Office Hours: I'm the CEO & Founder of Lever, I'm Sarah NahmFeatured

Hi Everyone! I’m Sarah Nahm, CEO and Co-founder of Lever, a San Francisco based software company building modern recruiting software. We’re helping companies like Netflix, Spotify, Zoom and Mercedes Benz recruit and grow their teams. Lever went through the Y Combinator in Summer 2012.Before Lever, I worked at Google as a Product Marketing Manager helping to launch Chrome, and as a speechwriter for Marissa Meyer. Prior to Google I graduated from Stanford with a BS in Product Design and Mechanical Engineering.I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where I never expected I’d work in tech or found a company. Instead, growing up in the south I was interested in social justice and volunteered for civil rights organizations.. I think very much because of where I’m from, diversity & inclusion is a critical part of how we’re building Lever’s culture and scaling our team.Ask me anything about founding and scaling a company, bringing design thinking to your role as a startup CEO, building a team culture that is founded in diversity and inclusion, or something else!
Thanks so much for joining us, Sarah!Elpha – Please share your questions with Sarah before this Friday. She may not have time to answer every single one, so please emoji upvote the ones you'd most like her to reply to.
Hi @sarahnahm, is there a metric for measuring diversity and inclusion in a startup or company? Thanks.
I have two answers.One - there is no reason why every company should not be measuring their diversity along the lines of gender, ethnicity, and other protected classes. And also checking how underrepresented groups perform at key points in the talent life cycle to ensure there isn’t a significant delta.Second - as a leader, there’s a “truth” that I find more value in, which is holding myself accountable to employees. Specifically setting public D&I goals and making concrete commitments according to what matters specifically to us (versus the outside world). If I set a goal of having a 50:50 gender balance across our leadership team, I’m held accountable to that goal, and am on the line to explain how we’re going to achieve it and have to answer to my team if we miss it.
Thanks @sarahnahm!
Hello Sarah! A question for everyone: building a company from the ground up is insanely hard, how did you navigate the transition from being a Googler to co-founding your own company? What was that stage like for you and your cofounder?A question tailored to me: what was it like studying both art/product design and engineering while at the university? Those are both notoriously time-consuming majors, how did you manage it? Do you have sone pro time management/health management advice?Thanks!
Hi! Overall, I think I have a unique aspect to my experience as a “founder” because it wasn’t a goal of mine to start a company and I didn’t have the experience a lot of founders have of knowing for years that they have an idea/business they want to bring to life.When I first joined up with the Lever founding team, it was because I was drawn deeply to our problem, our users, and the 3-person team of people working on it. I was much more focused on building a valuable company and I purposely had the mindset of not thinking too many steps ahead. I was just focused on defining what was new about the problem (what had changed about the world), learning insights from observing users, and coming up with an innovative solution to the problem that real users would validate.For me personally, the transition from a corporation to a startup wasn’t that huge of a change. At the time I didn’t think of it as a major life transition, just pursued being deeply engaged in my work, which happened to lead me to very early stage startups.When I found myself in a very small team, the most dramatic change was in how responsible we all were for creating our own goals and purpose. At a mature business, you have a mission, you have OKRs, you have this quarter’s initiatives -- goals are handed down and individuals tend to work on how to make those real. At an early-stage startup, none of those exist and you’re responsible for creating every bit of clarity. It takes a lot of self-awareness in the team. The skills I most had to develop in an early stage startup environment were interpersonal dynamics, flexing my work- and communication-style to others, talking less and listening more, creating and adapting frameworks, learning from people who were really different from me and appreciating their differences, being more flexible.Going back to my time in school, I’d say that same pursuit of being “deeply engaged” is probably my answer to your question about balancing studying engineering and design. It was kinda crazy and I worked extremely hard and made sacrifices. But it was engaging. Prior to finding that work, I’d been dabbling in other fields and was often a bit bored. In school when I was working very hard (and sleeping really little) doing my design and “me” work, it felt like I was truly using all parts of my brain and leveraging every skill I had and was proud of. That feeling of engagement was more valuable to me than “balance” at that point in my life. And so, with a nod to the fact that I was very, very lucky to be healthy and financially sound, the masochism of doing both design and engineering actually felt like the right thing at the time.
Hi Sarah! I'd love to hear more about how you got Lever off the ground and recruited your first set of customers. Very curious to hear more about your early days growth story! Thank you!
Hi Yasmin -- We treated our first customers as R&D partners and sought out companies that were open to working with us that way. We actually embedded with the team at Twitter for 10 months to study the way they worked and built the product in real-time on what we learned. Our first 10 customers were similarly really close to the team and informed our product and vision.When we were first figuring out our GTM, it was a lot of dense learning and experimentation. Those first customers are critical, we started in tech and identified companies who wanted to work that closely with us. As we grew we always pushed ourselves to have customers that “didn’t trust comfortable” and to treat them like partners in the same way we did our earliest customers.
Thank you!!!very interesting.
First, what an interesting background and thanks for doing 0H! My question as a non-tech founder is how do you get the respect of your technical cofounders and more importantly how do you know they’re making the right decisions? Does it make sense for me to hire a private technical advisor of my own? Or if they find out will they be upset about it? TYSM!
Well first, I am a technical founder :). But I’d also say, don’t self-handicap. Learning the technical side isn’t that hard, and creating a true partnership with your co-founders where you all deliver different value is critical to get a successful business off the ground. In a B2B company, technical founders actually have the flip problem of not having a background in sales and marketing, which very quickly becomes a critical value-driver in the company. Often they don’t immediately understand the voice of the user, how to articulate value, market-fit and ultimately revenue. If you can’t figure out how to be fully direct, transparent and candid with your co-founders you will have a tax on the company. Ask yourself how to trust their technical expertise and how they can trust your value-add to make it a true partnership.
Thx...greatly appreciate it. So true ✌🏻
Hello! Thank you for taking time to share your knowledge.At what point in the progress did your company become an idea to something that you pursued? Did you have this idea in the back of your mind as you were journeying through your career and finally started it bit by bit?What were your biggest challenges when you first started and how did you solve those problems?Thank you!!
Hi Sarah! I assume you didn't have any background in recruiting, so why recruiting? The second question is how did you get your first users? And last but not least, what was the most important skill you believe helped you finding the product-market fit?I'm looking for the best way to get more diverse candidates into technical & decision making roles at European startups & companies, as well as get more funding for female founders, since having diverse founders & leaders organically attracts diverse candidates. Your feedback will be highly appreciated!!!!
Hi Sarah, can you explain a bit about how your product marketing background helped (or didn’t help) in starting your own company?Thanks!
It absolutely helped! Product marketing is all about translating value. Taking that approach to how we think about building our product, what features we prioritize, and then how we differentiate and sell has helped fuel our growth.
Hi Sarah!Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA. I'm currently working in the ATS-space so I have a couple questions: 1 – How do you think software can help companies hire better / hire more inclusive?2 – When did you at Lever decide to focus your acquisition on enterprise? Was it just a simple CAC/LTV calculation or were their other factors at play?Thanks and best of luck!Barbara
Congratulations for all of your growth. There is not much better than marrying service to work we love. So happy for you. One topic that is of interest is when building culture how do you make people feel safe to be fully who they are at work?
Hi Sarah, thanks for offering your wisdom! Lever is a great tool, we use it at our company.Since you have a background as a product designer, I'd particularly appreciate your take on this: How do you choose the right designers when scaling a product team?
Hi Sarah,Thank you for sharing your time with us. I've been trying to break into tech from Investment banking and finding it to be a little difficult. What common mistakes do you see people do when trying to pursue a new role. Also, i've been told that a position within my current field isn't necessarily the same in Tech. What advice would you give someone when scoping out a role within a tech company. ​
Hi Sarah,Thank you so much. Here is what I am trying to do: Help startup companies by providing engineering consulting, supply chain/procurement and leadership consulting.I am trying to raise money and get more paid clients. Any suggestions? Also it is hard to find a partner or co-founder in marketing. Any advice? Thanks again. Looking forward to hearing from you.