Recently a friend launched a firm in the insurance renewal domain. I bore witness to the ideation, funding, all the way to their product launch. I can confidently say that nothing stumped him more than hiring the right CTO. Indraneel Chatterjee who started RenewBuy says “Definitely hiring is the hardest thing. Attracting talent for a start-up is tough. On the one hand you can’t pay top dollar for the best person and on the other a lesser mortal doesn’t serve your purpose.”
Another entrepreneur client says “You don’t have a brand; you don’t have the money. People want either. You need people who will believe in you, in the concept and in the product while being technically competent, culturally a great fit, and above everything willing to work for you, waiting for the jump in salary when the funding comes in”.
Having hired for start-ups for years now, and also being in the enviable position of seeing many friends and clients start, succeed or fail as entrepreneurs, one thing is pretty certain. Hiring a top executive is the toughest part, by far, of building a successful start-up.
- A start-up founder typically has very little recruiting experience.
- A start-up requires people with a very different mind-set from your typical employee of a large firm.
- It requires someone who shares the vision, goal and culture of the founders.
From my experiences I can share some ideas you can use while hiring-
Know the who’s who of your required talent: Whether looking for a partner, a co-founder or a CXO, a list of the top 20 peoplein that field, helps. If you manage to do this in your city, you would be lucky. However, the reality today is thatgreat resources would be from different cities. In such cases remote working might be an option and that capability needs to be checked. Chatterjee says that even finding the set of people to meet was a challenge. Lack of choice drove him to the door consulting firms. And then “Finding the right consultant who understood the requirement was an equally big task”
Therefore: a consultant who knows how to hire for start-ups. They will spend considerable amount of time understanding the requirements, and will partner with you. The price you pay for it will be worth it.
The best way of getting to know people is through events. Networking is not just required for your investors. If a person in your list is not interested, he or she might know someone who would be.You might even want to be called as a speaker to events of your interest area. This provides you with the opportunity to meet people in your field and hence, a ready list of candidates to pitch your company and job to.
Write your own blog, get a great website, make it easy for people to contact you. Any website should have a contact page with phone numbers especially for job seekers.
Get a proper Job Description: For a candidate to believe in the job, it should be very well defined. A client came to us when his company was not even formally named, the product still in beta phase. We wrote a job description, with a communique on his vision, the company growth path and the potential hire’s predicted growth path. From zero interest level, he got to finally meet the right people and got his CMO and CTO.
When you are hiring a CXO/ co-founder for your company,
- You want someone with previous start-up experience. Or that mind-set. Large companies have set rules and systems and processes. Quite the opposite of a start-up. You might also like to consider people who have worked in small businesses. It’s an indication that a person is willing to go small. Also,such employees are often used to multi-tasking, working beyond their job descriptions and also often cultivate a sense of ownership for the company, as well anintre-preneuralmind-set. Pro tip: failed entrepreneurs make some of the best start-up hires.
- Interview in person. Be the first to meet a prospective candidate and then have the whole top team meet the person. Personal connect could make or break a top team.
- Let go of conventional interviews or resume hunting. What looks good on paper or in a first meeting may not translate into the best hire. Ritu Srivastava of Obino, a healthcare start-up says the most outgoing, extroverted candidates may turn out to be damp squibs, while the quiet type, who didn’t seem right at the interview table, turn into lions in the workplace. The best start-up employees, she says, are those who want to be “you” someday. They are the ones “willing to burn the midnight oil with a crying baby in her arms”. So traditional methods of recruitment often do not work. Some start-ups don’t stress on interviews at all. They may give the person a project to work on within a limited time, to check working style, problem solving, team working capabilities, willingness to take help or feedback, and attitude to learn and go beyond expectations.
- Post interview, the joining process is critical. Engaging the hiree is important, at the same time tempering expectations of a person coming on board and delivering immediately. Creating transparent and user friendly metrics to measure performance, delivery, value add etc can bring some method to the madness and ensure rewards proportionate to effort, innovation and results. That might take some time but encouragement of curiosity and catalytic competitiveness is crucial for attracting quality talent and retention today.
This is the year when many venture funds are already tightening their purses, and yet entrepreneurs are thankful for the buzz around start-ups. For, while the entrepreneur does not fear hard work, they have nightmares about hiring mistakes. And people trusting start-ups and willing to take risks are just what they need for their companies this year.