Building Talent Communities with Primary’s Gina Yocom

Gina YocomDirector of Talent at Primary Venture Partners

As recruiters and talent managers, we have to think long-term. We will not have a role immediately for everyone we look to place, but this does not mean we should not build relationships with them. Gina Yocom is the Director of Talent at Primary Venture Partners, a seed-stage firm that specifically invests in New York City companies.

Episode Transcript





[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.


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[0:00:59.7] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent to Me is Primary’s Gina Yocom. Gina, welcome to the podcast, how are you today?


[0:01:06.1] GY: Thank you, I’m so excited to be here, I’m doing great, I’ve heard wonderful things and was very honored to be on this podcast.


[0:01:13.1] RS: Yeah, I mean, you’re among good company, you definitely belong here. You’re the second person in a row who said it’s an honor and that’s like, shocking to me, I’m like, you all are really high operators, you belong here, this is exactly the kind of person I wanted to speak to. I’m really pleased to have you on. Where are you broadcasting from today?


[0:01:30.3] GY: I am in Brooklyn Heights, New York. As you can see, we’re having some nice weather today. Holding it down, been here for most of the time for the past two years.


[0:01:40.4] RS: Yeah, you have a quite a view there, it looks like a beautiful skyline outside your window.


[0:01:44.7] GY: Yeah, we were looking at downtown Brooklyn.


[0:01:46.9] RS: Not bad, not a bad place to work from home as it turns out. Yeah, I have so many questions for you Gina. You have a really unique role within the VC firm and I’ve spoken to talent partners before on this podcast but they’re kind of the same and yet they’re all different. I would love to just kind of get high level overview of maybe first, we could talk about Primary a little bit and I would just love to hear you come explain what it is you do.


[0:02:10.7] GY: Yeah, absolutely. Starting with Primary, for those of you who aren’t familiar with us, we are a seed stage firm, specifically we invest in New York City companies. I think a lot of VC firms are more thesis-driven or industry-focused and for us, we believe that we can have the biggest impact with our portfolio by being geographically focused.


For early-stage businesses and founders that aren’t even founders yet, maybe they’re still in that role, we’re building a big enough brand here in New York. If we are building relationships and that works with the future founders that hopefully, if you are an operator or founder of thinking about what they want to do next that we are your first call.


Because of that, we’ve decided to be very focused in New York. We have a lot of diversity across the portfolio so I mean that in a variety of ways but specifically, you look across the portfolio, I used to say it’s split really evenly between B2B and consumer and that doesn’t even really cover it. We have a ton of healthcare, FinTech, starting to kind of dabble in Ed Tech for some reason, investments and a lot of marketplace business sprinkled across that and so we get to work with a lot of variety of different companies and just to give a little bit of flavor there, maybe some later stage companies you’ve heard of.


We have Slice, the pizza app, Sheesh, Latch who just had a fun exit recently and K Health, Alloy, Invest Well, Alma, Also a lot of kind of touching from mental health to a pizza app, a lot of different technologies and problems that they’re solving. It’s been fun to kind of work with a variety of different types of founders but also a variety of different businesses.


[0:04:05.8] RS: I would point out how commonly having a pizza app is related to my mental health so those two make sense as far as I’m concerned.


[0:04:14.3] GY: You’re right. Those are in the same bucket, it makes sense.


[0:04:18.5] RS: Definitely, would you tell me about the Gina of it all?


[0:04:21.6] GY: Yeah, I started with Primary three and a half years ago. I came in as this sort of not a catch all but I came in as a role as director of community and I had KPIs and goals that I think we wanted to get to but I didn’t have a very structured job description. It was the North Star is we need to build networks of the best go-to market operators in New York City tech and that somehow needs to be an asset to the portfolio companies.


That can look like advice and expertise that we’re able to tap them for, that could be potentially they’re referring us a deal flow and that can also be talent. Kind of coming with this total white space on well, seems really big and kind of coming at this of prior to primary, and I worked at in Andreessen Horowitz where I was on the market development team. A very different role and as I was working across all of the companies there, I was obviously building relationships with great operators.


I kind of started there in terms of building my – that foundation. I was able to kind of build the relationships in sales and started to see success and so as that community grew, it was really easy to start to see where the value ad can be and no surprise to anyone listening to this podcast probably is that talent was the biggest value ad.


Once those hires started to happen, it was just, “Okay, can do more of that, make that happen again and again.” I kind of thought about this as like, “Okay, we’re still going to build this from a community aspect” because I think at the end of the day, people that are not active still want to build relationship with the VC and we can still ad value to them, whether they’re going to make a jump tomorrow or they’re going to make a jump in three years.


We should be getting to know them, we should be hopefully, whether that’s hosting a dinner or just connecting them with another person that we think that they would get along with, we’re adding value so that when they are ready, same approach that they’re coming to us when they’re, you know, ready to make that jump.


Naturally, my role evolved into director of talent and the approach again is the same but a lot more structure and a lot more focus. Fast forward to today, we’ve had a lot more clarity on where we can be the most impactful and where I can actually tangibly move the needle for a lot of these. A lot of hiring is this sort of zero to one seat stage companies is where I try to focus most of my efforts and so I’ve been Able to kind of focus there and then as well as building these networks that are very specific.


The first two networks I launched this year was a sales mastermind network. This is for individual contributor sellers at the top New York City companies and it’s an exclusive community, people are applying to get in and in return, we’re giving great programming. Today, we actually hosted a roundtable with a sales leader Andrew [Rosito 0:07:48.9] who is SCOP of sales at Extend and he talked about how to leverage data to make you a smarter seller.


He talked about how to grow in your sales career and what he looks for as like the top sellers going beyond just hitting your numbers. Really giving this amazing experience to these individual contributor sellers that we believe is a huge asset to the portfolio. Hiring that first two 30 AEs is probably the hardest and so that’s been a really fun community to grow, launched it in March and now we’re sitting at around a hundred and thirty members and then I did the same thing with the chief of staff mastermind network. 


Half of that group is current chief of staff, the other half are aspiring business operations professionals and again, bringing in programming on professional development and peer networking, with this whole idea that we’re getting to know great talent and the idea is, we’re building these talent pools that we can pull into the portfolio at some point in time.


[0:09:01.0] RS: I love the community building approach because particularly, at the zero to one stage, as you said, this was kind of happening already. When you’re at that stage, no one’s clicking “apply now” on your website, right? If you’re responding, no one knows who you are, you may not have a lot to recruit with. What do you even say about your company, right? 


What ends up happening is that people go into their networks, right? Who do you know? Their networks look like they do so there’s a whole problem there but having this group of folks, these cultivated folks of high operators that you can draw from over time just feels like a much better alternative and also, even past the zero to one stage.


The, “just in time” hiring that happens otherwise where it’s like, “Oh we have this role open, let’s see who can we get in this six-week period to be interested.” That is such a limited window with which to view filing in that role. Wouldn’t it be better to have been cultivating the hires and the pipeline for this role over a long period of time so that when it’s time to hire it, you can draw from a much bigger group? 


That just makes all the sense in the world to me. I’m curious though, the community building aspect is typical. You explained a little bit about how you’re able to add value. Is it as simple as just hosting events for folks? I’ve struggled with that on this podcast, I want to try and bring the audience together but I’m not just going to dump them in a Slack room, you know? Or a Discord channel.


I’m curious, as you cultivate relationships with lots of talent over a long period of time, is it as simple as checking in? How do you make sure you’re delivering values so that when you have an ask for them, “Hey, there’s this portfolio, company has open role” that they’re receptive to it?


[0:10:42.9] GY: That’s a great question, I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. I lean on for the more formal networks to get this off the ground, it was putting on a customer success hat, I was doing a lot of customer discovery and my next frontier is a growth marketing community. I’ve been having a lot of conversations around.


For you to join a community like, what would be really, really valuable? For growth marketing, is that working sessions where you’re bringing problems, peer sessions where you’re bringing problems to the table and kind of working through different acquisition channels and to really listening to what people would find valuable before you go off into it. I had an idea what people in individual contributor roles are curious how to often times curious how to get on a path to management.


That felt maybe obvious but also something that I definitely asked, sort of my testier members before recruiting them in so that’s like, on the formalized network side. Of course, there’s folks I’m talking to all day that don’t fit that exact box and I think it comes down to being as helpful as you can in the conversation even if it is giving advice or feedback or I always love learning about people’s roles and so I usually have like a really great connection when I’m asking questions about the challenges that they’re facing or how they think about their career long term. 


Then, I don’t think it always has to be so much like, “Okay, as a follow-up, I will connect you with so and so” if there wasn’t like a set agenda, it will be like, “This was an amazing conversation. I really like you, you have to reach out if there’s something I cand do to be helpful.” If that’s connecting you with someone else in VC, if that’s inviting you to the next even that I throw in – that it’s covering these topics that you discussed, whatever it is that can make someone feel like, “Okay, I made that connection” and you feel strong enough that that person will reach out when the time is right and leaving that door open.


I think another more of like a branding comms thing is I try to gear up more on the talent marketing, so if you’re not hearing from me directly, hopefully you’re seeing things are posting on LinkedIn and Twitter, which I need to up my Twitter game but separate conversation, but you’re seeing things that we’re putting out there that maybe if it has been a year and a half since we’ve chatted which actually just happened last week, someone that really impressive reached out to me to – I hadn’t talked to him in two years.


He was an individual contributor when I talked to him, he is now leading a team of 17 people and is ready to make hiss move at a seed stage company. I was floored honestly when I got this email because I was like, he was so impressive and I honestly have no idea that he would have thought about me and he was like, “I always thought, when the time was right, I was going to reach out” and so it doesn’t have to be so, like, “Check all of these boxes” but hopefully you’re leaving an impression that someone will reach out when the time is right. And then the second piece is reminding them on LinkedIn or whatever social channels that you are there and you are hiring and you have a lot of great opportunities.


[0:14:21.8] RS: Yeah, it’s interesting, it’s a multifaceted role, there’s that – that sort of long-term approach where it’s like, “Look, I don’t have an agenda, I’m not going to have this conversation and then immediately ask you for something and then immediately try and solicit you on whatever.” There’s the content marketing play when you’re asking folks what would be valuable in a community for you, what kind of material would you really like to see. Are you seeing that there is like this thirst for community? That there is this desire for high operators to kind of connect in this way? 


[0:14:52.5] GY: Definitely and at all levels I think it just looks a little bit different. I think a lot of – so there is the professional development for I think folks that are mid-level that are either call it manager to director that are trying to get into that exact and so learning about just general leadership and management as well as getting excellent in their function. At the leadership level, let’s call that VP level and above, one of the things that we started to do when asked in May or last April rather, everything shut down, all of the dinners that we had scheduled for these leaders were cancelled and we’re throwing out that playbook. 


Now, it’s “Okay, how do we keep this conversation going and also how do we like to foster this into community?” and so, I started hosting these what we called functional huddles. I wish I had a more clever name, I probably could have worked on that and I hosted one for operations, sales, marketing, customer success and people ops, so once a month and so we come together and I asked for topics in advance. Sometimes people submit them, sometimes they don’t. 


Some of the best, it’s probably 10 to 12 people that show up, you always have like you’re kind of four to five regulars and then the rest kind of very interchangeable and the best ones are when it’s like, “Can I share my screen? This is what my old chart looks like and I really need help and does this look right to you?” and so really kind of getting tactical. I think to answer your question, there is definitely a craving for professional development and you have companies like OnDeck that are doing amazing things in that space and Upserve, I’ve heard amazing things about as well. 


Then you have sort of that leadership level that is like really trying to jam on best practices and what they are working on and kind of the tactical stuff and are also very eager to help other people, so I have kind of leaned on them to run these rent tables for the more junior folks as well as like they teach something that they’re really, really good at to their peers. 


[0:17:22.9] RS: Yeah, I want to reiterate, I really just do love this approach because it seems like the only way to really make sure that you can place like a 10Xer or your dream candidate in a role, that’s not just getting lucky, right? Because if you – if the other route is you just have to hope that you’re hiring for the role at the same point that they are just starting to get a little bit displeased with their current job or they are starting to look for a new thing and you just have to get lucky like that timing aligns as oppose to cultivating this community over a long period of time. 


This approach by the way too has proliferated all of the CRM HR tech tools and that kind of thing, so I think it is like validated by that as well. 


I’m curious though, in addition to community building, are you doing the more standard director of talent-y things? Are you visiting the portfolio companies and then kind of helping them be strategic about setting up processes? 


[0:18:15.4] GY: Definitely. We’ve tried to, I mean, now that we’re making more investment, you know we have over 50 companies in the portfolio at this point and I can’t run every search. 


[0:18:25.3] RS: That must be hard to hear for your portfolio founders to hear. 


[0:18:29.1] GY: Yes, it is and expectation setting is a skill that I am learning and still refining. I would say, yeah, I probably spend 30% of my time in the portfolio at this point. Probably last year it was 50% and now, I’ve kind of gone into how do we think about scale and building these pipelines. And so, I probably spent 30% of my time today alone. I interviewed a candidate for someone, I gave them feedback on the candidates they have in the pipeline and then I kind of shook some trees and got some referrals for them to build that pipeline. 


I did the same thing yesterday for a different company, so there is definitely like these roles where I can just have a big impact based on hilarity, where I have these sort of networks already built and then there is also the advice and like more strategic and hiring side of – I mean, how do you think of these core competencies, what are you actually looking for and actually helping the founder especially if your five employees and there is so much going on and so much work that can be done. 


It is like getting really clear on, “Okay, but what is this role?” and if you can boil it down to five things that this person needs to be really, really good at, what are those things and that should be your score card. There’s definitely those conversations happening but I think as of 2021, it’s been let’s go really deep in these networks so that we are able to make an impact and not kind of do that in a half-assed way. 


[0:20:15.2] RS: Yeah, so that’s got to be a challenge because you are not the sourcer for all of these portfolio companies even though like they probably desperately need one. I’m curious, one, how are you able to zoom out a little bit? What are kind of the procedural things that you would recommend and then is that also something that Primary can offer? Can you also help them some sort of like more individual contributor level help when it comes to recruiting? 


[0:20:41.8] GY: Great question. The process and just so I’m clearer on that ask, what are the sort of the frameworks I recommend for process on that? Okay, great. I think every founder or hiring manager has different blind spots, so I think it depends but at a basic level, it’s looking at the scope of what they need and often times it’s, you know I will read a job description and the feedback I have to say is, “Okay, so this is four different people and you also want this person to have five years of experience and this is a unicorn” so we are not setting ourselves up for success here. 


At a base, I am being very clear and aligned on what we’re looking for so that we’re not all over the place on that candidate pipeline and then from there, it’s pretty basic like creating that draw packet from soup to nuts around the job description, what are those five core competencies and what is each person’s role in that interview process. If I know any talent folks that are listening to this podcast, know all of this so this won’t be any new groundbreaking information but for a lot of people that are running these processes for the first time, it really boils down to that. 


Then from there, it’s like the feedback loop with the candidate and the job market right now and where I feel like I’ve been coaching the most is on candidate experience and the speed in which you have to move to close a candidate right now. The amount of times this year that we have gotten to an offer and that person is sitting on at least three or more offers is astronomical. It has blown my mind, so I think that sense of urgency has been a common theme of 2021. 


Not only best practices and making sure we’re setup for success at the beginning but then putting people in processes quickly as we can and giving them a great experience so that we can get that offer out if we are ready to make a decision. I think if people have been out of the hiring game for a long time, they’re surprised by that, so I think that’s been a big focus. 


[0:22:56.6] RS: Yeah, it sounds like just sort of educating folks on the realities of the talent market right now is a big part of it and you would see that for having zoomed into dozens of different talent processes right across the portfolio. 


[0:23:11.0] GY: Absolutely and then to answer your second question, very timely. We just hired my counterpart, Alicia Scully. She is incredible and she actually – her background is coming from a technical recruiting agency background. She is joining us as the technical recruiting background, I’m on the go-to market side. My approach has been community, really focused on the top of the funnel and she’s going to be – she has been that person in the first 30 days that has been able to source candidates on one job description, coach them through how you should be thinking about pipeline and in review processes. 


What’s really exciting right now is we’ve did a customer discovery, which was with our portfolio and the biggest feedback is, “We need more help on technical recruiting. You know, you send us a candidate, that is not enough.” And so, we listened and we’re essentially going to be hiring a mini-agency where Alicia will be hiring for recruiters that will be trained by us, trained on the businesses and the portfolio and then can be essentially deployed into companies for a cost that would cover their salary. 


Whether that’s you are going on a hiring sprint and need just 40% of this recruiter’s time, think about it as you are now hiring for what – a contract recruiter except for you know that they’re really quality and embedded and proven out by us and they’re also trained by our firm and they are coming in already totally spun up on your business and your challenges. That is in process and we are effectively hiring and the founders have already been reaching out to us like, “When is this happening? Can I get dibs on the first person that you hire into this?” Really exciting and also expectation setting on how fast we can get this done. 


[0:25:23.1] RS: Yeah, it’s so cool. It’s like you’re spinning up your own sort of agency just for your portfolio, which is cool for I don’t know. It seems like an awesome job opportunity for a recruiter. It reminds me of I’ve had friends who did big for consulting and they’re like, “Yeah, you know if I hate a project well, I am only on it for four weeks or something.” And so, you got these dynamic new projects. If you have ever been bored by pitching the same, having the same candidate like first interview, pitching the company saying the same thing over and over again, this is an awesome opportunity to mix things up, so I can see why your portfolio companies would want it too. 


[0:25:59.9] GY: Yeah, it’s been a huge – as soon as we start pitching it, there is no pitch needed. It’s just like, “Yes, so when can they start?” and we’re like, “We have to hire them first.” 


[0:26:10.1] RS: Yeah, was this sort of born out of like how hard it was for the portfolio companies to hire their own recruiters or were they not ready to hire their own recruiters or what was the need that you are hoping to fill with this? 


[0:26:23.8] GY: Yeah, so we survey our, what we call our customers or the founders of the portfolio and the biggest piece of feedback was, “We need more help on technical recruiting. You’ve been great in these areas, technical recruiting continues to be a big gap.” And so, to answer your question, I think it is actually a mix. I think it’s people that have full-on hiring teams still needs support. 


They are going on a certain sprint and then it is also like where the pain is really, really felt is like the people before they are hiring that head of talent and maybe they are in the process of hiring that head of talent but they need to hire four engineers desperately and that is causing like a slowdown, a significant slowdown of growth for the business. 


It doesn’t really matter like I guess at a certain point it does matter what stage you’re at but it’s for sure really felt that the early stages as you can imagine and what we touched on but it is even – I’ve been surprised at how much this has been received for companies that are Series C and sometimes just like need to go into a hiring sprint and their team of three are not able to support it.


[0:27:45.3] RS: Yeah, absolutely. It makes sense and it is just exciting to kind of hear about this. One, the community building play and this like mini-agency that you’re going to be able to loan out recruiters. These are I think the new sort of approaches to talent and hiring that we are going to see a lot more of so I am just like thrilled to hear that primary, sort of paving the way in these two regards. 


We are Gina, creeping up on optimal podcast length here. At this point, I would just say thank you so much for joining me and thank you for your candor and thanks for sharing all of your experience and all of the awesome stuff that primary is doing. I really love hearing it. 


[0:28:18.8] GY: Thank you. I would love to do a part two, this was so fun. 


[0:28:22.8] RS: Yeah, absolutely. 




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