When your startup starts to grow, one of the first challenges you face is recruiting more hands to cope with the growing amount of work. For my current startup, our founding team has a combined 15 years of experience recruiting top talent and 15 years of running a startup. Not bad, right? But we can’t do everything on our own.
Having recently jumped into the phase of recruiting non-founder talent to the team, I’ve found recruiting in a startup to be in interesting ways different from recruiting in a more established firm. These lessons are based on my experiences in a software startup context, but the lessons should be useful to any entrepreneur looking to grow their team.
While there’s no shortage of software developers, the market for top talent is a very competitive one. As a startup with ambitions for world dominance, your goal is of course to build the dream team to make that happen.
While some basic guidelines of recruiting hold for startups as well as for established firms, there are some unique features that the recruiting founder is wise to consider. Here are a few lessons I have learned in building our dream team.
Tip #1: Be entrepreneurial, be cool
Startups have the advantage of possibly providing more interesting tasks for its top talent than established firms can. A startup has been, by definition, founded to build something completely new. Further, the first few employees are likely to have to take quite a chunk of the responsibility. You don’t have to think about trendy HR words like “empowerment” – in a startup, every employee is empowered by necessity.
There are also choices that you can make to make your firm more attractive for top talent. For example, in our recruiting, I have found that the development technologies we use play an important role. As a startup, you have some choice in the technologies that you base your business on, and technologies in use are the most important factor that software developers consider when choosing where to work.
Already when starting up your firm, it’s good to keep in mind that the choices that you make in the technologies, processes, and other such factors also affect your recruiting down the line. When your team members get to do cool things with new technologies and feel ownership of their work, they are motivated to contribute to your success. As a startup, you have a chance to be a cool place to work. Do that. Be cool.
Tip #2: Make use of the snowball effect
Top talent wants to work with top talent, which makes the first few hires the most difficult but also the most important steps in your recruitment strategy. Getting the first members of the dream team right can help you in two ways. First, talented people tend to be connected to other talented people, and second, having talented people in your team makes your firm a more attractive place to work.
Ideally, getting the first few top people in your team leads to a virtuous circle where each new good hire makes it easier to find and attract yet more good hires, and your small team of talented people keeps snowballing into an ever larger one.
Make sure that you as the recruiting entrepreneur keep pushing this snowball effect forward. Involve your early employees in the recruiting process, make use of their contacts, and value their opinions. Help your talent attract more talent.
Tip #3: Think about the timing
Startups are constantly pressed for resources, and one resource that is always in short supply is time. Training new hires to the firm’s technology and ways of working takes time, and time spent on training is time away from advancing the firm’s core products and projects. You need to be mindful of this and think ahead about appropriate times to bring in new people.
Strategic use of outsourcing is one way that team building efforts can be more easily balanced with the development of the core product. A good relationship with a vendor that knows your technology provides flexibility and can be very beneficial to smooth out the development process. As the vendor’s developers will be working as part of your dream team, remember to go for quality rather than quantity with outsourcing as well.
Tip #4: Pay attention to organizational culture
Organizational culture is one of the most important factors that software developers look at when considering where to work. However, culture is not something you can just set as you like, but it’s built jointly by all the people involved in your firm. The first few hires therefore have a key role in how your organizational culture shapes up.
That’s why it’s important to get to know the people that you’re planning to recruit beyond their CV. What are they like as a person? What kind of values do they bring to the firm? Especially in a startup, individual people can have a huge influence on how the organizational culture develops, so make sure that the culture starts off developing in the right direction. And remember – how you behave sets the expectations for others in your team.