Innovative Talent: Identify. Empower. Lead.

This is the English version of my recent post (in Spanish)  for Think Big,  Telefonica’s blog on technology and entrepreneurship. 

Talent is the key to Tuenti’s success. Continuing to build and renew our talented team will be the foundation of our future. We strive to hire people smarter than ourselves, to always raise the bar, to always demand more. But we must go beyond finding talented people; we must create a place where they are free to move quickly, take risks, and challenge convention.

Identify. One of our key initiatives to identify talent is the Tuenti Challenge.  Now in its third year, the Challenge attracts thousands of engineering students to match wits against a set of computer science problems.  The best participants are invited to a final event in Madrid, where they compete in more challenges as small teams.  The winners –  incredibly bright, self-motivated people who are passionate about coding – receive prizes and job offers.

Empower. It is not enough to identify and hire talent; we need to empower these individuals to get things done.  At Tuenti, we strive to provide the environment and processes to do so:

  • We build cross-functional teams, trying to free each team to execute within their product area without any external dependencies.

  • We try to keep processes light, to have reviews done primarily by peers and tightly time-boxed to avoid delays.

  • We automate testing and tools to streamline integrating each team’s projects into our applications and websites.

Lead. A set of teams working mostly independently brings its own challenges. To harness their efforts into a single product demands effective, focused leadership; all the more so when your teams are full of ambitious, intelligent people who feel great personal ownership in what they’re doing.  You must articulate an overall vision, ask teams to own pieces of that vision,  but ultimately cull what they produce into a single, great, coherent product.  This will require that a lot of features – the result of months of personal efforts in which people feel great personal ownership – must be cut.  Great leadership will be able to motivate people around the overall vision even in the face of such personal disappointments.

Centering Tuenti’s culture around talent has gotten us far.  We’ve built a great core social networking product; we’ve pivoted to integrating that with a mobile operator – to create an innovative, cross-platform social communications service.  It includes some great features: cross-platform messaging (web / Android / iOS / Windows Phone / BlackBerry), voicemail in the cloud, social call history, app and web-based account management – but we are just starting on the journey. We look to our focus on talent – finding the best people, empowering them, and rallying them around the vision – to bring us our future success.