The ABC of Startup Recruiting

Later today I am giving a talk titled the “ABC of Startup Recruiting” as part of a speaker series that Susan is putting together for Ziggeo. This is the first time I am giving this talk and I am quite excited about it as this is such a critical topic for startups. The opening slide is a picture of Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glenn Ross in the famous “Always Be Closing” scene. For startups and hiring the ABC instead stands for “Always Be Collecting Candidates.” I have found that the best entrepreneurs are always keeping a list of people they some day would like to hire. I also discuss how that motto applies all the way from putting together your founding team to growing past 50 employees.

My illustration of the founding team are the Beatles. They illustrate three things about founding teams. First, it’s often a very good idea to bring friends or at least people you know exceptionally well into the founding team (George Harrison was Paul McCartney’s friend). Second, even in the founding team you may eventually need to replace someone (Ringo Starr replacing Pete Best). Third, it’s OK to have inexperienced co-founders if the chemistry is right (the Beatles were teenagers when they got going!).

I then move on to early hiring as you go beyond the founding team but are still below 10 employees. Here I emphasize the importance of what I think of as startup attitude, which can be loosely summed up as “Keep Calm and Get Shit Done.” Actually both parts of this are relevant. Startups can involve a fair bit of stress and so having folks who can keep calm is important. And of course shipping product is essential even if the early versions are a bit embarrassing.

From there I go through the early growth phase which I characterize as going past 10 employees. In fact I single out the relatively narrow range from 10-20 employees. There are a bunch of reasons for that. This is when you first need some amount of structure in your organization (could just be loose teams). That in turn suggests you should start to hire with some job descriptions. Also you need to really make an effort on diversity because otherwise it will get a lot tougher going forward. And a very important point that people tend to neglect: you need to really start investing in onboarding. Put differently the 10-20 employee range tends to be where you should build the foundation for going from 20-50.

From 20-50 employees hiring become all about building and managing the funnel. I can’t overemphasize the importance of having a large funnel. Remember from the beginning: Always Be Collecting Candidates. This starts with social media outreach and includes speaking at conferences, recruiting on campus, etc. If you are succeeding in building a large funnel scheduling tools and screening tools (such as Ziggeo) start to play a major role. You want to track all candidates and get back to people at least with an email. But you want to focus your time on the most promising candidates.

I then wrap up the talk with a few points on recruiters and on hiring for senior positions. Those are meaty subjects on their own and I am planning to write future posts about these. The very final wrap up though is a reminder just how important hiring is. It should be one of the top three priorities for any startup founder.

Posted: 30th September 2013Comments
Tags:  startups recruiting presentation

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