always* another meeting to set up in your process so you can continue to build rapport), say "should we get it on the calendar now?" It's a) so much easier to schedule when both of your calendars are pulled up, but (more importantly) b) way more likely to get scheduled while you're asking for their availability on video rather than sending an email they can easily ignore. The call can be 5 weeks out if they feel more comfortable with that, but they'll be much more likely to actually show up to something already on the calendar than they will be to schedule something over email with you.3. You can still be yourself. Be genuine, joke with people, be extremely empathetic if that's your strength. Just push yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone when it comes to important questions and next steps.
jessicamatthews's profile thumbnail
@lauradb This is so inspiring! I love the focus your company has on HR data integration. How did you focus in on this area?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Thank you so much! We decided to focus here because customers were pulling us that way — hard. Before we released integrations, it was all anyone would ever ask us about. (And they wouldn't buy without it.) We started hearing rants about integrations that were totally irrelevant to the conversation, showing just how painful they were for people. We could have just built simple integrations to connect to Sora, but we were seeing how painful integrations were as a whole and deeper integrations fit perfectly into our existing product and mission. Data integrity is SO important if you want to do anything at all with data, and data entry takes up a ridiculous amount of time that could be spent working with humans at your company.
jessicamatthews's profile thumbnail
Makes a ton of sense. And the cost of getting people data wrong is so steep. And yet, using data to make talent decisions is necessary. Super interesting!
nataliaohanesian's profile thumbnail
Hi Laura,I'm a founder of a tech startup, we have a strong team but are missing the key position of CTO. I don't have monetary compensation to offer but can offer equity. How do you recommend recruiting for a passionate team member who can lead our app development.
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Hi! That's definitely tough. We've been lucky to have funding for most of our journey, so we've always been able to offer monetary compensation, but my first guess would be to look on cofounder websites. People looking to found a company are sometimes aware that there may not be cash in the business for a little while (though it's important to recognize that it takes a lot of privilege to be able to take that leap). It's possible that the fact that you already have a team makes it hard to call this person a founder, but some people may be attracted to the fact that you already have something going. There's a good list of websites to find cofounders here: https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-startup-co-founder-dating-sitesAnd a helpful article here! https://review.firstround.com/the-founder-dating-playbook-heres-the-process-i-used-to-find-my-co-founder
nataliaohanesian's profile thumbnail
thanks for your help!
lyndaradosevich's profile thumbnail
Hi Laura - when you were in the very early days of Sora, how did you go about validating market demand and what did you learn from it?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Hi! I got some amazing advice from Bill Trenchard at First Round Capital while I worked there, way before I started Sora. He told me that particularly for founders with product/engineering backgrounds, it can be hard to avoid jumping straight into building. Many founders feel most comfortable when they're building and producing tangible things, but it's a surefire way to start building the wrong thing.He pushed me to talk to at least 50 customers before writing a single line of code. I followed his advice and learned SO much from those conversations. I made sure I got diverse perspectives across company stages, roles, etc., and it not only helped me refine our product ideas, it helped me understand way more of the language my buyer used, it helped me gauge demand and price sensitivity, and it created a lot of connections that I could reach out to again when we did build our product!
jacquelinechan's profile thumbnail
@lauradb How did you reach your first customers? Were your first customers HR departments at larger companies or SMBs? I'm aware it can take a very long sales cycle when targeting HR with enterprise software solutions.
lauradb's profile thumbnail
A lot of our first customers came from our networks! People we knew in HR from previous companies, people that our investors introduced us to (investor introductions were insanely helpful), etc.We focused on the mid-market at first, which we defined as about 200-2,000 employees. In our particular case, SMB was a little less likely to experience our pain point in an acute way (HR Operations are just much more difficult at higher volumes), and large enterprises were, to your point, going to take too long to sell to. We also focused on tech companies, which stereotypically move faster and are more willing to be early adopters of new software.There are definitely long sales cycles in large enterprise deals (no matter who you're selling to). We got advice to avoid it at the beginning, so we could learn more quickly from quick iterations. But now that we've proved out our product in the mid-market we're working on expanding our sales outreach to include enterprise customers as well. 🎉
jacquelinechan's profile thumbnail
This is very helpful, thank you for sharing your rationale and insight.
SuzRush's profile thumbnail
Hell yeah this is such a great intro!What's your single most important hiring practice?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Creating detailed rubrics and implementing the most objective hiring process we can, with lots of documentation. Sometimes I think "process" is considered a dirty word at a startup, and undeservedly so. Of course process for the sake of process is the worst, and there are fewer logistical nightmares that require a ton of process at startups than at large companies, but sometimes it's incredibly helpful. A lack of "process" doesn't mean there's no process, it just means each person is following their own process and it's not consistent or defined.All of this to say that I think hiring is THE most important place to implement process. Hiring process can help reduce bias, get faster alignment, create a way better candidate experience, the list goes on.We try to be as objective as possible in our rubrics by creating categories a given interviewer should focus on (e.g., for one of our PM interviews, there are two areas to focus on: attention to detail and inclusiveness in decision-making). We give examples of questions that can help tease out where someone lands for that category. And in the rubric the interviewer fills out after the interview, we ask for a numerical score from 1-4, with examples of what a 4 looks like, what a 3 looks like, 2, and 1. We try to remove any and all ambiguity.In our cultural interviews, we ask questions specifically pertaining to our values, and have the same scales and examples. We don't have a vague, open-ended question like "do you think this person is a culture fit," that can encourage bias. (In fact, we don't use the term culture fit at all, and instead talk about "culture-add.")It's not a small amount of upfront work for a hiring manager, as we all need to align heavily on the applicable categories, questions, and ratings ahead of time, but it leads to so much efficiency later on, and is by far the most fair way we can think to evaluate candidates.
MollieFleury's profile thumbnail
Hey Laura! What are some examples of culture and team building activities or habits you incorporate to make Sora a great place to work?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Oo I always struggle to give tactical answers to this type of question. I think the reason is that a lot of what (I think) makes Sora a great place to work is the behaviors that aren't necessarily scheduled, or considered activities — they're things like:1. Actively addressing and normalizing the fact that mental health is hard at startups. We're extra vulnerable with each other about this, and sometimes someone will announce to the company that they're feeling extremely burnt out and need to take the rest of the day. No one flinches — rather, everyone is extremely supportive, helps cover things that person needs to do, and totally understands that it's natural. 2. Taking PTO! Relevant to the above, I think taking PTO is so so huge. I take it *all the time* — and I think it's the only reason I survive. Everyone at Sora should a) know that taking PTO is actively encouraged and b) take it all the time, and if they don't it means I'm doing a bad job.3. Speaking to each other super honestly when tensions are high. We have all kinds of stress all the time, and humans are humans, but when things get heated, our employees have the tools to talk about it. We talk about why we feel triggered at the moment and explain the current state of our brains. Everyone listening empathizes and has more information to move forward in a productive and supportive way.We also do fun activities, like schedule a week each quarter where we travel to one city and work together, since we're fully remote most of the time. And have a fun "prompt" in our all-team meeting each week that every single employee answers, ranging from fun ("what ice cream flavor would you invent") to deep ("what's your greatest fear"), that really help us get to know each other.I think the biggest thing is just caring. Every single person at Sora cares about culture and knows it's key to our success :) and all the goodness stems from that!
gleiceaguilar's profile thumbnail
Hi! You are an inspiration! I'm Brazilian and I'm validating products that will be part of the portfolio of an Innovation and Design agency. I would like to know how to defeat traditional culture and facilitate the adoption of innovation in the health and agriculture sector. These are my worst nightmares. Thank you for your time and experience.
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Hi there! Thank you thank you :)Traditional cultural habits can be so, so hard to break. You'll probably have to chip away bit by bit, as it's just too hard to move mountains that have been there for decades. I think your path forward depends on a couple of things:Are you already high up at the company with a lot of respect? Amazing — just be loud. Talk about changes you need to see, and talk about them all the time. It will be hard, and people will roll their eyes, and you shouldn't have to be the one to do it, but it should help create at least a little movement in the directions you want. Do you have rapport with your manager? Or your manager's manager? Ask what they're doing to fix XYZ, and hold them accountable. Their job is to make you successful at work, so this is part of their job. Don't be afraid to push them on it.Do you interface with a lot of people at work? Be the change you seek, and hopefully it starts to rub off on others when they see your confidence and your success.Unfortunately, there does come a point where culture at a given company is too far gone. If the culture is toxic and no one is listening or interested in fixing it, and if you have the ability to leave, it's possible that this company doesn't deserve you and you should move on to a company that will value you and your ideas!
ThereseLCanares's profile thumbnail
Hi @lauradb thanks for being here. I’m a first time founder and just bringing on my first teammate. At what point in our growth (first 5..10..+ employees) should I start thinking about creating HR practices?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Such a good question, and an important one that most ask too late! There's an interesting distinction (with an admittedly blurred line) between an HR process/practice/policy and culture. Practices or policies are usually created with culture and fairness in mind, but often aren't needed until questions arise about those areas. For example, we still don't really have an expense policy, because the things we spend money on are relatively straightforward. We didn't have an official parental leave policy until we first hired a parent. (There are WAY too many things to do, as much as I would have loved to have come up with all the thoughtful policies we'd need from day one.)One of Sora's advisors (Jess Yuen, former Head of People at Gusto) helped me define culture as "the set of words, actions, and behaviors of a group of people." The words you use with each other, what you decide to share with each other (how vulnerable you are), the way you make decisions and who you include, the norms you create — these are all starting to form at the very beginning, and are definitely worth thinking about now (without spending all the time in the world on them).Thinking about the way you want your company to operate when it's 100 people can help you work backwards. Do you want to make sure people take PTO? Better start taking vacations when you have your first few employees, or they will never take vacations, and the people they hire won't take them, and it will be really hard to reverse course. Do you want to make sure everyone feels like they have a voice and can contribute to important decisions? Even when you're 5-10 people, the newest person will naturally feel less empowered than your first teammate. How will you make sure to include her, so that she in turn empowers those that come after her?One important note is that you can't possibly be perfect in every way, the same way you could never be a perfect parent. I think about culture incessantly, and yet at the beginning I unknowingly created a culture where people were afraid to share bad news with me, because oftentimes I would react negatively out of fear. Luckily, I had at least created a culture where people shared feedback often, so I heard from my team that this was happening and was able to fix it pretty quickly :)
ThereseLCanares's profile thumbnail
Wow, thanks for your candor and that personal example. This is SO helpful, will apply your advice. Appreciate your wisdom!
I’ve started to see a lot of new HR tech companies, using analytics (from Slack messages, to email content, to normal analytics like employee surveys) to create actionable reports/plans. What do you think of this new area?
lauradb's profile thumbnail
I think it makes a ton of sense. I talked about a related trend a little bit in my response to @rayazahdeh, and will copy that part here:"I think there's been a huge power shift brewing for a long time, which COVID accelerated, from companies to employees. Companies are finally realizing that they should actually care about their employees. In my opinion, that's the moral thing to do, but there are also huge productivity- and financial-related reasons it's important to invest in employee growth and retention.10 years ago, the big epiphany was that companies should care about their customers. Customer retention became the most important thing, and SO many customer-related tools started popping up. I think that's what's happening with HR/employee-related tools now. I think all companies will need to a) invest in great tools for their employees and b) maximize their People/HR teams' time, meaning automation will be a must moving forward."I think the People Analytics space is a big piece of this. We're finally collecting a lot of really important employee data, and need to understand more about it in order to act on it. It's often hard to generate actionable insights, but it's important — it should all hopefully be in service of providing a better place to work for employees.
rayazahdeh's profile thumbnail
@lauradb I love the mission of your company and your emphasis on company culture! How did you make the transition from software engineer to founder of a company with a mission to optimize people ops practices? I’m very interested to hear about your journey. Also, how do you see the future of HR/people ops evolving? Do you believe automation of HR tasks will become a norm across all sectors beyond just tech? Thanks in advance and hope to hear from you!
lauradb's profile thumbnail
Hi @rayazahdeh! Thanks :) and great questions.In the back of my mind, really since I was young, I've always wanted to start a company — but I didn't want to force it. While I was a software engineer at Mixpanel, First Round Capital (an early stage VC firm) reached out to me about an engineering position there. While the technical work was honestly less interesting, I thought it would be the perfect chance for me to be exposed to the early stage startup ecosystem, meet great founders and investors, see if the types of problems they were solving were things I also wanted to solve, etc. It was such an amazing experience and I learned SO much from the First Round community. I felt extremely supported when I made the transition to being a founder.As for why People Ops, that's two-fold:1. More broadly, over the years, I had been collecting what I called "company building" notes — basically notes on anything I read, from how to scale a product team to how to think about go-to-market strategies to cultural/management/leadership-related articles. I always cared most about the cultural articles, particularly around diversity, equity and inclusion, but also about how to scale thoughtfully, how to avoid common pitfalls, etc. — I thought it was fascinating and so important to think about that stuff from the beginning. 2. The inspiration for Sora came from my fiance, who had switched at his company from a customer-facing role into a People Ops role. He was particularly excited about diving into employee onboarding and making sure new hires were unbelievably excited and prepared for their roles when they started. He had a TON of ideas for initiatives he wanted to implement, from DEI initiatives to revamps of the product training curriculum — and long story short, he got to zero of those things when he started the job. There were just endless emails to send, calendar invites to schedule, tasks to coordinate across so many different stakeholders, etc. It was terribly administrative. And it had to be done, but it prevented him from doing all of the very important things that would actually impact culture (the reason he got into People Ops work). To put him out of his misery, I wrote him this hacky script that sat behind a Google Sheet and just automated emails and calendar invites. And it actually ended up saving him a ton of time (like 10-15 hours a week)! I asked First Round to introduce me to portfolio companies' HR teams to see if this was commonplace, and talked to 60 companies of various sizes. Almost everyone I spoke with had the same extremely manual, spreadsheet-driven onboarding problems — and that's how the idea for Sora was born.SO basically I got super lucky with a tactical problem that someone close to me experienced, which happened to line up with something I care a ridiculous amount about. On a meta level, we're helping companies improve their employee experiences, and at the Sora level, our own internal experience is the thing that I care most about :)--How I see the future of HR/people ops evolving:I think there's been a huge power shift brewing for a long time, which COVID accelerated, from companies to employees. Companies are finally realizing that they should actually care about their employees. In my opinion, that's the moral thing to do, but there are also huge productivity- and financial-related reasons it's important to invest in employee growth and retention.10 years ago, the big epiphany was that companies should care about their customers. Customer retention became the most important thing, and SO many customer-related tools started popping up. I think that's what's happening with HR/employee-related tools now. I think all companies will need to a) invest in great tools for their employees and b) maximize their People/HR teams' time, meaning automation will be a must moving forward.Sorry for the novel 😅 but thanks for the thoughtful questions!
rayazahdeh's profile thumbnail
That’s awesome! Thank you for the elaborate responses. What an interesting story - I love how you took a chance and ended up pursuing your passion for starting a company in such a natural way. I’ve heard very similar stories about people ops and HR roles being highly administrative at times, so it is inspiring to see how your company is helping other companies in providing a platform to tackle this issue and bring the “people” aspect back into the role as a top priority. I’m looking to transition into the people ops/HR career and am interested in learning from those who have professional experience in the field, so I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. Thank you again for sharing!