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“Why Datavant?” — The Answer to the Question I Ask the Most

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Holly May
December 22, 2018

“Why Datavant?” — The answer to the question I ask the most

In virtually every one of the 111 job interviews I conducted this quarter, I asked: “so, why are you interested in Datavant?”

I joined 5 months ago — I was recently on the other side of the table. I have thought a lot about this answer, both as a candidate and now as Head of People and Operations.

Every candidate we hire tends to have their choice of job opportunities; we compete for talent with every other startup and with everything from Google to McKinsey to graduate school to hedge funds. There are dozens of valid reasons for the anticipated “Why X?” interview question: mission, industry, product, geography, role, culture, manager, mentorship, fun, short-term compensation, equity, caliber of talent, growth opportunities, and more.

No company can be everything to everyone. We try to score well on many of these (and especially high on caliber of team, culture, mentorship, and impact of mission). But we’re seeking to be truly best in the world on one dimension: personal growth.

Optimizing for Personal Growth

For candidates who optimize for personal growth, I think we can be one of the best companies in the world.

For the mathematically inclined, Datavant offers the best derivative on your capabilities and knowledge: Datavant offers the highest d(your capabilities)/d(time) for 2 reasons:

  1. Pace of company growth
  2. Cultural value on personal growth

Pace of company growth

It’s been 15 months since we were founded, and we’ve had a lot of progress: we’ve gone from merely ideas in a Google doc to:

  • raising $40 million
  • completing an acquisition & integration
  • building a rockstar team of 25 (+3 accepted offers for January)
  • building a strong product that generates meaningful value for dozens of customers
  • generating several million dollars of ARR and growing fast

That’s a lot. We have lofty ambitions (connecting the world’s health data to improve patient outcomes) and every aspect of our company — sales, customers, product offering, headcount — is growing extremely fast in pursuit of our vision. Datavant is growing much faster than the vast majority of employers, where a common model for a successful employee is: join, go through a phase of orientation and training, then climb the functional and cultural learning curve to succeed, then plateau and sustain a level of comfort or mastery.

Datavant is growing much faster than the well-known client services firms and titans of tech, with their model of join, orientation, steep learning curve, then sustained mastery until a promotion cycle or role rotation cycle happens, when the learning curve starts again. A successful employee here has a d(capabilities)/d(time) with stepwise shape. At most of these companies, both the career ladder and scope of roles are defined.

Due to the vastness of our vision and our pace of growth, there’s always more to accomplish, more value to deliver to customers, new problems to solve. The scope of new challenges yet unsolved is vast and this motivates Datavanters.

Cultural value on personal growth

Even as we grow quickly, we have a strong culture of putting people into stretch roles and promoting from within. One of our culture values is to “grow leaders, don’t hire managers” — meaning we like to start someone from day 1 with significant projects (e.g., immediately owning customers or accounts, presenting a strategy to the CEO after 9 work days) and keep them in a stretch role, and ensure they’re still stretching years later.

Role scope and company size are often inversely proportional. Smaller companies have bigger roles, while bigger companies have smaller roles for most employees. At smaller-sized companies, not only are the job descriptions wider and more ambiguous, there is plenty of unowned territory in between roles, meaning you can grow and take on new topics and flex new muscles. At larger companies, roles tend to be defined clearly, with narrow and inelastic boundaries, and two colleagues’ job descriptions may directly abut one another, leaving no space to stretch. This means for any role you take at Datavant today, from software engineer to business operations to customer success, you have a huge amount to own, to learn, to impact, and to grow. You get to make a lot of decisions per day. No one gets bored.

But even among high-growth startups, an intense commitment to personal growth culture is unusual. Most companies hire above their existing employees as they scale. We look for ways to not do that, investing in as much training, mentorship, and stretch projects as possible.

A Compounding Effect

Just like investments over time, personal growth tends to be exponential. Early-career individuals often have the capacity to increase their personal skills at 2–3x per year. Most top employers create opportunities for ~50% year-over-year personal growth, because the company isn’t growing quickly enough and/or because they don’t promote from within or put people into stretch roles. While the difference between 2x and 50% doesn’t seem like much initially, it very quickly compounds — within a few years, people who have optimized for personal growth and taken advantage of the right opportunities have dramatically different career trajectories, influence, and impact.

Knowing What Makes Us Different

Datavant is not for everyone, and we are equally attentive to what are are not.

We’re not a 40 hour workweek, we don’t have gyms and salons on campus, we’re a new brand that isn’t widely known (yet), we don’t fly in first class, and we have a fair amount of constant internal change that comes with growth.

These are all reasonable things for people to care about. This is why I always ask candidates “Why Datavant?” — to make sure we’re the right fit for them as well. But when an important attribute to a great candidate is personal growth — we know we can be the optimal place for them.

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Datavant is hiring across many roles.


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