Adam Ward



Adam is a Visiting Talent Partner at Gigascale Capital and brings over 20 years of in-house recruiting experience at high-growth companies, including Pinterest, Facebook and Qualcomm.

As a founding partner of Growth by Design, Adam specializes in guiding early-stage founders on how to effectively recruit and build their teams from day one with the belief that companies can grow quickly and intentionally at the same time. Adam holds a BA in communications and psychology from Wake Forest University.


Building Teams that Build the Future

Adam discusses how recruiting can become integral to company culture and offers tips for landing game-changing hires, in a conversation with Kristen, Gigascale’s Head of Communications.

Tell me about your career and finding your way to recruiting.

Like most people, I fell into recruiting. It happened to be early in my career, and I never left. My first recruiting role was a summer internship at a startup. I loved connecting people with opportunities and helping them find the right career path. If I could spend all of my time introducing people, I would. It’s the best part of my day.

That first experience led me to pursue recruiting full time after college. My early years were focused on university recruiting, working to attract the best computer science graduates to a small Austin startup called Trilogy. We were up against Microsoft, which was the hottest place for grads at the time. It was a great training ground for learning how having a clear vision and strong culture can pull people to your company even if you’re not a big name.

What was your secret to pull folks away from the household name?

Honestly, we just cared more. We spent more time getting to know students in settings outside of career fairs. When you take the time to get to know someone, you start to understand what motivates and drives them. Then, you can marry a person’s characteristics with a company’s core values. That’s the magic of good recruiting and what makes a fantastic addition to a team rather than just filling a headcount.

What are common things people get wrong about recruiting?

I like to instill in companies that a recruiting function shouldn’t solely own recruiting. It should be something everyone in the company does. Companies slip up, especially as they grow, when hiring managers hand off the responsibility of recruiting and aren’t actively crafting their team.

People want to work with great people, so I coach teams on recruiting more as a culture where everyone thinks about who I want to work with. What are the gaps in my team? How do I need to complement other skills? From there, it’s building muscle around interviewing and pitching the company. Like any other skill, this part gets better as you practice it.

Any tools you use to help companies build their teams?

We focus on developing and clarifying core values. Recruiting is so much easier when you can, as a company, name here’s what we stand for, and here’s what we care about. From there, recruiting becomes assessing what a candidate cares about and whether that matches the stated values.

When working on core values, it’s vital to make sure everyone has the same definitions. So, we translate values into a rubric of competencies and actions or behaviors.

Founders often repeat that they want someone with “high horsepower” or who “acts like an owner.” But these phrases mean different things to different people. If you did a Google image search, one person might see a smart consultant, another a young high-potential person. High horsepower sometimes means intellectual capacity; other times, it means hardworking or grit. We clarify early on what these terms actually mean.

I see how getting on the same page also speeds up the hiring process.

Exactly. It also makes new hires more successful in their role. What’s interesting about recruiting is that a ton of time is spent interviewing someone. Then, the slate gets wiped clean once they join. We might realize they could be more effective communicators during interviews but still hire them for other strengths. Six months later, the manager is frustrated by their weak communication skills.

A shared definition of what “great” means allows you to connect the dots between hiring and ongoing performance management. For that new hire who needs to improve communication skills, their onboarding plan should focus on supporting that if it’s a competency we’ve all agreed is important.

That might sound hard for a busy team. How do you help them see the value?

I like to point out what breaks when scaling fast. You’ll inevitably have to make trade-offs, and what tends to happen is you subconsciously sacrifice quality. Once the quality threshold is broken, it’s tough to get back. I’m sure you’ve heard the trope that A-players hire A-players, but B-players hire C-players. It’s true and will keep dropping the bar over time.

The starting point is taking a beat to build a shared understanding of what great looks like, mapped to your core values. From there, we push for rigor and consistency. It’s easy to be consistent by having everyone go through the same interview process. But it’s harder to sustain rigor — are you being as demanding as you should be? Are you holding the bar high enough?

What tends to break when these basics aren’t set is that founders end up as the sole quality screen. They meet every candidate because they can’t fully trust the process. It sucks for them, and it’s entirely unscalable. The final founder interview should be more of a sell than an assessment. By putting rigor throughout the process, you protect the founder’s time and ensure quality is maintained as you grow.

Is there anything that’s surprised you about working in climate tech?

I’m struck by the breadth of people involved — chemical, biological, mechanical engineering, and many more. An incredible diversity of skill sets are needed to approach this complex challenge, and interacting with all of them keeps things exciting.

There’s also an incredible collaborative spirit in climate tech. It’s all hands on deck, and we’re rowing together. You don’t have that feeling anywhere else, where it feels more like winners and losers. People in climate tech treat each other as colleagues even though they may work in different companies. It’s a special spirit. This problem will take the rest of our lives to solve, and so it makes sense to see everyone around you as a collaborator on this big shared mission.

What was your personal motivation for working in climate?

I’ve always wanted to work on the biggest challenges in tech. Earlier in my career, it was putting desktop computing power into phones or connecting the world. Now, climate tech takes that to an entirely new level. It’s 10x the scope in terms of impact and challenge. These companies have massive missions, rethinking how things are done and intrinsically connecting business to impact.

Being in California and living on the coast, I see the daily impacts and question the world I’m leaving to my kids. This is the most existential threat facing my generation and their future. I feel a deep responsibility to contribute. I hope my experience connecting people with opportunities helps bring the brightest minds into this work.

One last question. What do you think the world will hopefully look like in a decade?

My biggest hope is that within 10 years, we’ll have proven a handful of core new technologies and moved them from research into application. More broadly, I hope there’s a shared understanding of the threat we face and more collaboration among government, industry, and the brightest minds to overcome it.

Adam’s Go To Resources

Information in this space is fragmented. I tend to rely on curated newsletters like Superorganism and LinkedIn, where I find articles or podcast episodes recommended by people in my network who also work in climate.

Superorganism Substack