Article: Hiring the ‘right fit’ for your startup

Talent Acquisition

Hiring the ‘right fit’ for your startup

Effective hiring is crucial for startup success, requiring tailored approaches for different growth stages and a focus on finding the best fit for each role. Founders should avoid under-hiring, plan ahead, and evaluate candidates thoroughly to build strong, adaptable teams.
Hiring the ‘right fit’ for your startup

Building your startup comes with its challenges, like developing an idea, bringing it to life, finding customers who have a need and will pay for it, and then growing that into a scaled business, etc. However, one thing that makes most successful startups stand apart from the others is the team they can assemble during this journey. The importance of hiring competency for the founder or the CEO has become more evident to me over the last six years while working closely with over 60+ founders. It is so evidently clear that founders who hire right have a clear advantage of having more successful outcomes than their competitors in the market. Caveat: There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and that is fundamentally what makes hiring not mechanical.

Also read: Tech hiring to surge across industries

So what is hiring right?

Right Fit- Often my conversations with founders start with them sharing their intent to hire the “Best” out there. However, to me, it is a bit nuanced to hire the “Best Fit.” Every journey has a stage, and each stage has a peculiar problem statement that you need to solve, which aligns with the competency of the person you want to hire. Hence, while it is great to get excited about someone who may have seen the scaleup journey and be available, what you need to make sure is whether this hire will first solve your current & next stage. Let me pick up an example to make it more real; let us look at the stages of a B2B SaaS startup:

  1. 0 to $1Mn ARR stage - Hiring a sales leader may not be the best answer. This is something the founder could do best by opening up their networks.  
  2. $1Mn to $3Mn ARR stage - You need someone who can work in a chaotic and frugal environment, is hands-on, is passionate about selling themselves, can hire a couple of tenured AEs from their past network so they hit the ground running but do not need much hand-holding/resource support like presales, solutioning, etc., and ideally come from the domain so they can speak the client's language.  
  3. $3Mn to $30Mn ARR stage - You need someone who will lock the persona of the buyer and start being programmatic about sales to drive predictability in forecasting, setting up processes to start scaling, building teams, understanding where to go hire and what works, bringing in the right tools to start tracking & measuring, setting up the required functions like Sales Enablement, PreSales & Solutioning and others, even start thinking of other channels like Partnerships and start seeding them, and finally is collaborative to build workflows across Marketing, Demand Generation, Customer Success, etc.  
  4. $30Mn to $200Mn and beyond - This is a stage when you already have multi-products and multi-geo presence, hence you need a leader who has seen this complexity, understands the cyclic nature of business, can build motions for different segments like Enterprise, Mid-Market & SMB client segments, and is an org builder who can attract leaders.

All these four stages require different competencies in people, and the easy mistake to make is to put people in the wrong roles and create the perfect recipe for them to fail and then blame them for not having delivered results! Don’t get me wrong about opportunistically hiring a leader who has had the scale-up exposure; however, there needs to be a clear articulation of what is required to succeed in the next 24 months and whether they are willing to roll their sleeves to do what’s required while having the ability to zoom out when required.

Under-hiring - Underestimating the complexity of what needs to be solved and under-hiring is another problem that I often see founders fall into; rather, I see this happen more often than over-hiring! While we want to solve for every stage, we should hire for not just the current stage exposure but also for the stage ahead. Hence, think about what you want to accomplish at least 24 months out in your business, think about what the blind spots in your business could be, what competencies are required to solve for those challenges ahead, and hire accordingly. One may think that you are too young to absorb experienced folks into your organisation, it may create cultural issues, and people may not get along, etc.; however, the north star to organisation building is to make sure you keep the business needs sacrosanct and work backwards to hiring from there rather than trying to fit people to the organisation. It is all good to be frugal; however, not at the expense of bringing the right people.

Evaluating right - Hiring right is also a lot about evaluating right. Hence, it is very important to understand what to evaluate for. One thing we do with our portfolio founders is to get them to talk to experts who have seen the journey more effectively in the recent past. This helps the founders look into the crystal ball through their learnings and helps them articulate the fallacies in building a business 24 months out, thereby helping them carve out what are the key competencies required for each leadership role, which in turn helps in assessing the right things when they speak to probable candidates. Many times, we come across folks with great experiences. For example, at a growth-stage SaaS firm looking to hire a Customer Success leader, it becomes imperative to know why and what you are looking for from this role. A few of the competencies of the leader are to solve for cross-functional collaboration with Marketing & Sales functions, deep process orientation, ability to track & measure thereby driving improvements, structuring & mentoring teams across onboarding, support, and expansion, etc. At the same time, the ability to zoom in & zoom out is critical for a leader. It is easy to hire someone who, on paper, has been at an ARR stage which you want to go to next; however, going deep into the experience to understand whether the incumbent was mentored at the time by a leader and how tactical vs. strategic this person is to be able to zoom out.

A lot of team building also depends on the founders’ backgrounds as well. Founders need to find leverage in the organisation so they can spend time on the most critical areas. Keep asking yourself - are you spending time on the most important thing in the business, is this now incremental in gains, and can this be done better by an expert?

As in most cases, we would know only 25% of what the role would solve, while the rest 75% of the role is discovery & evolution. Hiring is not black or white; it is grey, it is intuitive and driven on faith at times, however, always plan and know where to miss.  

Hire Right!

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, Strategic HR

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